2020 was the most tumultuous year in memory with rollercoaster like twists and turns throughout. The ongoing global pandemic left markets reeling in the wake of nationwide lockdowns in all corners of the world. Coupled with the uncertainty surrounding Brexit, 2020 was a year where many investors searched for safe-haven investments to ride out the storm and once again, fine wine has proven to fit the bill.

Growth and Volatility

When a ‘cluster of cases of pneumonia in Wuhan’ were reported on New Year’s Eve 2019, few could have predicted the impact this new strain of coronavirus would have on the world. Q1 of 2020 will be remembered for the sharp drops felt across the global indices. In contrast with this is the comparatively small contraction observed in fine wine. This wine was first observed in the Asian markets which acted as an indicator of global trends.

Dates

Liv-Ex 100

FTSE 100

Dow Jones

Nikkei 225

S&P 500

31/12/2019

302.56

7,542.44

28,538.44

23,656.62

3,230.78

31/01/2020

301.88

7,286.01

28,256.03

23,205.18

3,225.52

29/02/2020

302.56

6,580.61

25,409.36

21,142.96

2,954.22

31/03/2020

299.36

5,671.96

21,917.16

18,917.01

2,584.59

% Change

-1.06%

-24.80%

-23.20%

-20.04%

-20.00%

It could be surmised that the fine wine market has a lower liquidity than the components of the traditional indices and that the drops were felt later in the year as the market caught up, but a plot of the movements across 2020 show this is untrue. Rather, the low correlation fine wine possesses to conventional markets shone through and allowed those with a position in fine wine to shield their capital, with low comparative volatility, from the havoc the pandemic was causing in other areas of the economy.

One section of the wine market directly impacted by the pandemic was the on trade. The hospitality industry was forced to shut down stifling demand for wine in this sector. This demand shifted towards online wine merchants as consumers adjusted to enjoying wine in their own homes.

For most markets, 2020 was typified by the sharp drop in Q1, subsequent gains were made followed by further troughs; this is perhaps most pronounced with the FTSE 100 which dropped to its lowest point in fifteen years as the devastation of national lockdown was compounded by the Brexit negotiations limping towards their conclusion.

What is apparent when looking at the plot is the comparative stability fine wine provides in times where market volatility is felt elsewhere. It is this characteristic, coupled with the above average returns, that has made investing in fine wine such a fruitful endeavour.

Brexit

2020 saw the prolonged Brexit negotiations concluded, in the final days a deal was struck and snatched the UK from the jaws of a no deal exit from the trading bloc. The UK wine market and their clients can collectively breathe a sigh of relief as the disruption to trade will be minimised. The deal will allow wines to arrive at the shores of the UK with comparative ease and will lessen the impact on the trade of wine in the UK. Furthermore, the deal has removed the necessity for the VI-1 form on import of wines from mainland Europe thus freeing the UK wine industry and their European counterparts, of the albatross around their neck. The true implications of Brexit on the fine wine trade will begin to unfold over 2021, but the deal struck out in the dying days will certainly establish some stability in trade going forward.

US Tariffs

When Joe Biden emerged victorious in the 2020 US Presidential Election it was thought that he may abolish the import tariffs the Trump administration imposed on many EU wines. This has now been thrown into doubt as the US have doubled down on the tariffs in recent days and included French and German wines above 14% ABV (previously the tariff only effected wines below this watermark). To date Champagne has dodged the tariff, but what happens when Biden takes the helm in late January is unclear as the underlying airline feud that was the catalyst for the tariffs has been bubbling under the surface since before his time in the Obama administration.

Liv-Ex comment on how Champagne’s exclusion in the tariffs has resulted in a bumper year for the region with the Champagne 50 index up 6.24%. Italy has also reaped the benefits of exclusion and is up 6.65% in 2020. Both regions were also buoyed on by their recent stellar vintages, namely the 2008 and 2012 in Champagne and 2015 Brunello and 2016 Barolo in Italy. The Rhone 100 index, up 3.92%, is another winner in 2020; this is partly attributed to their wines often being above the current 14% threshold for tariff exemption and the fondness US buyers have for the region.

Burgundy

In recent years Burgundy has been the standout region for wine investment. However, in 2020 the region has not continued with the verve of recent years posting a 1.52% contraction. Our basket of top investment grade Burgundy has fared similarly, with a 0.86% loss. The basket is made from the average price of Rousseau Chambertin, Roumier Musigny, Leroy Chambertin and six wines from the Romanee Conti stable: La Tache, Romanee St Vivant, Richebourg, Echezeaux, Grand Echezeaux and their namesake DRC Romanee Conti. A noteworthy point in 2020 is that the Burgundian producers were lucky enough to hold their annual En Primeur campaign in January, before the global lockdowns, this likely allowed the top producers to record good performance in Q1 and Q2 with the heightened market interest in the region that usually surround an En Primeur campaign. However, 2020 performance is flatter and more volatile than in previous years. Regardless, Burgundy remains a crucial addition to any investment portfolio. A comparison of the performance in the Burgundy 150 and a rebased performance of our basket can be seen below.

