By Lewis Chester, Mike DeSimone, Jeff Jenssen, and Ian Buxton
Painting the Vineyards Red
Is the Burgundy fine-wine craze over?
Recently, over lunch, one of the biggest collectors in the world laughed about buying Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (DRC) wines in the 1990s. In those days, he was able to get bucket-loads at prices that wouldn’t even buy you a glass today. DRC even gave him “free” bottles on any orders he made. It shows you that there was a time when Burgundy wines just didn’t sell, even from the likes of DRC, winner of the 2021 and 2022 Golden Vines World’s Best Fine Wine Producer award. Burgundy prices have rocketed to the moon since then, garnering well over £1,000 (HK$9,895) per bottle, and the number of producers who make “investment-grade” wines are numerous.
In the past, only DRC, Domaine Leroy, Domaine Armand Rousseau, and a few others were considered the gold standard. For a growing region that is a third of the size of Bordeaux, dwindling supply and high demand mean that wine prices have mirrored a J-curve over the last decade. For fine-wine lovers, “all roads lead to Burgundy”—the wines are more diverse, ethereal, and complex compared to anywhere else on the planet, despite the region growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay monovarietals. (Hong Kong alone represents seven per cent of all Burgundy purchases in 2023, according to Liv-Ex.) Coinciding with a period of dramatic climate change, resulting in ever-smaller yields, there simply isn’t enough wine to meet demand.
Meanwhile, in Bordeaux, there is no shortage of wine, even from the Left Bank’s First Growths and the top producers on the Right Bank. Unfortunately, Bordeaux wines have been out of fashion, perhaps due to the consistency and homogeneity of style and taste. Instead, the premiumisation of the Champagne market, with the growth of the prestige cuvée category, has seen a similar (but less extreme) rise in demand, prices, and weakening supply as with Burgundy.
Tuscany and California have generally also seen increases in secondary-market prices. Similarly, the prices of rare spirits—especially Japanese and Scottish whisky, as well as limited-edition Cognacs—have also been on a tear. Collectors and investors have seen the category reinvigorated, jumping in with both feet.
The Macallan has been able to demand enormous prices for its rare bottlings. However, the spirits market is burdened by its need to age in cask, and there is only so much stock left to bottle. In that sense, prices are skewed by a lack of current supply and fear as to when future rare bottlings will come to market. Visiting duty-free shops in any major airport to buy Japanese rare whiskies proves the point: there just isn’t any to buy.
However, during the last 12 months, a combination of factors—worldwide economic recession, inflation, rising interest rates, and uncertainty caused by global geopolitical events—has resulted in falling secondary-market prices, illiquidity, and fewer buyers, affecting even the likes of Burgundy, where the Liv-Ex Burgundy 150 Index has fallen 10.3 per cent during the first seven months of 2023.
Compounding the misery, many Burgundy estates have been raising their release prices to levels that are closer to the secondary-market prices for their wines—that means there’s less money on the table for collectors and investors, who were used to seeing a bump in the value of their wines immediately after release.
Only time will tell of the serious risk should the Burgundy bubble burst.
Dom Ruinart 2010
About a decade ago, in response to scientific studies showing that less oxygen seeps into the wine via cork than through screw-top lids—creating not only a fresher wine, but also one with more depth and complexity—endlessly charismatic Ruinart chef de caves Frédéric Panaïotis persuaded his boss, Frédéric Dufour, to undertake the expensive transition back to traditional bark tissue as a barrier between liquid and atmosphere. For this recent release, the 2010 Dom Ruinart, Dufour was happy enough with the result to release the Champagne, for the first time, in bottles solely aged on cork. Having tasted the wine twice now, we can attest to the success of this experiment—the 2010 not only has an incredible freshness and depth, but a textual quality missing in prior vintages.
