If you want to put your money into fine wine – and there is an investment case just as there is for many other assets – then do so. But do it properly and and don't ever get suckered into the process via a cold call.
I get loads of these for all sorts of assets but, at the moment, primarily wine. These calls are always bad news. Last week, I met a top person from the Financial Conduct Authority. I told him the best way to protect vulnerable savers from these charlatans was for the watchdog to organise a "hang up on investment cold callers – ALWAYS " campaign.
Sophisticated phone pests
In the interim, I am pleased to say my latest unwelcome wine call did not treat me as a complete idiot, as the last few did. Though perhaps I should not be pleased, because the more sophisticated the phone pests become, the more likely they are to convince potential victims to hand over their cash.
We still have the 'China story' - how the newly very rich in the world's biggest nation are so desperate to buy the finest wines that they will pay anything.
A different tack
My new wine 'friend' James has a different tack. He explains how Andrew Lloyd Webber, the writer of many musicals, sold wine at auction in China for £3.5 million. What he did not tell me was that the sale was in January 2011, a two and a half year time gap during which the Chinese economic dragon has lost a lot of fire.
Even more worrying was James' insistence that the sale was the result of a £330,000 investment in 1993. Where did he get that from? There is no evidence from any of the contemporary accounts that all the wine came from one purchase. On the contrary, it seems Lloyd Webber had been building up a cellar for decades and needed to make some space.
James also said the Russians, Indians and Brazilians were all big buyers. He's possibly right, but no matter who is buying, it does not mean that James will exchange my investment cash into something drinkable, let alone sellable for big gains.
James, described as a "junior broker" (whatever that means) posted me a very well-produced brochure with loads of really attractive colour pictures – art quality photos of grapes, wine glasses, barrels, scenes of provincial France, and maps of the wine growing regions.
But other than a promise to provide me with every expertise under the sun so I could just sit back and watch my fortune expand, there was little information on his employer. The brochure looked very similar to others I've seen. Somewhere out there I believe there is someone producing these for all these wine cold-callers (and there are dozens).
Moving from carbon credits to wine
For all the claimed expertise – the years of supposed experience and the strong links with the wine trade – the fact is James' firm has been around for less than a year. Its one director was last heard of cold-calling people to sell them carbon credits, from the same address using a company which is about to be struck off at Companies House. Not that that is of any help to victims.
James – unlikely to be his real name – actually knows nothing about wine. He was recruited by a specialist firm in investment cold calling and he reads from a script. His script tells me only 13,000 cases of fine wine will be produced. Others I've spoken to have said it is 17,000 or 25,000.
It's all nonsense, but said in a way which sounds authoritative.
He told me there would be no tax to pay on my profits. This is not true. The very legitimate Wine and Spirit Trade Association which has a warning notice on its website to help potential investors avoid fraud. It says: "Profits from wine investment are not necessarily tax free. For inheritance tax purposes, wine will be valued at the current open market value. Depending on the circumstances, fine wines may also attract Capital Gains Tax."
But if James and his mates told prospective victims the truth, they would not hand over the cash. In my case, he expects me to send £20,000.