Wine detective finds 100-year-old vintages for buyers on a tight budget

British specialists are tracking down vintage wines for supermarket prices

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Indy Lifestyle Online

Wine connoisseurs on a tight budget are increasingly able to buy vintages dating from the early 20th century for little more than the cost of supermarket champagne, thanks to British specialists tracking down mature bottles.

Bottles from almost every vintage between 1930 and 1985 are now being sold by one London firm – along with half bottles dating from as long ago as 1874 – and most can be bought for between £35 and £60.

Philippe Gayral, who describes himself as a “saviour of a dying wine style”, has spent the past eight years searching for the once-popular but forgotten wines from three appellations of Vin Doux Naturel for the London-based Farr Vintners. These vintage dessert wines – lightly fortified and typically made from white Muscat or red Grenache grapes quite common in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of southwest France – are said to be ideal companions for cake and chocolates.

They come in three varieties – Rivesaltes, Banyuls and Maury – and while the firm’s solitary 19th century vintage sells for £360 a half bottle, most are far cheaper.

“Vin Doux Naturel is a forgotten wine style of the region,” said Farr’s chairman, Stephen Browett. “They were hugely popular in France in the 1950s but very much a dying drink now. A lot of domaines just don’t make them any more.”

In the 1950s about 70 million Rivesaltes bottles were sold annually in France, but last years less than three million were bottled. They were a favourite of the French army due to their high alcohol and sugar content, making them much more stable and transportable than table wines.

Critics have been unanimous in their praise of the “ancient” vintages. The Wine Advocate’s Neal Martin described a 1942 Rivesaltes Chateau Sisqueille as “an absolute delight … stunning”.  He said the wine, bottled in 2011, “is extraordinarily well balanced with perfect acidity” and left the front of his tongue tingling.

Jancis Robinson, the writer and Master of Wine,  described the 1959 Banyuls Grand Cru, Domaines et Terroirs du Sud, as a good example of the “seriously good-value sweet wine antiques that you can drink over quite a time as they retain their fruit and freshness well in an opened bottle”. She described the ancient vintages as “virtually indestructible” and a “brilliant bargain for marking anniversaries”.

Mr Martin said: “It is difficult to think of another wine that offers such value. Where else can you pick up post-war bottles with such quality and rarity at such prices? There is a part of me that thinks that in a few years’ time we will look back incredulously at what these gems are sold for. They are simply delicious to drink and enjoy.”

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