Yamazaki 18-Year-Old Mizunara 100th Anniversary Limited Edition
To celebrate the 100th anniversary of the distillery, Yamazaki has released a limited-edition, 18-year-old single malt whisky at 48 per cent ABV. Aged in mizunara casks—Japanese “water oak” casks made in its Omi cooperage in Shiga prefecture—they are the secret ingredient to creating the floral, fragrant style associated with Yamazaki. Mizunara is virtually a Yamazaki monopoly, with 95 per cent of this long-maturing Japanese oak tree being used by the distillery. As mizunara does not grow straight, is porous and difficult to master, and takes double the time of American oak to fully mature (150 years), it is a rarity that imbues cedarwood, sandalwood, and incense notes into the whisky when long-aged. Shinji Fukuyo, chief blender, has created a magnificent whisky full of savoury, white-pepper, and sherry-wine flavours from the Montilla wine that the casks were initially seasoned with. As you would expect with Yamazaki, the golden-amber-coloured whisky is all about refinement, purity, and subtlety—there is no heaviness on the mid-palate and the finish is clean.
Liber Pater 2015
Here’s a revolutionary fine wine from the Graves region. Maverick winemaker Lo.c Pasquet produces fewer than 1,000 bottles a year. His wines are made from a blend of original Bordeaux varietals that have all but disappeared but were prevalent in the Left Bank’s First Growths at the time of the 1855 Classification, including Petite Vidure, Tarnay, Pardotte, Saint Macaire, Castets, Gros Cabernet, and Petit Verdot. Thanks to the vineyard’s sandy soils, Pasquet’s vines are all on their own French rootstocks (francs de pied) rather than the grafted American rootstocks that have been planted in virtually all European vineyards since the phylloxera devastation of the late 19th century. “This is the original taste of Bordeaux,” says Pasquet, “not the varietal soup of newer grape varieties, such as Merlot, that exists everywhere else in Bordeaux today.” Provocatively, the beautiful label on the 2015 vintage depicts Liber Pater as Bordeaux’s rising saviour surrounded by the sinking First Growths. Vinified in sandstone, rather than oak barrels, the 2015 is a triumph. Purity of fruit, intensity, complexity, and a long finish make this the quintessential fine wine. With only 400 bottles produced, and sold for around HK$253,640 per bottle, it’s the world’s most expensive wine on release and a must-have addition to any wine lover’s collection.
Etienne Sauzet 2020 Montrachet Grand Cru
Only 1,800 bottles of this amazing wine were made in 2020, after the earliest harvest on record presented a new challenge to the winemaking team. Despite an extremely hot and dry summer, the season begat perfect grapes with a “high balance between ripeness and energy,” according to winemaker Benoît Riffault, husband of founder Etienne Sauzet’s great-granddaughter Emilie. Together, they continue the house’s tradition of ageing whites on the lees for 10 to 12 months, resulting in creamy, fruity, full-bodied, and superbly finished wines. This white Burgundy is no exception. It has a complex bouquet offering aromas of white pear, lemon pith, white flowers, and wet river rocks. It’s soft on entry and voluptuous on the mid-palate with flavours of white peach, green apple, lemon curd, and butterscotch. There is a perfect level of vibrant yet balanced acidity, bracing minerality, and a finish that goes on and on.
Domaine Arnoux-Lachaux 2021 Aux Reignots
The 2021 vintage from this region is widely regarded as a “difficult” one. Many of its wines are diluted and lack power. However, this Aux Reignots from the genius that is Charles Lachaux—the most talked-about man in the fine-wine world today, despite being just 33 years of age—is a complete stunner, and certainly far better than any 2021 Burgundy red we have tasted to date. Light in colour, its aromas are floral and red-fruited, with the same telltale spice as in the 2019 release. On the mid-palate, the wine is very energetic, hugely complex, and multi-faceted. The finish is tremendous and extremely long. The demand for Lachaux’s wines is insatiable—their prices have gone stratospheric. His rise to superstardom has taken a mere two years. Here, bottled for your delectation, is the reason why. World-class.
