Random Thoughts after the recent Henry Tang auctions

Where do I start? I suppose I’d start by sharing a bit about myself. My day job is a trader at a hedge fund. My daily routine consists of buying and selling assets that we deem mispriced. As a trader I constantly grapple with whether asset prices are a) mean reverting or trending and b) efficient.

Wine collection is not much different. The current prices of top-end burgundies scare me. Trophy wines are becoming “trophier” (to borrow a phrase I saw discussed on wineberserker.com), while general prices across the board also increasing, albeit much less than top-end. At what point do we go from trending (because of supply/demand dynamics, thus structural) to mean-reverting? It can happen, as we saw with Bordeaux in 2011/2012 after China demand faded.

As for efficiency? We all know wine trading is not efficient when you can buy the same wine at different locations, events, situations for different prices. This is obviously great for the arbitrageurs and speculators in the market, but how many end users actually end up enjoying the bottle? Not to mention the fact that many of these bottles have travelled the world more than once over, severely impacting the quality of what is left in the bottle.

What happens when what’s left in the bottle is not even real? Post auction, the press is picking story on wineberserker.com’s Don Cornwell claim that 3 lots of DRC were counterfeits, and quite damning photo evidence I might add. We, in the wine world, all know the story of Rudy K and his counterfeiting scam, but for the first time the broader general public are picking up awareness. Because it’s Henry Tang, who has been in the press a lot lately for non-political reasons, people are watching with schaudefreude eyes, though more awareness is always good.

This market (like any other with financial gains to be had – credit derivs, commods, candy beans, whatever) need more regulations and transparency. Impletion is difficult, especially with the global reach of buyers. How do you deal with the buyer, based in China, is purchasing from an auction, based in London that is selling wine from Burgundy from another seller that is based in LA? Which set of laws do we use? I don’t have answers to these questions, but we do have to make sure these questions are being asked. Until then, I suppose it is buyers beware… (and do your homework!).

Oh well, off to the next auction at Acker’s this weekend! I am sure we will achieve another record-breaking sales and record-breaking single wine sold (they have some DRC RC 2005, over/under HK$150k per bottle?)

– RW




Joseph Roty: The Man, The Myth, The Legend


This is how critics and press use to describe Joseph Roty himself (not the wine): individualist. Reclusive. Exasperating. Iconoclast. Eccentric. Annoying. Annoyingly difficult.

Not exactly the most glamorous words I must say, however, the wines produced from this family estate seem to consistently find their way into cellars of exclusive wine collectors and connoisseurs, while receiving accolades from well known critics across the globe. The element of mystery behind this Domaine might have sparked such interest, but the quality of the wine is undoubtedly superb in many aspects.

Joseph Roty and his family have been producing wine in Burgundy since 1710, a staggering eleven generations. While some Burgundian families can boast for having lived in the same town for centuries, there are very few estates who can claim with credibility that they have been working the same vineyards for 300 years, as Roty can. The family owns 12 hectares  in the villages of Gevrey-Chambertin and Marsannay. Given the family history, Roty works with some of the oldest vines in the area which is one its key advantages. Of note there is on one tiny production cuvee called, appropriately, Charmes-Chambertin Très Vieilles Vignes ( lit. “really old vines”) from grapes off Pinot Noir vines planted around 1881.


Joseph Roty, notorious for being the stand-out among Burgundy winemakers, is best described by Clive Coates: “Both he and the rest of his family: madame, sons Philippe and Pierre-Jean seem to have an almost paranoiac distrust of outsiders, the local bureaucracy, and other people in general. They do not consort with their neighbours, play no part in Gevrey-Chambertin promotional activities, and are closed to almost all journalists, including myself.” On the other hand, some say that his reclusiveness is the secret of his success. Him and his family go a very long way to preserve their method of production and do not succumb to trends or criticisms.  Roty’s productions are low in yields, some stems are used and raised in plenty of charred new oak. After a severe triage (sorting through the fruit to eliminate the sub-standard) there is a week’s long cold soaking before the fermentation is allowed to commence, and thereafter it takes place at a maximum of 25/26 degrees, which is surprisingly low.


