The best kind of great wine is cheep, great wine. I know there are some people blessed with such astonishig pocket-depth that they have no need to consider the cost of their alcoholic beverages, but sadly I am not among their number. Chez Cellarfella, value is always valued. Sometimes though you have to create it yourself.
An example: in early 2009 I bought a mixed case of 2007 Southern Rhone from the Wine Society for £84, as part of their en primeur offer (I do like truffling about in the nether regions of Rhone en primeur offers for little bargains, as I’ve previously admitted). In 2010 I had to pay the government some taxy stuff, and then I paid to keep it in storage for nearly six years. By the time I got it home last week I’d paid about £14 a bottle (though this pill has been heavily sugared by the kind of payment in stages that comes with this kind of thing, in that I paid £7 a bottle in 2009, £3 more in 2010 and 66p each year thereafter, so any significant investment in these wines happened so long ago it essentially now seems free).
At about the same time I also snaffled a case of Coudoulet de Beaucastel, again from 2007, a year that lots of people got very excited about. Beaucastel make one of the most celebrated Chateauneufs, which I’ve been fortunate to try on several occasions but can’t make a habit of actually buying – it was selling at £250 for six en primeur in this vintage, or at least £52.50 a bottle by the time you get it home. The Coudoulet is stylistically a vaguely similar wine, but a few rungs down the qualitative ladder and without a famous appellation name, being as it is a humble Cotes du Rhone. A 12-bottle case of the 2007 was selling for £120 (plus duty and vat at a later date) back in the day, but was further bargainised by my using a voucher to get it from Laithwaites at a handy discount.
Now I’m not really a fan of Laithwaites, a mail-order merchant whose modus operandi is to sell largely unfamiliar wines at confusingly discounted prices on the far-fetched pretext of scarcity, but this struck me then and strikes me still as a good deal if you can get it (and you can, even now: as I type the code LINK40 will get new customers £40 off anything on their site, bringing a case of 2014 Coudoulet down to £75 before vat and duty).
Now in purely pecuniary terms it’s very hard to define any of these as bargains. These are, after all, unfussy wines that are designed to come at unfussy prices. Latest vintages can be found pretty easily for somewhere in the region of £9-£15 a bottle (the Coudoulet’s about £20). I paid for them, in other words, roughly what the market believes they are worth. But just you try to get sub-£20 2007 southern Rhone wines now (actually don’t bother: you can’t).
My real profit here has come from nothing more expensive than patience. None of these wines are intended to be stored for decades. Indeed, many would say it wasn’t worth the investment I made in keeping them so long. But what I’ve ended up with, for a few pounds per bottle more than some random industrial supermarket concoction and most of that paid six years ago, is proper wine in perfect condition and at the perfect age, softened and rounded by sitting around in its bottle for a good while but showing no sign of decrepitude. Little pockets of pleasure.
Frankly the search for good wines at good prices is enough of a hassle even without feeling that you’ve got to do it five years before you’re thirsty, but I think it’s occasionally worth it.