RICHARD EHRLICH'S BEVERAGE REPORT; A taste of wealth

When a cellar from one of the world's great restaurants goes to Sotheby's, expectations are high - as are prices

Invitations to tastings, in my line of work, are a daily occurrence. Many I turn down. Some I accept. A few make me get on the phone immediately and say: "Yes please!"

The most recent tasting in the third category was of wines from the cellars of the restaurant Girardet, near Lausanne. Fredy Girardet had a trio of Michelin stars, and his dining room was spoken of with hushed reverence by those lucky (and rich) enough to eat there - the closest I ever got was his cookbook. Now the restaurant is closed, and M Girardet is selling his cellar at Sotheby's on 6 and 7 October. Since I don't often get invited to the houses where they're served, my knowledge of the greatest wines, especially in their mature form, is mostly limited to reading. The Girardet tasting, from a sale of 1,750 lots, offered the chance to add practice to theory. This is "serious" wine, from a cellar amassed by a genius with a well-heeled clientele. Bordeaux and Burgundy dominate, and in vintages to make one slaver. Claret starts in 1902, red Burgundy in 1929, white Burgundy, 1936. And so it was that I stood in a room surrounded by posters from a different sale. We hovered over 17 bottles, all red except a white chateauneuf, Chateau de Beaucastel, Vieilles Vignes 1994 from Perrin (est pounds 160-pounds 200 per dozen). Nine Burgundies, six claret, and two vintages (1990 and 1992) of the "super Tuscan" Sassicaia. I waded in to find out how the other half drinks.

The answer was: not as well as I expected. Many of these wines were simply no longer enjoyable. Interesting, yes. Hinting at greatness, yes - there were traces of past glory almost everywhere. But would I want to pay the estimated prices, even if I could afford them? No way, Jose. The fruit in Chateau La Lagune 1978, a wine I drank with huge pleasure for an anniversary dinner some eight years ago, had shrivelled to taut austerity - all structure and too little substance. At pounds 240-pounds 280 a dozen, I couldn't see the point. Chateau Haut Brion 1961, from one of the greatest post- war vintages, seemed far too astringent when you're paying pounds 4,000-pounds 5,500 a dozen. One of the Burgundies, a Volnay les Champans 1988 from Marquis d'Angerville, was clearly unsound - dank, musty, manky. Estimate: pounds 260- pounds 340 a dozen.

There were three great mouthfuls in the event. One, I think, was Chateau Margaux 1961 (est pounds 4,000-pounds 5,000 a dozen). I say that I think this was memorable because I got just the tiniest sip: wiser tasters had taken nearly all of it by the time I got to that table. The other two were the Sassicaia pair, of which the 1990 (est pounds 1,200-pounds 1,600 a dozen) seemed finer yet less mature than the 1992 (est pounds 440-pounds 550).

It's possible that the bottles were better before I got to them, since wines of this antiquity can change rapidly once the cork is pulled. It's possible, too, that my limited experience and high expectations account for my disappointment. But I was not the only person who felt let-down. Oz Clarke, who does have wide experience of wine at this level, thought that the tasting showed the dangers of keeping wine too long.

"Sotheby's are unable to accept returns" says the not-very-small print, and unless you taste first you have no way of knowing what's inside the bottle. The wine may have been stored badly, which will kill it stone- dead. This wouldn't be true of M Girardet's cellar, of course, but in his case some of the venerable vintages have simply not withstood the ravages of time. Anyone buying runs the risk that they'll spend a huge fortune on a huge disappointment.

After leaving Sotheby's I headed off to the awards dinner for the 1998 International Wine Challenge, not 10 minutes away. Following the rarefied atmosphere of the Girardet wines it was pleasant to come down to something nearer real life. Two medal winners quickly, first of all Maglieri Shiraz Mclaren Vale 1996. Last year it was the 1995 that won. I'd tasted it not long before at Unwins and had been deeply impressed by its massive but well-integrated package of spice and aromatics (pounds 8.99). Two: the gorgeous, lime-fresh Champagne Le Brun de Neuville Cuvee Chardonnay, which sells for the outlandishly low price of pounds 12.75. Not easy to get hold of unless you live in London, but the importers/retailers, Waterloo Wine Co (0171 403 7967), will ship it happily if you ask nicely. Do ask, before it all runs out.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Arts and Entertainment
William Pooley from Suffolk is flying out to Free Town, Sierra Leone, to continue working in health centres to fight Ebola after surviving the disease himself

music
Arts and Entertainment
The Newsroom creator Aaron Sorkin

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Berry (centre), the star of Channel 4 sitcom 'Toast of London'

TVA disappointingly dull denouement
Arts and Entertainment
Tales from the cryptanalyst: Benedict Cumberbatch in 'The Imitation Game'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pixie Lott has been voted off Strictly Come Dancing 2014

Strictly
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'You look for someone who's an inspiration and try to be like them'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Could cannabis oil reverse the effects of cancer?

    Could cannabis oil reverse effects of cancer?

    As a film following six patients receiving the controversial treatment is released, Kate Hilpern uncovers a very slippery issue
    The Interview movie review: You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here

    The Interview movie review

    You can't see Seth Rogen and James Franco's Kim Jong Un assassination film, but you can read about it here
    Serial mania has propelled podcasts into the cultural mainstream

    How podcasts became mainstream

    People have consumed gripping armchair investigation Serial with a relish typically reserved for box-set binges
    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up for hipster marketing companies

    Jesus Christ has become an unlikely pin-up

    Kevin Lee Light, aka "Jesus", is the newest client of creative agency Mother while rival agency Anomaly has launched Sexy Jesus, depicting the Messiah in a series of Athena-style poses
    Rosetta space mission voted most important scientific breakthrough of 2014

    A memorable year for science – if not for mice

    The most important scientific breakthroughs of 2014
    Christmas cocktails to make you merry: From eggnog to Brown Betty and Rum Bumpo

    Christmas cocktails to make you merry

    Mulled wine is an essential seasonal treat. But now drinkers are rediscovering other traditional festive tipples. Angela Clutton raises a glass to Christmas cocktails
    5 best activity trackers

    Fitness technology: 5 best activity trackers

    Up the ante in your regimen and change the habits of a lifetime with this wearable tech
    Paul Scholes column: It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves

    Paul Scholes column

    It's a little-known fact, but I have played one of the seven dwarves
    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Fifa's travelling circus once again steals limelight from real stars

    Club World Cup kicked into the long grass by the continued farce surrounding Blatter, Garcia, Russia and Qatar
    Frank Warren column: 2014 – boxing is back and winning new fans

    Frank Warren: Boxing is back and winning new fans

    2014 proves it's now one of sport's biggest hitters again
    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

    Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

    The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
    Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

    The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

    Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas