Fine wine has been in the spotlight in Spain this week, with jail terms handed out to the two thieves found guilty of stealing 45 premium bottles from the cellar at the three Michelin starred Atrio restaurant in Cáceres in October 2021. Estimates put the value of the haul at €1.6 million – which the insurance company managed to wrangle down to €750,000! - including a very rare bottle of the famous Chateau d’Yquem from 1806, on the wine list for a mere €150,000.
The Atrio affair had a touch of slapstick about it. The thieves - a former Mexican beauty queen and her older Rumanian-Dutch partner – were sporting masks and wigs and creeping around corridors in the dead of night. But wine theft is a serious business and the Cáceres heist is by no means one of a kind. In November 2022, €150,000 of wine disappeared from the two-Michelin-star Coque in Madrid. Rare Burgundy was the target in a Copenhagen restaurant in 2020. And Paris too has seen its fair share of fine wine disappear.
So, what is it about fine wine that has sparked such a thieving spree? Price, of course, has a lot to do with it. Many of the top labels targeted by thieves command pretty stratospheric prices even for new wines that have just left the winery. Recent vintages of famed Burgundy producer Domaine de la Romanée-Conti for example – plain DRC to the cognoscenti – command prices around €7,000 a bottle on release, while their Grand Cru wines from very specific, highly valued vineyard plots can cost closer to €30,000.
To a large extent, prices are so high thanks to scarcity and uniqueness. The DRC estate covers less than 2 hectares and annual production is less than 6,000 bottles. L’Hermita, made in Priorat by famed Spanish producer Alvaro Palacios and consistently ranked as one of Spain’s most expensive and collectable red wines, comes from a parcel of just 1.44 hectares (a couple of football pitches at most).
Releasing such limited edition wines is a challenge in itself with all sorts of complicated quota systems and waiting lists involved to try and ensure the wines are at least spread out in different markets across the world. And of course, once they are formally released, secondary markets spring up, wine fanatics scramble to get their hands on the wines and, inevitably, thieves step in and “steal to order” for their wine collector bosses.
Wine is big business. In a changing world investors are always looking for solid but lucrative havens for their money, and fine wine is no exception. The Live-ex exchange was set up in the early noughties as an online global fine wine market to allow merchants and investors to talk and trade with each other, and various competitors have jumped on the bandwagon ever since.
Now, investing is a tricky business and you should always read the small print. But the fine wine trading crowd will tell you that wine is doing very well at the moment, consistently outperforming equities, commodities or even gold. London-based wine investment firm Cult Wines go so far as to claim that as an asset class, fine wine increased in value by 20% over 2022. Of course, as a business dedicated to trading fine wine, they would say that, wouldn’t they? Nevertheless, as traditional stock markets continue to tremble it does look like less traditional investments like fine wine will continue to attract investor interest.
In the meantime, back down here on planet earth, we’ll be spending our time seeking out fine but affordable wines from all over Spain for you to enjoy. And we’ll be keeping our eyes out for suspicious looking wine traders trying to sell expensive bottles at knock-down prices. The Atrio thieves may be behind bars, but the 45 stolen bottles have yet to be found!