Andrew Lloyd Webber may have composed some of theater's most memorable songs, but sometimes there's no sound sweeter than the rap of a gavel. The composer behind "Cats" and "The Phantom of the Opera" recently auctioned off part of his wine collection for nearly $6 million -- with a single case of rare Bordeaux bringing in close to $78,000. This 1982 Chateau Petrus is "the Picasso" of wine and is now worth more than 100 times its original cost, says Stephen Mould, European head of the wine department at Sotheby's, which staged the sale.
Webber declined to comment but has previously said he began collecting wine at age 15, ultimately concentrating on French varietals, which typically make the best investment buys. (Bordeaux accounts for 70 percent of Sotheby's wine auctions.) And while Webber's celebrity status may have boosted prices somewhat, oenophiles say the auction's top sellers hit the vino trifecta: wines that are rare, mature, and from the world's best vineyards. What's more, experts credit the sale's Hong Kong location for its success -- the Asian market has exploded since the state lifted import duties on wine in 2008.
It's possible to profit from wine, even if you didn't start quaffing in high school. Wine appraisers suggest looking for highly rated reds that age well, from reputable producers with small outputs. (A caveat: Experts warn that getting wines from the most exclusive vineyards is no easy feat.) But even the best bottles can leave investors with cottonmouth: One index that tracks market prices for 100 valuable wines fell 15 percent in 2011.