Italy

Italy has been the breakout star in 2020, buoyed on by the exclusion from the US tariffs. The Liv-Ex Italy 100 has grown 6.65% in 2020, beating the 4.21% growth seen in 2019 and dwarfing the performance of the traditional markets. Furthermore, the basket of the average price of Super Tuscans, namely, Sassicaia, Tignanello, Solaia, Masseto and Ornellaia have posted gains of 10.12% over the same term. The growth posted in both the Super Tuscan basket and the wider-spanning Italy 100 index cements the notion we posited in the 2019 report; ‘the investable spectrum of Italian wines is wider than that of other regions providing an access point for investors without the capital to acquire releases at the pinnacle of the region’. Considering the macro climate in 2020, the growth recorded in Italian fine wine underpins the view that fine wine is an excellent tool in mitigating against volatility and downturn felt elsewhere in the economy.

We anticipate, with their continued exclusion from the fresh tariffs revealed by the US, Italy will continue to be a top performer in 2021, spurred on further by the excellent Brunello de Montalcino 2016 and the Super Tuscan 2018 vintage releases. Italy therefore remains a fundamental component of an investment portfolio and a superb entry point for those looking to gain exposure to the fine wine market with a lower financial commitment.

The chart above confirms Italy’s performance in 2020. The higher priced Super Tuscans have had a runaway year, but excellent growth can still be seen across the spectrum of the Burgundy 150 index.

Bordeaux

Bordeaux has had a positive year, perhaps surprisingly as it was the region most disrupted by the pandemic. The worldwide lockdowns decimated the plans for the annual En Primeur campaign where the wine trade descends on Bordeaux city every April. Tastings were postponed, scores were delayed and everything suggested Bordeaux would have a muted year following on from the flattened performance seen in 2019. However, the ever-resilient region has fought back with the Liv-Ex Bordeaux 500 growing 3.50% in 2020 and a basket of average prices for the five first growths (Haut Brion, Lafite Rothschild, Latour, Margaux and Mouton Rothschild) has appreciated 3.08%. Of these wines, the standout performers have been Margaux and Mouton Rothschild which have grown 5.94% and 5.57% respectively, with Latour bringing up the rear with growth of 0.20%. This is testament to the robustness of the Bordeaux market, shaking off the flatter performance of 2019 and posting growth in the face of adversity. Our outlook remains unchanged; where value can be found, Bordeaux remains a strong buy, but the market is not currently the ‘back up the truck’ region it was in recent years.

Bordeaux’s 2020 performance can be seen to shake of the Q2 downturn, swiftly gaining back losses and building growth, in part due to the heightened interest that surrounds the, albeit delayed, En Primeur campaign each year. Bordeaux 2019 was a buoyant campaign with good scores and low production. Moreover, the pricing structure adopted by the Bordelais was sympathetic to the macro climate and as such investors saw price reductions across large swathes of the releases, resulting in money left on the table for those buying Bordeaux 2019.

What is particularly interesting is the established notion that Bordeaux wines, particularly the First Growths, have the closest correlation to conventional markets. This is attributed to the history Bordeaux holds as an investable commodity and can be seen in the chart below. Although the peaks and troughs are much more pronounced in the FTSE 100, Bordeaux’s trend is closer to this than any other fine wine region.

Champagne

In principle the Champagne market would have reason to be the most worried by the events of 2020. Global sales were reported to have contracted by 33% between April and August as far fewer reasons were found to open a bottle. However, this has not impacted the trading of the top cuvees with a basket of premium Champagnes (Dom Perignon, Bollinger Grand Annee, Cristal and Salon*) garnering growth of 2.94% in 2020. Of the basket components, Dom Perignon leads the pack posting 7.53% growth in Q4. Moreover, the premium cuvee basket performance is bettered by the Liv-Ex’s Champagne 50 index with growth of 6.24% recorded. This is likely due to the wider spread of producers and the criteria for inclusion resulting in a run of banner vintages making up the index. A chart demonstrating the performance in these two indices can be seen below. What is apparent is, although growth has been posted, it has come with higher levels of volatility than is expected from Champagne. This is an indicator that although the demand is steady, macro factors in 2020 have impacted sales in Champagne.

