In a moment of madness, having been alerted to the sale of some vintage wine in the monthly Bourne End Auction, in Buckinghamshire, I placed a blind bid on a lot of wine from the 1970’s.
A wine lottery it seemed, but in my excitement at the mystery and owning my very own wine from my decade of birth, I swiftly submitted my bid. In my haste, foolishly, I hadn’t even bothered to look up the Chateau Laniote to see if it was ever any good, let alone when it’s 40 years old nor did I have any idea as to the history of the actual wine or any clue as to what the other 4 bottles were. Not my wisest move ever, but such fun!
And I won! Woohoo! The lead up to the weekend to collect my prize was filled with romantic anticipation and wonderment as to who had owned it, where or how it was stored, and had I just bought some 1979 Blue Nun for a handsome price…? I imagined the wine was part of a vast cellar collected by a wealthy gentleman over many years. In my fantasy, he had recently passed away, and the wine had been turned out by money-grabbing relatives who knew nothing about wine and just wanted to clear it before the bulldozers knocked down his dilapidated home to make way for executive flats. In reality, it could just have likely been won at a raffle 40 years ago by some non- wine drinking hoarders who stashed it on top of their fridge full of 10 year out of date condiments including a horseradish opened one Sunday back in 1998. Whichever way you look at it, the odds are that any 40 year old wine, even top quality, is likely to be past its best, even stored in ideal conditions.
Which brings me on to a brief wine education; Ideally, wine should be stored out of direct light and kept at a steady cool temperature away from movement or vibration. If you’re keeping it for any length of time and it has a cork, keeping it on its side is the best bet or preferably in a humid environment so as to keep the cork from drying out and minimises oxygen entering the bottle. If you are inclined to store wine for more than a month or so, find the most consistently cool spot in the house, away from direct sunlight and far away from the washing machine or any source of vibration – a cellar or quiet spot in the dining room away from a radiator is ideal. Avoid anywhere with extreme temperature variations such as the kitchen or the loft – on top of the fridge is perhaps the worst place I can think of. If you’re serious about keeping wine to age and/ or for an investment, consider getting a wine fridge which will keep your wines in an ideal storage environment.
I still have no idea as to the history of my winnings, and judging by the fact that 2 are cloudy(!), it’s quite likely that the raffle winning wine hoarders have just had a clear out. However, 3 are clear, and until I open them I won’t have any more indication as to whether they are any good. When I do open them, I will let you know what they’re like and whether they were worth the lottery, but until then, I will share, with mild relief that at least there was no Liebfraumilch in sight and I had parted with £75 for a dusty selection of Bordeaux and Rhone wine and judging by the titles hold some hope yet;
1) Chateau Batailley Grand Cru Classe, Pauillac, 1971 (cloudy – no hope)
2) Grand Puy Grande Reserve, Puissegun- St Emilion, 1971
3) Clos de L’Oratoire des Papes, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, 1977 (another cloudy one – no hope)
4) Chateau Terry-Gros-Cailloux, St Julien, 1978
5) Chateau Laniote St Emilion Grand Cru Classe, 1971
So my advice, as a novice wine dealer, unless you mind pouring money down the kitchen sink in the form of wine as old or older than yourself, never buy wine in an auction without seeing it first, particularly if it has an extremely vague description and no history. If you must still dabble, ideally do your research and try and understand a little about where it’s come from. Alternatively, your best bet to buy decent wine with a bit of added risk for £75 would be to buy a lottery ticket and then spend the rest in your local wine merchant.