How lucky that in a blog about wine to note that the word “Provenance” has French origins. As we all know, France and wine go hand in hand or “main dans la main” as they say.
Perhaps even more appropriate is the fact that the meaning of the word provenance itself is origin or source, history or pedigree.
Provenance is not a word we heard mentioned as much a few decades ago. However, it is now very much a buzzword and a hot topic in the food and drink world. Various food scares (think mad cow or salmonella eggs), and heightened media awareness, have whipped us into a frenzy, and resulted in consumers demanding more transparency around what they eat and drink.
Whilst provenance, accountability and disclosure has become increasingly important in the food and drink world, it has always been of the utmost importance in the fine wine market.
What is Wine Provenance?
Given that Provenance means origin or source, what does provenance mean in terms of wine?
In a nutshell, or more topically, grape-skin, the provenance of a particular wine is the ownership history. A bit like the much-fabled “only one previous lady owner” second-hand car, the ownership element of a wine’s identity is more important than all other criteria put together. It’s a schoolboy error to think that the first thing to look for when choosing a bottle of wine is either the region, the producer, the vintage or perish the thought, the pretty label.
For serious investors, the provenance of a wine is paramount.
Provenance is the term that not only guarantees the source of the wine and the fact that it is the genuine article but also takes into account how well it has been kept. Being “well-kept” in the fine wine context necessitates more than just good grooming. The provenance also considers the life cycle and storage of the wine – both of which are vitally important when buying and selling fine wine.
How to Track Wine Provenance?
Nowadays, it seems that everything is tracked in our daily lives. Calories, footsteps, the number of fruit and veg or plant-based food groups; you name it, we love to track it.
In wine provenance terms tracking is vitally important in establishing the value of a particular wine and several elements need to be considered: the storage of the wine, the security and traceability of the source and the reliability of the Wine Exchange Platform.
With the importance of wine provenance in mind, the pressing question is how can we effectively track it?
Have a Trusted Wine Exchange Platform
When looking at fine wine as an asset, the importance of tracking the traceability and authenticity of your wine cannot be overstated.
Keeping this in mind, a crucial step in tracking your wine provenance is the necessity of finding a trusted and reliable wine trading app.
A wine exchange platform is a peer-to-peer online marketplace for members to buy and sell wine from anywhere in the world. The enormous advantage of an exchange platform is that it reduces the supply chain and allows members to trade directly with other users.
So far, so good, but the important question is what makes a platform trusted and reliable?
An obvious requirement is wine expertise, but this in itself is not enough. A successful wine exchange platform also needs to combine technical achievement, financial expertise and as we have just learnt, a guarantee of wine provenance.
Make Sure The Wine Storage Is Great
Given that wine storage is of paramount importance we need to understand how it works and the basics of how to store wine.
Storage is all about controlling the chemical reaction of a wine and works along with the moral of the Aesop fable of the hare and the tortoise … that is, slow and steady wins the game.
Ok, so now we are talking of childhood fables, let’s stay back in our school days but we can head over to the science lab. Button up your lab coats, light the bunsen burners and let’s get to grips with the science behind the wine ageing process.
Wine matures by the intake of air into bottles sealed with a cork at a slow and steady pace.
With me this far? Fairly elementary science.
Some fascinating facts about the corks by the way: cork is harvested from the cork oak tree (‘Quercus suber’ – bonus latin lesson) and is impermeable, elastic, fire-retardant and hydrophobic.
But, back to the wine … The bottles need to be laid down, undisturbed in a cool and dark place with a constant temperature of 12-14 degrees centigrade. Given these optimum conditions, fine wines develop wonderful layers of flavour to add complexity and depth to their primary fruit.
So far, so good.
However, this is a very delicate process and any sudden variations in conditions such as temperature, humidity, light or stability can have an adverse effect.
For example, if the wine becomes too hot the liquid expands. Again, basic stuff. But the problem with fine wine is that the liquid expansion can lead to seepage. And seepage is not good.
If the temperature then cools this leads to additional air space in the bottle. Space speeds up the natural evolution of oxygenation. Still with me? Good.
This will lead to over-oxidized wine which we all know makes for a flat-tasting wine with cooked fruit flavours and a distinct lack of complexity. And nobody wants that.
Science lesson over. The moral of the wine storage tale is to know to look out for the visible signs of poor storage in the form of seepage, low levels, poor colour and shrunken corks.
Look for Ex-châteaux Wines
“Shrunken corks aside, we have discovered that the provenance of wine is the holy grail of fine wine investment but alas, as with all luxury goods, fine wines encounter counterfeiting and fraud.
One classic example dates back a decade and concerns an Indonesian convicted criminal and perpetrator of wine fraud. According to Wikipedia, Rudy Kurniawan began buying and selling large amounts of rare wines in the early part of the 2000s, spending as much as $1 million a month buying auction lots by 2006.
He was found to be offering more magnums of the limited edition 1947 Château Lafleur than had been produced, and his Clos St. Denis Grand Cru was labelled with a fictitious vintage. Sentenced to 10 years’ imprisonment in 2013, he was released in November 2020 and deported.
In order not to fall victim to wine fraudsters like Rudy, the provenance and authenticity of a wine needs to be guaranteed and this explains the champagne-popping success of ex-chateaux wines.
Ex-château wines are wines that are sold directly from the winery after being bottled and stored in the winery’s cellar. They have never left the production site before the time of purchase.
This means they are in pristine condition with the authenticity guaranteed and they, therefore, can command a premium provenance wine price as a result.
Ex-chateaux wines are the closest thing to a risk-free investment. They come directly from the producer’s cellar and the consumer can enjoy drinking them exactly as the producer intended. In our opinion, it doesn’t get much better than that!
Check for a Wine NFC Tag
Talking of risk-free, or as close as is possible, we are now lucky enough to live in a time where technological advances have proved capable of ensuring wine provenance, security and traceability in a way that was not possible two decades ago. Which is a shame for Rudy and other unscrupulous fraudsters but great news for modern fine wine investors.
The name of this is the NCF tag. NCF stands for Near Field Communication and simply put, the tag contains a microchip with a detailed information record of the wine contents and the transaction history. A smartphone can then work as a reader to extract the tag’s data.
The beauty of this technology for the fine wine market is that the tag and the integrated coil are small enough to be hidden on the wine bottle.
In terms of tracking the provenance of a wine, the NCF tag is a key feature as your wine is always traceable.
You now know how to track a wine’s provenance. Make sure to continue reading our guide on how to invest in wine.