*Ordinarily Krug Vintage Brut is included in the Champagne basket but there appears to be inaccurate pricing data from our pricing provider at this time. As such, it was considered an anomaly and removed.

Rhone

The Rhone Valley has always been a pillar of French winemaking but with the exception of Chateau Rayas, was not considered particularly investable. In recent years there has been a shift away from the Rhone model where Estates released one or two labels with high production which did not necessarily focus on their finest plots or outstanding terroir. Their new approach consists of releasing Lieu-dit wines, a small production, single vineyard cuvee which have received mega scores and currently offer superb value. As such, Rhone has more recently become a consideration for investment and these Lieu-dits have more than a passing resemblance to the finest wines of Piedmont and Burgundy.

Like Italy, the wines of the Rhone valley have largely enjoyed exclusion from the US tariffs in 2020 due to their tendency for a higher ABV. This is likely responsible for the 3.92% growth recorded on the Liv-Ex Rhone 100 index in 2020. A basket of top Rhone has fared similarly with growth of 3.54% across the average price of all vintages of Rayas CNDP Reserve, Pegau CNDP Reservee, Chapoutier Ermitage Pavillon, Jean Louis Chave Hermitage, Paul Jaboulet Aine Hermitage Chapelle, Beaucastel CNDP and Cloe Papes CNDP. Furthermore, Rhone enjoyed another excellent En Primeur campaign, the 2019 vintage. A comprehensive review of the new vintage can be found in our report here.

Napa

Over recent years Napa has burst onto the scene as an investable region. Characterised by low volumes and uber scores certain Napa estates rose rapidly to cult status among the fine wine community. Looking at a basket of these wines over 2020 shows greater than expected volatility, Q2 and Q3 saw a rise peaking at 104.65 in June. Q4 saw a contraction heading back towards the levels seen at the start of the year and the basket finished 2020 0.06% down. This could be partly attributed to the underwhelming En Primeur campaign in 2020 which saw the release of the 2017 vintage, which was famously devastated by fires in the region. However, a better year was still expected as the domestic demand from the US would likely have bolstered sales due to the tariffs on many EU produced wines coming into the country. Early suggestions are that 2021 will be a good year for the Napa Valley as reports are that the 2018 vintage is superb.

Performance Against Traditional Markets

In this extraordinary year individuals are looking for options to place capital to weather a storm, as such it is a perfect moment to compare the performance of a basket of fine wine with a traditional index, specifically the FTSE 100. The basket is comprised of the wines included in the region-specific baskets used throughout this report. A full breakdown of the wines can be seen in the table below:

Champagne

Bordeaux

Burgundy

Bollinger Grand Annee

Haut Brion

DRC Echezeaux

Cristal

Lafite Rothschild

DRC Grand Echezeaux

Dom Perignon

Latour

DRC La Tache

Krug

Margaux

DRC Richebourg

Salon

Mouton Rothschild

DRC Romanee Conti

Italy

Rhone

DRC St Vivant

Masseto

Beaucastel CNDP

Leroy Chambertin

Ornellaia

Chapoutier Ermitage Pavillon

Roumier Musigny

Sassicaia

Clos Papes CNDP

Rousseau Chambertin

Solaia

Domaine Jean Louis Chave Hermitage

Napa

Tignanello

Paul Jaboulet Aine Hermitage Chapelle

Dominus

 

Pegau CNDP Reservee

Harlan

 

Rayas CNDP Reserve

Opus One

  

Scarecrow

  

Screaming Eagle

Using our suggestions from previous reports a theoretical portfolio has been compiled in the following ratio:

Rebasing this alongside the FTSE 100 demonstrates fine wine’s merit as both a port in a storm and as a standalone investment, ending the year up 4.26%.

It is in times such as 2020 that investors look farther afield for investments outside of the traditional forum. Those buying into a portfolio of fine wine in 2020 would likely have protected their capital from depreciation and possibly seen growth. As such it remains as a valuable tool to shield funds from downturns and generate capital returns.

Historical Performance

Although looking at the past twelve months is invaluable, emphasis should also be placed on the returns seen over the longer term. Below is a table documenting the Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) and Total Gain of several Liv-Ex indices alongside some traditional investments since December 2003, when the region-specific indices from Liv-Ex began.

