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Use Lafite to Pedal

2011 May 10
by Mike

Last weekend brought yet more news about China’s fixation with Château Lafite: a major scandal has erupted amid revelations that the Guangdong branch of Sinopec, China’s state-run petroleum giant, used company funds to purchase hundreds of bottles of Lafite, as well as some pricey Chinese liquor. In all, the spending spree cost Sinopec $245,000. China’s Lafite fetish, which has caused the price of this First Growth to skyrocket, is one of the defining wine stories of the early 21st century. It is a source of curiosity for many oenophiles, frustration and resentment for others. Then there are those for whom it spells opportunity. My brother, who is a lawyer, wine enthusiast, and cycling fanatic, sent me this picture the other day:

That’s the fancy new bike David just purchased with proceeds from the sale of one bottle of 1998 Lafite, one bottle of 1998 Carruades de Lafite, the château’s second wine, and two bottles of 2000 Carruades. He bought the 98 Lafite on release for $125, and paid $300 in total for the four bottles. He sold all four last month for $2000. Xie xie, Zhongguo! David told me that while he is a little sorry that he won’t get to taste the wines, he figured he would get a lot more mileage, literally and figuratively, out of the Cervélo. It’s hard to argue with that. I suggested that he christen the bike The China Clipper or The Shanghai Express.

With the exception of several birth-year wines that I put away for my children, there isn’t a bottle in my cellar that I wouldn’t unload for the right price (and the only reason my kids have fancy Bordeaux awaiting them is that they both had the good sense to be born in off-vintages). How about you? If the price of the most cherished wine in your collection suddenly exploded, would you sell or hold?

14 Responses leave one →
  1. David S. permalink
    May 13, 2011

    Hi all. As the afore-mentioned wine selling brother, I thought I’d chime in.

    The VLM has hit the money. There are bottles which appreciate to a level where it is just too much to drink. The 98 Lafite was a perfect case in point. While my equity was only $135, the current value was $900. My wine drinking life does not include/afford $900 bottles. See Mike’s newest post — kids’ costs, bills, college savings, etc. There was much more long-term value, to me, in a new faster/better bike which I ride 5 days a week.

    Another factor in selling the Lafite relates to the breadth of my wine drinking/tasting experience. As a non-wine writer and without gobs of disposable income, my modest collection probably averages in the $50/bottle range (most purchased pre-wife and pre-kids). As such, I have relativeley limited experience with the first growths – a few one-offs here and there. So, while the 98 Lafite “may” have been a really fantastic wine, without a reference point, it may have been have only been a ho hum Lafite. I think I can get more out of a wine by knowing where it sits in the hierarchy of other wines of its ilk. Had I tasted and been more familiar with Lafite, perhaps I would have been more hesitant to sell. Having had a bunch of Sociandos, I am happy to own a bunch more because I can compare and contrast. The 98 Lafite, on the other hand, would be a one-time experience with no real benchmark.

    And finally, there is the fear of a corked bottle. I can only imagine the disappointment in knowing I could have gotten $900 for an undrinkable wine. Much more disappointment than a corked $75 bottle would cause.

  2. May 13, 2011

    And that is a nice bike.

  3. May 13, 2011

    Every single bottle of wine in my cellar has a price where it becomes ridiculous for me to drink it.

    That being said, my cellar is pretty idiosyncratic, so I doubt the whole thing would climb past my breaking point.

  4. bud carlos permalink
    May 12, 2011

    Sold my ’82 Mouton and bought drinking wine. Never bought another bottle of Bordeaux (isn’t Bordeaux the ultimate wine con?) and but a single bottle (’90 Leoville Las Cases) remains tucked
    away among the Burgundies. Most of the Burgundies are from Domaine Armand Rousseau, which
    I would never consider unloading. They are for sharing, even if a couple of my chug-a-lugging guests have no clue.

  5. Jack Bulkin permalink
    May 11, 2011

    I have many bottles of wine that mean more to me than the botttles of Lafite and Carraudes de Lafite that I sold through Asian American “exporters” to China. Unlike Keith, I do not wish that the bottles were corked. I assume however that they were cooked. In every case, ground transport without insurance was requested by the buyers despite the large value of the bottles shipped. Let the Chinese buyers beware.

  6. May 11, 2011

    And my message to that apparatchik, Keith, would be to stick with the Lafite and please stay away from all those thin, weedy red Burgundies :)

    Great point about the McGwire cards, and indeed a lesson there. Not to get all political, but much of the discussion regarding Lafite is bound up in this idea that China’s rise is inexorable, that the future inevitably belongs to China, etc. And that may well be true, but look at the brutal crackdown on dissidents that Beijing has launched in response to the Arab Spring–that is not the behavior of a confident regime, is it?

    Toby, thanks for the comment. Like you, I have a number of wines that have appreciated considerably in value, but not to the point that I would be tempted to sell them–not yet, anyway! 98 Lafite for 98 Cheval would be a very smart move–the 98 Cheval is a great wine.

  7. May 11, 2011

    My lone bottle of Lafite is in China now. I was sad to see it go, but then I found myself remembering that I missed the opportunity to sell my Mark McGwire rookie cards for $500-$1,000 apiece in 1998. I have a vague memory of figuring it would hold onto its value and would surely be worth even more once he broke Hank Aaron’s record—how foolish of me! There is a lesson in that. With luck, one day I will be able to drink Lafite again, just as I’m pretty sure a kid’s allowance is probably sufficient now to buy all the McGwires one could ever want. In the meanwhile, if you are a Chinese Communist Party apparatchik in possession of my lovingly stored 2002 Lafite, thanks for the money but I hope it’s corked.

  8. May 10, 2011

    I would rarely consider selling wine from my cellar. Prices have been steadily increasing ever since I started buying wine so there was always an opportunity to make a profit, but I have only ever sold bottles that I decided I didn’t particularly like.

    Having said that, given how the value of Lafite has become totally out of whack with the other first growths, I would be tempted to sell the Lafite ’98 and buy a couple of bottles of Cheval Blanc ’98 instead. Unfortunately this is just a hypothetical at this point…

  9. May 10, 2011

    Incredible story, Matt–a nice payoff on that investment. I’m sure many other people have been doing the same. I assume a lot of Lafite has been flowing out of European and American cellars and landing in China.

    Francois–great answer. I, too, would part with all my Bordeaux before getting rid of my most prized Burgundies. But you’d better be careful about expressing such sentiments–you live in Bordeaux!

  10. Matt in Chicago permalink
    May 10, 2011

    I don’t have to wonder, I sold two cases of Lafite, in total, from the ’98-’02 vintages. It paid for a vacation, expensive camera equipment, several mixed cases of Burgundy, Barolo and Loire valley wine plus quite a bit more. I paid a little more than $200 for the 2000 Lafite and the rest were all about $100 to $110. The selling prices were 1) ludicrous (about $2100 for the 2000 Lafite, IIRC) and 2) enough to also let me keep a few bottles to try later. I won’t miss what I sold. And I know it all went to China.

  11. mauss permalink
    May 10, 2011

    Very strange answer : if it is a Bordeaux, I will sell. if it is a Burgundy, I will call my best friends and we drink it.

    BTW : Lafite 98 : blah !!!!

  12. Jack Bulkin permalink
    May 10, 2011

    Geez, I wish you had spell check Mike. LOL

  13. Jack Bulkin permalink
    May 10, 2011

    Even thieves now appriciate the increased value of Lafite.

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