Along with resetting price expectations for young Bordeaux wines, the 2009 campaign is also likely to have another, largely unforeseen, outcome – the rise of the “six pack” (6x75cl cases). As prices have risen (and allocations per merchant have been scaled back) wines that would once have been sold almost entirely in the 12x75cl unit size are now increasingly sold in six packs. The 2009 vintage represents the culmination of a trend that has been building for some time. Lynch Bages, for example, packed 30% of their 2008s as six packs (it was 20% in 2005), and this ratio is likely to be much higher in 2009. Indeed, some of the Liv-ex member merchants have informed us that all wines above €50 per bottle will be packed in the smaller unit size.
But do the top wines packed as six packs behave the same way in the secondary market as those packed in 12s? To find out, we looked at all Liv-ex transactions in the last 12 months where the same wine has traded in numerous unit sizes in the same working week. This gave us a set of more than 650 transactions for around 150 separate wines. The results showed that those collectors who have seen their allocations stripped back from 12 bottles to just six can rest easy. Six packs have, on average, traded at just a 0.7% discount to 12s in the last year. This small difference would appear to be a result of the lower liquidity in the 6×75 contract in most wines and vintages rather than six packs being intrinsically less valuable (more than 70% of Liv-ex turnover is concentrated on the 12x75cl contract, with 6x75cl accounting for 10%). This supposition is supported by our findings for the Super Tuscans, which are more heavily traded in the 6x75cl unit size. Here, we found the opposite relationship, with 12s trading at a 0.6% discount to the smaller unit size.
Looking past questions of value, the rise of the six pack brings up a host of other issues that the fine wine trade and its customers will need to consider. The 12x75cl case is so firmly entrenched as the standard unit of trade, particularly in the UK, that everything from price lists and valuations to IT systems and delivery charges are geared up to service it. A more equal split in trade between the two unit sizes may also result in reduced liquidity, making buying, selling and valuation more difficult. We may ultimately reach a position where the trade, and even collectors, are forced to treat 2x6x75cl and 12x75cl unit sizes as completely interchangeable (as long as they are both in original wooden cases). We are clearly not there yet. But with the 2009s due for delivery in the spring of 2012, it may be wise to start preparing.