Index

CAGR

Total Gain

Burgundy 150

10.33%

444.75%

Gold

9.30%

356.68%

Champagne 50

8.74%

293.85%

S&P 500

7.39%

237.80%

Bordeaux 500

7.03%

208.58%

Liv-Ex 100

7.03%

218.99%

Italy 100

6.97%

196.54%

Dow Jones IA

6.49%

192.78%

Nikkei 225

5.68%

157.05%

Rhone 100

4.07%

90.07%

Brent Crude Oil

3.29%

73.77%

FTSE 100

2.17%

44.31%

 

When comparing the above with the same information published in our 2019 End of Year Report it can be seen that Burgundy continues to hold the pole position with a stunning total gain of 444.75%. Champagne has slipped down one place and is overtaken by Gold, which also had a bumper year due to sharing the properties of a safe haven asset. The Bordeaux 500, Liv-Ex 100 and Italy 100 have held their places and the Rhone 100 has overtaken Brent Crude Oil. These excellent returns are one attribute that makes fine wine a strong investment coupled with the good’s relative stability.

Risk vs Reward

Fine wine has historically demonstrated above average returns and below average risk. Since December 2003, the Liv-Ex 100 has yielded a CAGR of 6.56%. This alone places it above the FTSE 100 (1.19%), Brent Crude Oil (5.30%), Nikkei 225 (5.46%), Dow Jones IA (6.11%) and S&P 500 (6.52%). Whilst Gold has generated a higher CAGR (10.55%), it has done so with a higher annualised volatility of 17.00% compared to the 8.64% recorded by the Liv-Ex 100. This makes Gold a higher yielding return since 2003, but with far greater volatility. As such, fine wine is cemented as an investment option for those looking for stable, above average growth. This is displayed in the chart below; the points clustered in the top left of the plot are all the region-specific fine wine indices.

Overview and an Outlook for 2021

In a year where the world was turned on its head and disruption felt in all corners of the planet, fine wine has fared very well as an investment. The market has demonstrated its resilience in the face of adversity and adjusted where needed. The sharp decline in demand from the on trade, which caused a lot of casualties along the way, was quickly filled by merchants who enjoyed an increased interest from individuals now facing extended periods of time in their homes.

The market is slowly seeing the return of Asian demand as the continent adjusts to the ‘new normal’, this may well be suggestive that the other global markets will follow suit as they did with the Asian decline at the start of 2020. 2021 will likely see a slow re-emergence of the on trade as the vaccines for Covid-19 begin to permeate throughout the world. This will likely result in demand returning as restaurants look to replenish their wine lists. But even the most optimistic would not expect this to occur until the Summer.

All the fine regions have performed well, although flatter performance was observed in some areas, to date the market has avoided the sharp drops felt elsewhere in the economy. Italy has shone through, graced by exclusion from the US tariffs and boosted by excellent new releases. As such, we anticipate Italy’s run of form will continue into 2021 spurred on by the imperious 2016 Brunello vintage and suggestions are that the incoming 2018 releases from Tuscany see the region back to its very best. We recommend up to 30% of an investment portfolio is devoted to the region in 2021.

Burgundy remains a key inclusion for any portfolio, regardless of a flatter 2020, the overall demand for the region is unwavering and as the world markets open back up, we expect a return to form from the top Estates in the region. The 2021 En Primeur campaign for the 2019 vintage is being touted as the vintage of the decade!

Napa will likely have a better year in 2021 with early reports on the 2019 vintage as excellent. We suggest a 5% inclusion in any investment portfolio from the cult wines of the Napa Valley. Similarly, we suggest 5% exposure to Rhone which will likely continue its recent performance into 2021, although growth in the region may be stifled by an increase in the ABV threshold on the US tariffs.

Both the Liv-Ex Champagne 50 index and our premium cuvee basket have moved positively in 2020 and we expect this to continue into 2021. The recent banner vintages will continue to gain traction this year and in certain cases, the sky is the limit for these releases. Champagne is therefore allocated 10% exposure in our suggested portfolio.

Bordeaux has enjoyed a better 2020 than many anticipated, if the Bordeaux Estates follow on from their excellently priced 2019 En Primeur campaign in 2021, then Bordeaux 2020 could be fantastic. Early reports are of another great vintage so the region is certainly one to watch in 2021, but as always, any En Primeur campaign will live or die by the pricing.

Our advice for the upcoming twelve months remains similar to 2020; broad brush stroke buying strategies remain unwise but discerning investors will find opportunities across many regions. Emphasis should be placed on the run of great En Primeur campaigns from many fine wine regions that are due to release over the next twelve months. For 2021 we suggest an investment portfolio to be split by region in the following ratios: Bordeaux 30%, Italy 30%, Burgundy 20%, Champagne 10%, Rhone 5% and Napa 5%. As always, the IG Wines team are always available to assist you with your holdings. Please contact your account manager to discuss your strategy for 2021.