I know what I want for Christmas and it ain’t socks or handkerchiefs, thanks very much. I want a cellar. A grown-up, temperature-controlled, computer-catalogued cellar with lots of racks and bins for bottles, shelves for books, benches for decanting. I want the whole shebang. I’m fed up with cracking my head every time I go to the Cupboard of Cobwebs under the stairs in search of a special bottle.
In my line of work I’m lucky enough to get sent a lot of wine — at a rough count there are now 300 bottles encircling me in my study — and I buy a bit too. The trouble is there’s nowhere to put it all. The cupboard is groaningly full and I need to drink as fast as I can just to keep a path clear from my desk to the door. Heaven knows what Elfin Safety would say.
When I worked for Berry Bros & Rudd we stored wine for a number of customers, one of whom used to call regularly to ask whether he might come and look at his bottles. He clearly fancied that his purchases were gathering picturesque layers of dust in our 300-year-old cellars in St James’s Street when in fact they lay snug in sealed boxes in a modern temperature-controlled warehouse off a roundabout in Basingstoke. We put him off each time, anxious not to disillusion him. He once rang back to check that we were turning his bottles of vintage port regularly ‘to keep them fresh’. We assured him that we weren’t and explained why.
Like him, I store the few cases of top-notch stuff I own at the merchants whence they came. I long, though, to be able to sit down at home to admire the maturing bottles and talk grandly of ‘popping to the cellar for some Sauternes’.
And it appears that I am not alone. Investing in wine has become all the rage and the well-heeled are falling over themselves to buy wine and build fancy-dan cellars in which to show off their Cru Classé clarets and marvel at how much their hard-earned scratch has bought them. David Roberts, an old chum from Berrys, set up his own wine consultancy a couple of years ago to meet such demand. He advises some 600 clients on their purchases, each of whom spends between £5,000 and £150,000 per year on wine.
‘Business is booming,’ he says. ‘Fewer people are inheriting wine these days and with Russia and the Far East entering the market there is less wine to go round. It makes sense to be proactive and build a portfolio, because if you don’t buy en primeur, you often won’t get another chance to buy such wines when they’re mature. Demand for First Growth claret, Grand Cru Burgundy and fine Rh
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated December 8, 2007