Joseph Roty passed away in 2008 and the Domaine has since been operated by his son Philippe, who seemingly adopted the methods of his father’s winemaking. Today there are a couple of labels, the label of Domaine Joseph Roty is augmented with the label of Domaine Philippe Roty who has added some more Marsannay to the Gevrey. Whilst the wineries are completely separate – by law – they are actually separated only by the main road through the village.


I have had the luxury to taste a 2007 Charmes-Chambertin TVV (thank you Robin) – and its really quite something. Its aroma doesn’t strike the nose from the start but rather grows subtly along the way. Tannins are silky. Complex and well-structured wine.


Some additional praises on Roty:

“Roty has made an extended push in Marsannay over the past 3 years and is now by far and away the quality leader for this appellation.” (Allen Meadows, Burghound, Jan 2005)

“The village wines, including those from Marsannay, routinely outperform most premier crus from the northern Cote de Nuits. And they are reasonably priced” (Stephen Tanzer, I.W.C., Mar/Apr 2001)

“Roty wines are very distinctive. They are full, very intense, very perfumed and very harmonious. They are certainly immensely seductive.” (Clive Coates, Cote D’or, 1997.)

“This is winemaking of exceptional quality at every level.” (Remington Norman, The Great Domaines of Burgundy)





So…what about Domaine Leroy’s 2004 Vintage?



Domaine Leroy. If you are a serious Burgundy drinker, you probably recognise Domaine Leroy as one of the icons of Burgundian wines, and Lalou Bize-Leroy being one of the most influential winemakers in the business. After inheriting her father’s negociant business in 1955, she went on to co-manage DRC and brought Romanee Conti into the world stage as one of the most sought after wine in the world. After departing DRC in 1992, she started Domaine Leroy and has ever since created top-rated wines and receiving numerous accolades from wine critics around the world.


Leroy’s wines are low yielding and she emphasises on long fermentation before careful ageing. Her consideration for the terroir and her obsession with quality are very noticeable in her marvellous wines. Leroy is also one of the biggest advocate for biodynamic wines, meaning the wines are free of chemicals treatments, pesticides, fertilisers etc., essentially all-nautrale. 


2004 was a unique yet controversial vintage for Leroy.That year, Madame Leroy declassified all her upper level wines to villages level as she found that the 2004 vintage lacked the level of quality and vibrancy that her wines represent. She declassified her wines into five – so the Vosne Romanee includes Grand Cru (Richebourg, RSV), 1er cru (Brulees, Beaux Monts) and Villages (Genaivrières). Bourgogne includes Clos Vougeot and all the Leroy holdings in Cote de Beaune, from Grand Cru to Villages, etc.


There are many theories from critics as to why she did what she did; but little did people know that 2004 was also a depressing year for her as her husband, Marcel Bize passed away. She did explain that she became seriously depressed and found it difficult to take her normal interest in her wines despite her capable team. Some say it was more to the story…lady bugs, hail, etc. But interestingly enough, while Leroy declassified all her reds (both at Leroy and Auvenay), she bottled as normal all of her whites. So whatever conclusion resulted in the view that the reds wouldn’t be up to par was not applicable to the whites. So have prices reflected this phenomenon of declassification? Not necessarily. Some say this vintage did not deserve to be declassified, and is the bargain of the century. But some insist that the 2004 vintage clearly differs in character and grace versus her other products. But nonetheless, drinkers were eager to give this vintage a try given the story behind it.


We might never find out what really happened, but the 2004 vintage will always carry the unknown factor and challenge the drinker to ponder upon the nuances of this interesting yet controversial vintage. 

Domaine de la Vougeraie

Jasper Morris and BBR were in town this week to kick off the 2011 en primeur campaign. While most of the wines showed soft fruit and amazing approachability, the wines of Domaine de la Vougeraie stole the show, recalling memories of how similarly a simple premier cru Clos Blanc de Clos de Vougeot stole the show  against some grander Grand Crus on my first ever tasting of their wines.

Domaine de la Vougeraie is a relatively new domaine in the timeline of burgundian winemaking. It was started in 1999 using holdings purchased by the Boisset family over the years. With the last purchase in 1996 of different plots of land in the Clos Vougeot appellation, Jean-Charles Boisset and Nathalie Boisset quickly invited Pascal Marchand to help with the vinification of their grapes. However, since 2006, Pascal Marchand handed over the reins to Pierre Vincent who continued to grow the reputation of the domaine. As of 2011, the domaine owns a combined 34 hectares, to which they recently added 0.2 hectares of Batard Montrachet. Two thirds of their plots lie in the Cote De Nuits and the other one third in Cote de Beaune.

While I have not tasted Pascal Marchand’s version of this domaine, the word is that his wines take some time to come around (similar to his Comte Armand Clos de Epeneaux). Since Pierre Vincent took over, the wines seem have gained another layer of softness. As one of my friend recently commented: “it is like fog, very elusive”. Whether it is this new style or other reasons, the reputation of Domaine de la Vougeraie have been steadily gaining after Pierre Vincent took over. In the vineyard, farming is biodynamique, horse-ploughing is encouraged, and vines are trained the Guyot method. While vinification differs vintage to vintage, generally, the Domaine 100% destemms, pratices cold soak for 4 to 5 days, before 6 to days of fermentation, and ending with 8 to 14 days of maceration in wooden vats. The wines are racked in typically 30% new oak and bottled by gravity without fining or filtration.

There is clearly a house style (soft, friendly, pretty, “elusive”) and the reds are definitely of red end of the fruit spectrum. On the other hand, the terroir of the land equally stands out under the tutelage of Monsieur Vincent, though most of the time I feel it is an interesting and different take of the same terroir. It is perhaps a testament to Monsieur Vincent’s skill, that while Domaine de la Vougeraie has more than 20 different appellation, yet each individual terroir stands out. The jewels of their lineups must be the Clos Blanc de Clos de Vougeot monopole and the Musigny (which they destemm grape by grape by hand). However, with the recent addition of Batard-Montrachet, which Jasper dubbed as the best Batard Montrachet in BBR’s portfolio, it will be interesting to taste this in couple years time. Certainly I believe the domaine’s soft round style should lend itself nicely to the terroir of Batard-Montrachet.

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Ladybugs, pyrazines and 2011 vintage

With the 2011 en primeur season kicking off, story of similarities between 2004 and 2011 has been making the rounds on the interwebs. What was the problem with 2004? While the whites were of superb quality, the reds picked up a herbaceous and green characteristics, both on the nose and palate. While official reason for this “taint” is not confirmed, many attribute it to the unusually large number of ladybugs that arrived with the grapes on the sorting table. Similarly, there has been stories of even more ladybugs finding their way onto the sorting table in the 2011 vintage.
Affectionately known, or unaffectionately depending on viewpoints, as the “green meanies” is most often caused by an aromatic organic compound called pyrazines. While lots of debate still rages on whether it is specifically the ladybugs that are the root cause, pyrazines are indeed found in legs of ladybugs as defence mechanisms.
Silver lining
While unbearable for many, there are likewise as many people who don’t mind the greeness. Certain people don’t even register the characteristics. However, it would be wise to approach 2011 with caution, especially with the price hike in anticipation of low yield in 2012. After all, the “green meanies” weren’t picked up until a few years after bottling.


Let Jean Michel Chartron of Domaine Jean Chartron in Puligny-Montrachet in Burgundy explain his take on terroir – which is what makes Burgundy wines so unique.