by Paolo Repetto / 11 September 2015
Focus: 2004 Supertuscan
Super Tuscans are driving the Italian category in the secondary market. It was recently reported that Italian regions had surpassed Burgundy to become the second most traded wines behind Bordeaux on Liv-ex (www.liv-ex.com), accounting for 7% of all trade this year to Burgundy’s 6.7%.
The margin is small admittedly but Italy has for many years been tipped for greater success which it is only now seeming to fulfill. As can be seen below, Liv-ex’s Italy 100 index has risen 18.1% in the five years between August 2010 and August 2015.
Italian fine wine in the collecting sphere is naturally dominated by Piedmont and Tuscany with a preference for Barolo in the former and the Bolgheri “Super Tuscans” in the latter – although it should be noted that Agriano’s 2010 Brunello di Montalcino elicited a “flurry of activity” on its release earlier this year.
But the driving forces behind Italian fine wine are the five most famous Super Tuscans.
Liv-ex director, Justin Gibbs, explains: “Italy has been boosted by activity for Tuscan wines – particularly for the Super Tuscans which account for around 75% of Italy’s trade over the past year”
“At a time where Bordeaux has been deeply out of favour, Italy has produced a string of great vintages and has offered collectors a credible alternative.”
The 1997s, 1999s and 2001s were all excellent vintages in Tuscany but the 2004 stands out as a “benchmark” year for Super Tuscans.
Corney & Barrow’s (www.corneyandbarrow.com) head of fine wine, Will Hargrove, says the wines have “perhaps more balance” than the 1997s, while Tim Banks, Ornellaia’s marketing director (www.ornellaia.com) told the drinks business that after a growing season that could be described as “textbook perfect”, “we made, we believe, a great wine in 2004; a benchmark for Ornellaia and [for Bolgheri] in general.”
Furthermore, as Hargrove continues, “like the 2005 Bordeaux’s they’ve just started to show their stuff.”
As can be seen below the release prices of the most famous Super Tuscans were somewhat varied but by the end of August this year, Masseto aside, prices had broadly fallen into line.
Performances over the last five years have been solid if not overly spectacular, Masseto’s 25% gain being the most strident.
Looked at over the eight – and in Sassicaia’s (www.tenutasanguido.com)case nine – years since their release however and the appreciation is more palpable with Solaia slightly disappointing with just a 57% rise but Ornellaia and Sassicaia rose over 80% each, Masseto 100% exactly and Tignanello a full 154%.
The rises may not be spectacular but they have been consistent. A look at their charts on Liv-ex shows a distinct lack of boom and bust which occasionally characterises massetowines from other regions.
What’s more, and without drawing too many parallels between different regions, the performance of the 2004 Super Tuscans versus – for argument’s sake – the Left Bank Bordeaux 2005s as mentioned by Hargrove compares very favourably.
A great vintage, not as well scored by Robert Parker (www.wineadvocate.com) as many expected and so condemned to lag behind the sexier ‘09s and ‘10s before recognition (at last!) – at least for the Right Bank – earlier this summer, the 2005 Bordeaux vintage hasn’t exactly set the secondary market on fire.
If one looks at the Médoc, Pontet-Canet has risen 87% in price since its release and Lynch Bages 97% but Haut-Brion is up just 33%, Margaux 17%, Palmer 53%, Pichon-Baron 30% and Léoville Las Cases a mere 10%.
Both sets of wines were subject to different influencing factors and scrutiny of course and so it’s best not to draw absolute conclusions from a shallow comparison. Then again, compared with those same Bordeaux wines from the 2008 and 2009 vintages the 2004 Super Tuscans are doing much better too.
Then again, Ornellaia, Sassicaia &co aren’t perfect either and some of the labels in the more recently released vintages such as 2010s and 2011s have had their ups and downs in recent months and several are showing negative returns. Overall however, like all strong fine wine labels, Super Tuscans from top vintages (and some lesser ones) will pull through and deliver strong returns with a minimum of fuss.
So what makes the Super Tuscans such consistent performers not just over and above Bordeaux but against fellow Italian wines which can boast similar pedigree when it comes to great winemaking?
Gibbs explains: “These Super Tuscans are strong brands which are producing large volumes – similar quantities to the Bordeaux first growths – while production levels in Barolo are much smaller (more in common with those in Burgundy).”
Will Hargrove agrees saying: “There are some strong reputations (in Piedmont) but you don’t see the wines like you do with the Super Tuscans,” while Banks also points to the “drinkability” of these wines and the way they “seduce collectors and wine lovers”.
If Bordeaux were at the top of its game then the above examples would be leaving the Super Tuscans and indeed almost everything else for dust.
But it’s not and Italy is benefitting as a result. What counts in the Super Tuscans favour – at the moment – is that despite there being interest in the wines there’s not so much that prices are threatening to go ballistic and create the sort of problems Bordeaux experienced. Their seemingly pedestrian rate of appreciation (coupled with their appealing price and quality ratio) makes the Super Tuscans appealing to collectors but probably helped to protect them during the worst period of the age of investors.
In age when the average first growth costs perhaps £5,000 a case, the majority of the top Super Tuscans tend to be below £2,000 p/cs and all the indications for now seem to be that they’ll keep creeping quietly along, making gains as they go – strange as it may seem to cast the Italians as the tortoise in the secondary market race.
Founder of Vinifera, since 2005 he works in the international business of fine wines.
In 2017 he founded Italian Wine Asset, the first Italian specialised entity for consulting on buying and selling Vineyards and Wineries.