By Leslie Gevirtz
NEW YORK (Reuters) - When investing in wine, as opposed to drinking it, experts advise leaving your taste buds at the cellar door but keeping your eyes wide-open.
Wine is highly regulated, but the market it trades in is not, and the entry fee is not for the faint of heart.
"For proper investment in wine you really need to separate out your personal taste and your personal preference from investment purposes. These are two entirely different goals," said Jennifer Simonetti-Bryan, author most recently of "The One Minute Wine Master" and "Pairing with the Masters: A Definitive Guide to Food & Wine."
"Wine is completely emotional and that's what makes it very difficult as an asset class," said Simonetti-Bryan, who before attaining the top qualification of Master of Wine, worked as a financial analyst in London.
Collectible wine represents less than 1 percent of the entire world's annual wine production. The other 99 percent of this year's output will be up for tasting and sale at VinExpo, the industry's global trade show in Bordeaux that runs through Thursday.
But at least some of that top 1 percent, the classified growths of prized Bordeaux, have already been sampled, rated and priced.
Investors "can do extraordinarily well, but only if you know what you're doing," said Charles Curtis, the former head of wines in New York and Hong Kong for Christie's auction house, who now advises wine collectors and investors. (http://curtismw.com/).
Curtis, like Simonnetti-Bryan, is one of 300 people in the world to hold the coveted Master of Wine title,
"To be successful in investing in any alternative asset - wine, jewelry, art - you have to have a passion for what you collect," said Curtis, whose clients range from those with small collections to those with "five (million dollar) to $10 million cellars."
Timing is also crucial. For example, take the price of a case of 1982 Lafite, the premiere cru Bordeaux. Its cost rose to about $64,000 in May 2011, only to fall to less than $40,000 in January 2012.
"The '82s began to flood the market last year because they were 30 years old and they're peaking," said Jennifer Williams-Bulkeley, who worked in London and managed a portfolio in which the assets were mostly stocks and bonds.
She recently opened a Boston-based wine investment advisory service and applies a soupçon of statistics and a pinch of analytics, combined with a knowledge of terroir to the investment portfolios of her wine clients. (www.wineassetmanagement.com)
"If you're properly managing your wine portfolio, you know when to sell it," said Williams-Bulkeley.
In addition to timing, wine must be stored correctly, shipped properly and have impeccable provenance to qualify as a viable investment.
Questions about provenance are behind a lawsuit filed against celebrity Chef Charlie Trotter. Two New York collectors sued in Chicago's federal court, accusing Trotter of selling them a big bogus bottle of 1945 Burgundy for more than $46,000.
Some auction houses have also been sued for selling suspect wines.
Auctions generate most of the publicity, yet they represent a fairly small percentage of the roughly $4 billion fine wine market. So far this year, the auction houses of Acker, Merrall & Condit, Christie's, Hart Davis Hart, and Sotheby's have sold a little over $100 million worth of fine wine around the world.
While this spring's auction season still has a couple of auctions left and final totals are not in, it looks as though sales will be lower than the first half of last year, when sales totaled about $160 million.
If you still want to get started investing in wine, you'll need to open your wallet wide. Curtis pegged the minimum needed to begin investing seriously in wine at about $100,000. Williams-Bulkeley's managed accounts begin at $250,000.
In the Europe and Asia, it is still possible for sophisticated investors to put money into wine funds for comparatively little - between $15,000 and $50,000. But the funds are not without risk. Some are suffering from liquidity problems and unrealistic valuations of their holdings.
Last month, regulators in Luxembourg forced the wine fund Nobles Crus to suspend redemptions temporarily after the fund manager admitted it did not have enough cash on hand to meet redemption demands.
(Reporting by Leslie Gevirtz. Editing by Lauren Young and Dan Grebler)