Dom Pérignon 2009
A wine oozing class and precision, Dom Pérignon Rosé—contrary to layman’s assumptions—can age beautifully for decades. Indeed, one of the greatest Champagnes we have ever tasted was the 1966 Dom Pérignon Rosé: a rare combination of freshness, gorgeous evolution, and a finish that went on forever. A hotter year than the previous one, 2009 produced some good, but rarely great, Champagne—but a Dom Pérignon Rosé should be superb, if different, in every vintage that the maison chooses to release a wine. With almost 12 years of ageing on its lees (dead yeast cells), the 2009 Dom Pérignon Rosé is surprisingly fresh, vibrant, and elegant. There’s no sense of heaviness or obvious maturation and, given some time in the glass, a seashell minerality emerges on the nose that is truly alluring. Made during the tenure of legendary chef de cave Richard Geoffroy, but released by his chosen successor, the highly respected Vincent Chaperon, this is another masterpiece for lovers of rosé Champagne—and should age gracefully for several decades
Louis XIII Rare Cask 42.1
Housed in individually numbered, handmade, and completely unique Baccarat decanters featuring an 18-carat-gold neck, this Cognac—as members of the private Louis XIII Society will attest—has a lot to live up to. But comprising the finest and most precious eau-de-vie, Louis XIII is made using grapes grown in Grande Champagne (the premier cru of the Cognac region) and aged between 40 and 100 years in tierçons—thin-walled, French-oak casks composed of 100- to 150-year-old wood originally designed for maritime transport. The selection of spirit is rigorous and demanding: only the very finest will graduate to the traditional ageing cellars. This one was chosen by cellar master Baptiste Loiseau for individual, rather than blended, bottling. If you’re able to acquire a bottle, savour this precious elixir slowly—very slowly—taking time to allow the flavours to develop fully and letting the oh-so-long finish roll on and on and on.
Camus 4.186 Electrum
The seventh and rarest of mesmerising Cognacs Les Ateliers Camus has created for its growing base of private collectors—there are just 315 numbered decanters—the Cuvée 4.186 Electrum’s name is derived from the four constituent Cognacs, which have a combined age of 186 years, and the coins used for commerce on the ancient Roman causeway, Via Agrippa. (Cellar master Julie Landreau has created a blend exactly in proportion to the metallic composition of electrum.) The spellbinding presentation case that houses the Baccarat decanter—designed by the sculptor Serge Manseau—is a complex piece of artisanal art with over 100 component parts, and includes a cinematic perspective provided by the integration of slide rails and rollers. Tasting it, our senses were overwhelmed by the depth and complexity of the amber-coloured spirit as well as the lightness of touch. A marriage of dried fruits, wood, and spicy aromas, accompanied by a long, elegant, almost buttery finish, the Cognac reeked of quality—or, as this writer told their dinner companion, “This tastes reassuringly expensive.”
Single Malt Scotch
The Macallan Distil Your World: London Edition
From cask number 21853—selected by The Macallan’s whisky maker, Steven Bremner, and Josep Roca of the three-Michelin-starred restaurant El Celler de Can Roca—only 465 bottles of this expression were made ready in February 2020, with just 12 years of ageing. It was originally bottled for the City of London and first introduced at the 2021 Golden Vines Awards to a rapturous reception. Although it was released at a rather modest price, secondary-market prices now regularly fetch well in excess of £10,000 (HK$98,890) for this limited-edition single malt Scotch.
Tasting this rare beauty, you first notice the golden colour of the liquid, indicative of being aged in cask for only 12 years. The nose emits quite a powerful hit of alcohol, having been bottled at 62.9 per cent ABV cask strength, with notes of orange peel, oak, and savoury spices, and hints of ginger. In the mouth, the
whisky is well-balanced and smooth, with flavours ranging from dried fruits, spices, liquorice, and candied orange. The finish is extraordinary: warming, sweet, moreish, and extremely long.
