Richard Ehrlich's Beverage Report: Value added vintage

Laying down wine isn't a gamble when our panel of wine sellers tell you what to put in yours
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The Independent Culture
LAST week I laid into the prejudice against laying down wine. Most people assume that it involves huge resources of cash, space and time, but they're wrong. You can lay down relatively modest wines with happy results; you can cellar them (for a small annual fee) with the merchant from whom you bought them; and you can start reaping the rewards within as little as one year.

You should look at the venture as a way to save money. By buying now for drinking later, you are paying far less than you'd have to spend for something of comparable quality. And the specific wine will be unobtainable, having been supplanted by newer, less mature vintages.

To put theory into practice, I asked a handful of merchants for their top tips: good wine of relatively modest cost which will improve greatly over a period of one to four years. All these merchants offer cellaring facilities for about pounds 7 a year per case. If this seems steep, please understand that it is not a money-spinner for them: they offer it as a service for customers. Assorted technicalities: ask about what kind of insurance is included in the fee, about collection/delivery, and about whether cases can be split. Splitting is an administrative headache, and not all merchants will do it.

If your supplier doesn't split cases and you don't want 12 bottles of a single wine, why not team up with family or friends? You can buy a selection and reap the rewards gradually, possibly even planning things so your wines are ready for drinking at different times. A steady drip-feed of mature wine over several years - that's what I call happiness.

Please, make 1999 the year when you practise delayed gratification in your wine-drinking. I will be recommending further possibilities over the coming months, and hope you'll give at least one of them a try. Your patience will be repaid with interest.

Bibendum (0171 916 7070): the gang here recommend a trio of whites: Vouvray Haut-Lieu 1995 (pounds 8.95), from the great Gaston Huet; Glenguin Semillon 1996, Hunter Valley (pounds 8.45) and 1996 Pinot Blanc from Rolly Gassmann (pounds 7.75). The Glenguin has a lovely rich palate of citrus fruits, and its huge acidity bodes well for a future of mellowing into multi-layered complexity. Pinot Blanc reaches its peaks in Alsace, and Rolly Gassmann and Huet both make wines with longevity in mind. Huet's Vouvrays in particular can last for decades - not that I'm suggesting you deprive yourself that long.

Lay & Wheeler (01206 764 446): Hugo Rose of L&W is passionate about ageing wine. "For me," he says, "the special flavours which evolve through the maturing process are the true gift of wine, and almost any well-made wine is the better for a year or two in reasonable cellar conditions - even under the stairs!" He recommends two reds and a white. Riesling Kabinett 1997, Fritz Haag (pounds 9.21) is sleek and headily perfumed. Pinot Noir Vieilles Vignes 1997 (pounds 9.89) which possesses remarkable depth of fruit and voluptuous tannins. Cabernet fans will adore Pedroncelli Cabernet Sauvignon 1996, Sonoma (pounds 8.85). This fine Californian has big cassis fruit and lots of cedary notes. I can easily imagine that extra bottle age will see it knock spots off many clarets costing twice as much.

Berry Bros & Rudd (0171 396 9600): BB&R is most famous as a source of classic wines, but they were more than equal to the task of suggesting less obvious items for extra time in bottle. One choice was a Rioja, Marques de Vargas Reserva 1994 (pounds 9.95), which few would dispute as a good keeper. I preferred two Shiraz, however. Saxenburg Private Collection Shiraz 1995 (pounds 9.65) has spicy fruit with sweet (American) oak, full and rich; a bit un-subtle at the moment, and may experience the hoped-for marriage of fruit, wood and alcohol over the next couple of years. I have even higher hopes for Plantagenet Mount Barker Shiraz 1995, Great Southern (pounds 11.90), whose intensely peppery fruit comes with hefty tannins. Two more years should suffice to achieve radiant harmony.

Reid Wines (01761 452 645): Bill Baker, supremo behind this mail-order outfit of well-deserved renown, advises numerous restaurants and wine merchants on their lists. Winnowing down the large raft of wines he suggested (mostly reds but including the same Vouvray Haut-Lieu recommended by Bibendum), he picked out Migoua Bandol 1995, from the famous Domaine Tempier (pounds 13.80), and Teofilo Reyes 1996, Ribera del Duero (pounds 14.39). I'm intrigued by a Cotes de Provence, St Georges D'Orques 1996, which costs just pounds 8.05.

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