Liv-ex Power 100 List – 2019

IF YEARS of the secondary market were planes coming into land at an airport, then 2019 would definitely be in a holding pattern. “It feels like a transition year,” Liv-ex co-director, Justin Gibbs, remarked at our annual review meeting in November. Those who read last year’s Power 100 report will see many similarities in this year’s: the continued dominance of Burgundy, the ongoing strengthening of Italy, a general broadening of the market and a mixture of highs and lows dogging fine wine favourite, Bordeaux.

Last year marked a new high in the number of wines and brands traded (5,700 and 953 respectively), and this year that rose again with 6,367 wines traded from 995 brands. Three labels from Bordeaux and two from Italy dropped out of this year’s rankings, and those five places were taken up by Burgundian wines. Regional trade share by value continues to slip away from Bordeaux.

From a high of 95% in 2010 that share is now 55%. The value for Champagne, Italy, the Rhône and Rest of the World remained broadly the same (up a little to 8.5% for Italy) but the real benefactor is still Burgundy, which jumped from a value of 14.5% in 2018 to 20.4% this year. With more Burgundian labels joining the Power 100 there seems to be a little more liquidity appearing in the category – but only a little, and pricing is still an issue. Much remains the same, therefore, but there are a number of narratives developing.

In one very important aspect there has been a major change in the Power 100 in that for the first time there are no first growths in the top five places, and, indeed, just one, clinging on by its fingernails, in the top 10. Burgundy, Champagne and Italy rule the roost, but in these uncertain times can any of these hold on long enough to cement a true dynasty?

TOP 10 Quickly scanning the Power 100 list you’ll see that one of the superstar Burgundy regulars on the auction circuit, Armand Rousseau, has leapfrogged Domaine de la Romanée-Conti (second place) and last year’s number one, Domaine Leroy (now third), to the top spot.

Remember that the wines on the list, those that have qualified at least, are graded according to their performance in four criteria: year-on-year price performance; trading performance on Liv-ex (by volume and value); the number of wines and vintages traded; and the average price of the wines. A wine does not need to top every category to end up at the top of the rankings, and we can see that Rousseau comes into its own with the number of unique wines traded (146), for a strong average price (£13,185 per case) and with a decent price performance (up by 20.8% over the past year). Comte de Vogüé is another strongly performing brand this year, and Prieuré Roch has shot out of nowhere straight in at number six on the list.

The likely reason for this can be linked to the death of Frédéric Roch last year, which may have seen previously sat-upon stocks being released from cellars. As Gibbs says: “We never saw it traded; now the liquidity is there.” It’s a similar story, albeit further down the list, with René Engel, another defunct Burgundian domaine, whose wines have dropped straight in at number 56. Geneva-based auction house Baghera held a sale of 1,157 bottles of varying formats, constituting the “last” bottles held in the family cellar in June this year.

The sale made £1.4 million in total, with 24 bottles of the 2004 Grands Echézeaux selling for £40,100. With wines beginning to hit these sorts of prices (albeit at auction), more wines are coming onto the market, and Gibbs notes that those vintages of Engel traded tend to be older ones (older than 2004, at least, the last vintage Philippe made before his death). But the real story of the top 10 is the inclusion of three big Champagne brands: Krug, Louis Roederer (aka Cristal) and Moët & Chandon (aka Dom Pérignon).

Cristal and Dom Pérignon in particular have hovered on the outskirts of the top 10 for a while, their combination of excellent branding, widespread distribution, perceived quality, (relatively) accessible price point in the world of fine wine, decent production levels and solid price performance making them staunch favourites in the secondary market of late – and the same is true for other grandes marques as well. “Champagne is low risk,” remarks Gibbs, and adds that anticipation over the release of the much-hyped 2008 vintage helped “massively”.

Then finally, Sassicaia, the Super Tuscan breaching the inner sanctum of the Power 100 for the first time. Fellow Tuscan Tignanello may have snatched a few headlines in the UK this year thanks to its popularity with prime minister Boris Johnson and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex, but it’s Sassicaia that’s the real hot ticket among the Super Tuscans. It has been mentioned before that of all Italian wines Sassicaia is the one label from the country that’s a real ‘brand’, and that is beginning to ring true.

It acts like Bordeaux of old used to, with a good price that gives it room to grow, and decent volumes (it is the number one brand traded by volume on the Liv-ex Exchange this year) to back up demand, which was high this year for the, justifiably, highly rated 2015 vintage, which rose in price by 25% when it was named Wine Spectator’s Wine of the Year, and the 2016 has appreciated by 71% since Monica Larner of The Wine Advocate gave it a perfect 100 point score.

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