Domaine Duroché 2016 Griotte-Chambertin
The pièce de résistance of Pierre Duroché’s 2016 output—and it was a year that suited his winemaking style—is this delectable expression from a tiny 85-litre Cavin barrel. Simply a wow wine: darker, denser, and more mature than the Chambertin-Clos de Bèze, the wine has a lot more power and concentration while maintaining an elegance and purity that defies explanation. Made from vines planted in 1923, using the whole bunch method (which means the grapes have not been de-stemmed), vinifying such a small quantity of grapes is an art form in itself. A class act.
Champagne Krug 2008
Made in the least sunny season in almost 50 years, Krug 2008 is proof of the adage “every cloud has a silver lining.” Nicknamed “Classic Beauty” by the house’s tasting committee and aged in the cellar for 13 years, this Champagne is imbued with power, finesse, and perfect balance. Only the second vintage made by Krug cellar master Julie Cavil, the 2008 offers intense aromas of grapefruit, bergamot, and aniseed, with a hint of eucalyptus. Brilliant acidity and vivid effervescence provide a backdrop to Bartlett-pear, Gala-apple, piecrust, candied-orange, lemon-zest, and roasted-fennel-bulb flavours, with a hint of rose petal on the linear finish. A blend of 53 per cent Pinot Noir, 25 per cent Pinot Meunier, and 22 per cent Chardonnay, it is fine and focused, offering amazing precision and purity. Surprisingly, it feels simultaneously energetic and delicate on the palate.
Brora 40 Years Old
Diageo recently undertook a £185 million (HK$1.8 billion) investment in upgrading a number of distilleries. As part of this huge investment programme, it decided not only to revive Brora—a Highlands distillery it had shuttered in 1983—but to refurbish it, brick by brick, with a view to replicating (as closely as possible) how the whisky was produced at the time of its closure. Our pick of the results is this expression, produced in 1972—perhaps the most sought-after Brora expression that exists. The ultimate example of the earthy style of whisky that Brora collectors seek more than any other, its aromas are almost farmyard in nature. Lead-pencil, iodine, and wet-rock minerality aromas highlight the immense complexity in this whisky. With two drops of water, a pleasingly medicinal and peaty smell becomes apparent. At a lowly 42 per cent ABV, it’s very moreish, and truly incredible.
Harlan Estate 2019
We had the pleasure of tasting the 2019 Harlan Estate with Will Harlan, who has taken over the stewardship of the winery from his legendary father, Bill. Harlan chose the 2019 as his favourite bottling from the last decade, and it encapsulates all of the evolutionary changes in style and understanding of the estate’s 33 acres under vine on east-facing volcanic soil situated in Napa Valley. “The vines are now approaching 40 years of age,” said Harlan. “2019 was a monumental vintage and the wine has a quiet strength that should age for decades without any noticeable peak.” The brand has been dialling back on a lot of inputs into its winemaking, including reducing irrigation in the vineyard, gentler extraction of the grapes, and less new oak in the ageing process. The result is a wine that shows well in youth, but clearly has a lot more to give. Dark ink in colour, the nose is still quite primary, but exhibits black fruits, liquorice, and a eucalyptus note that Harlan puts down to the bay laurel growing around the vineyard. On the palate, the tannins are remarkably soft, and there are no obvious oaky notes. The wine is very fine, almost European in character, defined by a fresh acidity which gives it an attractive lift in the mid-palate and a savoury, long finish.
Château D’Yquem 2020
While a certain amount of autumn moisture is necessary for the development
of Botrytis cinerea, the “noble rot” that transforms ordinary grapes into berries
capable of being made into ethereally sweet wines, heavy rains in October 2020 produced what estate manager Lorenzo Pasquini described as “perilous” conditions that could have destroyed the entire harvest if picking did not occur at the perfect moment. Fortunately, crisis was averted by five days of warm sunshine towards the end of the month, creating ideal conditions for another stunning vintage of Château d’Yquem. This wine offers heady aromas of honeycomb, green fig, candied orange peel, and rose water that set the stage for exquisite viscosity, vivid acidity, and flavours of clementine, apricot marmalade, and toasted pineapple. We concur with Pasquini’s assessment that this golden-hued wine is “joyful in its tender youth but also capable of travelling through time for decades, or even centuries.”