Going, going, gone … to hell in a handcart

As well as sniffing around for the very best wine my standard everyday wine budget will allow (between £7ish and £15) for more-or-less immediate consumption, I’m also constantly in the market for wines of a similar value that are worth tucking away for a few years. Of course, the very best wines cost a great deal more than this, but it’s my feeling that at the sub-£20 level there’s still lots that’s worth having and holding. I’ve got some lesser Bordeaux, various offerings from the Rhone, some Barbaresco, a bit of Rioja, some Australian riesling, one of New Zealand’s top Bordeaux blends and a case of something Argentinian lying around various storage facilities waiting for the day when I think they’re ready for consumption.

I had to do this, you see, because I appreciate the extra class that a bit of bottle age can give a wine, and you can’t normally buy wines – particularly at this price – which have got that already. The downside is that you’ve got to pay for someone to look after the wine until you want it, or invest in the facilities necessary to look after it yourself. And you’ve got to have plenty of patience.

But recently I discovered the world of wine auctions. Wine auctions are where people who did exactly what I’m currently doing only a few years ago, and either lived to regret it or didn’t live at all, get rid of their purchases. And where people who bought Carruades de Lafite a few years back and can’t believe how much they can get for it these days liquify their assets. And it seems that it’s also where people like me can snaffle stuff that’s already got some bottle age for a decent price while the people with the big pockets squabble over the first growths.

It all started a couple of weeks ago, when I was enjoying a bottle of Kangarilla Road shiraz/viognier and searched to see where I might be able to get some more. I happened upon a lot at a forthcoming sale at Bonham’s that included three cases of the stuff, as well as other Australian wine of similar standard (seven cases in all, which would keep me going for a while) and thought I’d put in a cheeky bid. It had to be pretty cheeky, because seven cases of even the cheapest wine adds up to loads of money, and in the end I was nowhere near winning. But by the time I’d passed through their rigorous security checks I’d had time to peruse the rest of the catalogue, and another lot caught my eye.

This one contained six bottles of 1997 Musar – an old favourite from the Lebanon – I’ve already got a couple of bottles each of the 2002 and 2003, but I knew that the owner, Serge Hochar, considers his finest offering at its best about 15 years from vintage and that this should therefore be approaching its peak – six bottles of a 2004 Cotes du Rhone from the Mas du Libian called Omar Khayyam, of which I already own half a dozen from the 2009 vintage courtesy of The Wine Society, and which I had previously tried and enjoyed – and six bottles of a 2000 Brunello from Siro Pacenti, who the Wine Spectator has called “the best winemaker in the appellation” but represented a bit of a wildcard. Bought from a shop, the Musar would cost around £30 a bottle, the Mas du Libian perhaps £15 and the Brunello at least £50 a bottle. I put in a bid, valuing the wines at an average of about £15 a bottle.

And I won.

I have the wines in my cupboard now, and they’re pretty much all ready for drinking, without years of patience and storage costs. Though I know nothing of where these wines came from and can’t tell how well they’ve been stored in the past, I believe that I got myself a bargain. But temptation, as always with wine, is everywhere – Bonhams, Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Straker Chadwick all have at least one wine auction scheduled in this country this month.

I have never set foot on a more slippery slope.


4 responses to “Going, going, gone … to hell in a handcart

  1. With 6 of each, you will be compelled to make first tests quite soon, non? They offer absolutely no information about provenance or previous ownership when they present these lots?

    Good luck.

  2. I’ve tried a bottle of the Cotes du Rhone, and it was delicious. The bottles are all superficially fine. Some auction houses give some information about the wines’ previous owners – “from a Gloucestershire cellar”, or something like that – but most do not. None say “from the top of a fridge in Lancashire, where it has been stored standing up for the last 15 years next to a half-empty bottle of sweet sherry”. They will tell you if the fill level is anything other than perfect, and if there is any damage to labels (though I think a bit of label damage is a good thing – it keeps the price down and makes no difference to what’s inside). The Brunello, though, is still in its original carton, which is unopened, so there’s certainly an element of risk there. For that reason, wines bought at auction should cost a fair amount less than the same wines bought from a standard retailer, who may well be happy to replace or refund a faulty bottle.

  3. Whoever said there was no such thing as chance was right. Here I am, gently browsing wine blogs, came across cellarfella with v similar tastes (Musar mmmm). Then I read the post about his search for more Kangarilla Road Shiraz Viognier and seeing a lot being auctioned at Bonhams a couple of months ago . . .hang on, 7 cases?? That sounds familiar – they are currently sitting in my garage! I’m delighted to report The Shiraz Viognier is the surprise sleeper of the entire lot. I was actually bidding to get the Mitolo Jester (sadly underwhelming, although think it may be how it’s been kept) and the Ferngrove (nice but not particularly special). The S-V, on the other hand, is bursting with ripeness, streak of vanilla and honey, and a long, long finish. Just the bottle to curl up with on winter evenings.

  4. You rotter, Julian. Without you and your Jester-acquiring ways I could have landed that bargain Kangarilla Road after all. Well, enjoy. And if you get tired of it, you know who to call.

    And yes, that is quite a coincidence.

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