Rare pleasures

Burgundy may appreciate in value, but it’s far better appreciated in a glass, argues Adam Brett-Smith, Managing Director, Corney & Barrow


Adam Brett-Smith

Managing Director

Corney & Barrow

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The sybaritic protagonist of Roald Dahl’s My Uncle Oswald waxes lyrical about his many passions: food, women, fast cars and, above all, fine wine.

Those grapes you can see them picking at this very moment will produce a wine that is a glory among wines. It is almost unobtainable as so little is made. This bottle we are drinking now came from here 11 years ago. Smell it! Inhale the bouquet! Taste it! Drink it! But never try to describe it. It is impossible to put such a flavour into words! 

Oswald’s exhortation is certainly preferable to the creeping market sickness of people who buy Burgundy only if it increases in value and for whom drinking it is sometimes of secondary importance, or even of no importance at all. And yet, you can perhaps understand the cold, financial logic of the mathematical desire to see wine appreciate in value.

Loving the grape

Burgundy is rare, and Burgundy is good: qualities that are attractive in any field. But what takes Burgundy away from the cool logic of the speculator is sometimes quite different – it is emotional, fragmentary, infinitely intricate, complicated and even spiritual. It is love of a sort. Love of a single grape variety, the Pinot Noir, of a specific plot of land that conjures up a sense of place where the person who nurses the plot also makes the wine and owns the Domaine – oh, and sells the wine.

So there is quite a lot to love. But many buyers’ lust for Burgundy is somewhat more speculative, linked to the partial severance linking quality and price of the great 2010 vintage – in Bordeaux. Buyers who had been wooed with the almost brand-like simplicity of a single name – Leoville Barton, Talbot, Latour, Lafite, etc – and the reliability and comfort of a blended wine (typically Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc) suddenly saw first growth prices soar from £600–£800 per dozen for the 2004 vintage to £6,000–£8,000 per dozen for the 2010.

Rediscovering Burgundy

They didn’t understand it. And rather more importantly, they didn’t like it and therefore didn’t buy it. Surely it was far better (they thought) to focus on a genuinely small scale, a single grape variety and a man or woman who, for the most part, did the work and owned the vineyard. Burgundy was (re)discovered and the rest is history.

Corney & Barrow, as both a Bordeaux and a Burgundy house, has been charting these dangerous and risky waters for 237 years. Indeed, nine years after the company’s founding in 1780, our single biggest supplier – France – was closed to us for a generation as a result of the French Revolution. That taught us a lot about how danger and risk are relative. My own recent thoughts, expressed when a highly respected guide to top private investors asked me what my best investment advice would be to potential customers? Start drinking. It may just be the best advice that any half-decent wine merchant can offer.


Adam Brett-Smith

Managing Director

Corney & Barrow

This article is issued by Cazenove Capital which is part of the Schroders Group and a trading name of Schroder & Co. Limited, 1 London Wall Place, London EC2Y 5AU. Authorised by the Prudential Regulation Authority and regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority. 

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