BFM Business Interview | Are Italian wines a new alternative for investment?

Angélique de Lencquesaing talks to BFM about investing in Italian fine wines

“A person who doesn’t like Italy is more or less a heathen” – Félicien Marceau. At iDealwine, Italy and its magnificent wines holds a special place in our hearts. By the way, our website is now accessible in the language of Dante as well as in German with both versions being launched at the same time. So, what better occasion for Angélique de Lencquesaing to talk about Italian fine wines in a recent interview with the French broadcaster BFM led by Cédric Decoeur.

Cédric Decoeur: Angélique, you stop by the office often to comment on the fine wine market. Most of the time, you talk about French wines. Are you a little biased? Because nowadays, if I’m not mistaken, interest is growing for regions outside of France. And as we’re going to discuss Italy today, does this country’s wines represent a credible alternative to French wines in terms of investment opportunities?

We all have a special place for Italy in our heart, me especially, And it fills me with joy to say that the iDealwine website is now in Italian. This just shows how attached we are to this country. Am I biased? Yes, because it is important to understand and get to know your own roots to be able to discover new horizons. But all the same, it is crucial to remember that Italy is the leading wine producer in the world. One of the oldest too as wines were growing in the country nearly 3,000 years ago. This long wine-making tradition developed differently to the one on the French side of the Alps. Vines were grown for a long time in an artisanal way, in every good sense of the word. Numerous properties which are now at the top of the rankings started out producing wine for the family’s consumption. Today, the situation is different.

This family production took place in every Italian region?

Wine-growing regions in Italy are numerous, the country is practically covered in vineyards! Nevertheless, some regions really stand out at auction.

What is the place of Italian wines at auction?

They occupy a dominant place at auctions of international wines, that is to say, wines produced outside of France. In iDealwine auctions last year, 61% of bottles that were not produced within France’s borders came from Italy. Out of the 14 regions we analyse in our annual Barometer, Italy finished 2022 in 8th position in terms of both value and volume sold. This just goes to show how passionate wine enthusiasts are for Italy.

You mentioned that vines are present throughout the country. Does that mean that every region is equally represented at auction?

The variety of wines and regions represented at auctions never stops growing, with wine lovers expanding their search for treasures each year. Having said that, two regions shine brighter than the rest; they are Tuscany and Piedmont. 19 out of the 20 highest-priced bottles sold at auction on iDealwine last year came from one of these two regions.

Can you tell us more about Tuscany and the “Super Tuscans” please?

Tuscany underwent significant development after the Second World War and the move towards modernity encouraged producers to try planting varieties that were different from the local Sangiovese grape. The idea was to find prospects abroad for the bottles that the traditional, local market could not absorb. That was why Marquis della Rochetta, fascinated by Château Lafite’s wines (and a friend of  Baron de Rothschild) started planting Cabernet Sauvignon from Lafite to produce what would become the famous Sassicaia.

And Sassicaia today is an icon…

Yes, undeniably so. The first Sassicaia vintage was produced in 1948 but it wasn’t until the 1970s that Marquis della Rochetta started to distribute it. The older vintages have now become collectable because these wines have won over a certain Robert Parker. That is how a bottle from 1985 – the only vintage to have been given 100/100 by the famed American critic – obtained €2,170 at an iDealwine auction in 2022. More than 420 bottles of this now legendary wine were sold on iDealwine last year. But just so you know, the more recent vintages are available at more affordable prices. The average price of a bottle has settled at €257.

Have other Super Tuscans followed the path opened up by Sassicaia?

Yes, absolutely. The success of Sassicaia has allowed other magnificent wines to follow suit. Antinori, for example, produced by the fabulous Tignanello, is a wine where Sangiovese makes up the greatest percentage in the blend with the rest coming from Cabernet grapes. It is also aged in small oak barrels – another inspiration from French vintners. Solaia, on the other hand, is the opposite, being mainly produced from Cabernet.  There is also Ludovico Antinori who created Tenuta dell’ Ornellaia, a 91-hectare vineyard, which produces Masseto, a wine made entirely from Merlot. These two wines are in the hands of the Frescobaldi family. A bottle of 2005 Masseto went under the hammer for €880 last year.

Tuscany is also home to the regions of Chianti, Brunello di Montalcino and others, isn’t it?

Yes, and it’s in the second appellation, or Denominazione, you mention that we find more traditional domains that are also very much sought-after. For instance, there is Gianfranco Soldera. But just like elsewhere, there are producers who like to bend the rules. Soldera is one of them, but that hasn’t stopped its Case Basse cuvée from gaining worldwide attention. Depending on the vintage, a bottle can sell for around €700. Another icon is Biondi Santi – a bottle from 1983 approached €500. As with some French wines, prices stabilised at the end of last year. Make sure to keep an eye out for these wines at auction…

Tuscany is a land of stars, but Piedmont battles it out for the top spot in the hearts of wine enthusiasts if I’ve understood it correctly…

Yes, Piedmont is the region of choice at iDealwine auctions with 51% of the Italian bottles sold  last coming from this region where Nebbiolo reigns supreme. The elegant, silky wines from Barlo are sometimes made in a Burgundian style which is sure to please wine lovers.

So, the prices of these wines have also risen like those from Burgundy?

The range in the price of these wines is vast and the style of them is just as broad. Winemakers who craft wines using traditional vinification methods (very long maceration, natural yeasts, ageing in barrels for many years) have seen great success, even with their older vintages. These are wineries like Cappellano, Bartolo Mascarello, Rinaldi and the symbolic Giacomo Conterno, whose Barolo Montfortino 2004 obtained €1,178 at auction last year on iDealwine. Bruno Giacosa, who sadly passed away in 2018, was also a symbolic figure of the region. His Barbaresco 1964 (Santo Stefano di Neive) sold for €1,854 in 2022.

So, nostalgia controls the price in this region?

No, it’s more the search of work that is carried out in the Burgundian style with the attention being paid to terroir and place that counts. When it comes to winemaking, styles clash, as I mentioned. One winemaker who is interesting in this regard is Luca Roagna. His Crichet Paje from 1996 – a Barbaresco whose name means “small hill” in the Piedmont dialect – went under the hammer for €868. An extraordinary wine. And then, you also have to look at those using “modern” styles like Angelo Gaja, whose Langhe Sori Tildin cuvée obtained €558 for its 1997 vintage.

Do you also find organic, biodynamic, and natural wines in Italy?

Yes, absolutely. Numerous domains are known for their commitment to more sustainable viticulture. There’s Bibi Graetz from Tuscany, Emidio Peppe located in Abruzzo, and from Piedmont, you will find Roagna, as we’ve already mentioned, as well as Vietti, Ceretto, Sottimano, Luigi Pira, Luciano Sandrone, and from the new generation, Giulia Negri.

But organic wines don’t just come from these two regions?

Exactly! Wine enthusiasts search for wines from Elisabetta Foradori from the Dolomites, Quintarelli from Veneto, and Cornelissen Arianna Occhipinti and Tenuta delle Terre Nere from Sicily. I could go on.

Who buys Italian fine wines?

Appetite for these wines is worldwide. We see buyers from northern (Denmark) and southern (including France) Europe as well as from Asia (Hong Kong, Singapore, etc.). While wine lovers in the Americas are begging us to expand our selection of Italian wines on the website! From an investment point of view, the global success of Italian fine wine is an assurance of an increase in value or, at the very least, it promises easy resale after the wines have been stored for what, as we have seen, can be a long time. Italian fine wines have great ageing potential, particularly when they are bought in large formats.

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