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Buying old versus cellaring.

Jason's recent post about a 1985 Ahlgren Cab got me wondering. How much do we pay for age? I have about 10 case storage capacity which sounds large until I bought 2 cases of port. Unless I win a lottery bonanza, I am not ever going to have a proper wine cellar. And At age 54 I don't have time to wait for a wine 30 years. I had a bottle of Castello Di Bossi Corbaia 2007 which I bought from the Wine Library. The notes suggested this wine would hit maturity 2017-2027 Since I

bought 3 bottles, I cracked this one at a freinds bolognese dinner Damn Fine stuff!

So I guess my question is first to those of you who don't have room, Do you ever buy 20 year old wine? 30?

And second, how much do we pay in storage and such when we buy old vintages? This assumes that we are purchasing from a well established wine merchant.

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  1. I think the first question is if one is buying an older bottle of wine that has been in the care of the merchant the whole time v. a merchant selling it on the secondary market.

    I am completely risk averse and therefore have been unwilling to buy at auction etc. The storage conditions of the bottle are often unknown, and with out of my league type wines - the risk of fraud can be significant.

    1. Without trying to be difficult (honest!), I am five years older than you, and I just acquired bottles of 2008 and 2009 Vintage Porto . . .

      At some point, I will stop buying wine for LONG term aging (say, 20-25+ years), but not yet.

      That said, you need to understand that while we may be of similar age, I've been buying wines to cellar since I was 17 or 18. As a result, I purchased wines like (e.g.) the 1971 Château Pétrus for less than $20 per 750ml bottle. Would I buy the 2010 Château Pétrus for >$2500 a bottle? NO F*****G WAY!

      In other words -- TO ME -- wine prices of today often bear little resemblance to reality, and there are (for example) no California Cabernets or bottles of Bordeaux in my cellar from the 21st century, save what I've been given as presents. There are still bottles of Burgundy, though the Grands Crus and Premiers Crus of the 1960s, '70s, 80s, and 90s have been replaced in the 21st century by Villages and regional appellations. And so on and so on and so on . . .

      There was a time -- especially in the late-1980s (when the current "out-of-all-proportion" price increases began) -- when it was cheaper to buy wines from the 1960s and 1970s than it was to buy the current vintage of Bordeaux or Burgundy. OTOH, for example, the 1982 Pétrus is selling at (approx.) $4,000/btl. You do the math.

      Now, OBVIOUSLY, Bordeaux is the obvious example. What about wines NOT so outrageously priced? Let's take a look at Vintage Port . . . The 2009 Fonseca is available for $80-90/btl. The 1977 Fonseca sells in California for $200-$250,and that's not bad. Even better is the 1985: it retails in California for between $90-125 -- the proverbial steal!

      2 Replies
      1. re: zin1953

        I guess I shold have eliminated trophy bottles from my question since I have never spent even $100 on a bottle. But the line is slipping. for some reason I can justify 100 on a vintage port because in my mind I know more what I am getting. But I digress.

        An online wine selling site was recently offering up what I assume was someones personal cellar collection of 70s and 80s vintages of California, Italy and France. Most prices were way out of my league but a few were less than $75 and I was tempted as an excersize. but decided to check a local merchant before buying something that old.

        It is also hard to remember a time when collecting was not a code word for investing for profit but a way to enjoy one' interests. The speculation mentality screwed up many a hobby or pastime, not just wine.

        I guess the best way for those of us who started late to discover old wine is to make freinds with someone with a big cellar. :-)

        1. re: budnball

          Well, keep in mind that I have ***NEVER*** purchased a bottle with the idea of "flipping" it for a profit. I've never been interested in doing that, never been tempted. I've also rarely purchased wines from any sort of winery list -- the sole exception being that I have at times been a member of Ridge Vineyard's "Z-List" and purchased Monte Bello Cabernet on "futures" -- and neither of those lists are the sort of "culty" type of lists that people think of in terms of flipping and/or investing . . . (think Screaming Eagle, Harlan, etc.)

          I readily admit to being naïve. I was never interested in those three wines, or several others one could name. So, as a result, I never signed up for their mailing list -- or, in some cases, the waiting list to get on the mailing list -- to "collect" their wines. I (naïvely) thought people who wanted to actually DRINK those wines would want to buy them, and so why would I take these wines when someone else could buy and enjoy them.

          In that regard, I come from a different era. I am a dinosaur (as you probably have already discovered). I have 50-60 cases of wines in my cellar, and am NOT a collector. I am a drinker. The idea of selling wines that I've purchased and aged for years strikes me as downright silly: I bought these wines to drink; why would I sell them?

          Now, obviously people do, and some have done quite well financially by doing so. The classic example is to buy a case of the extremely rare California cult wine from Jean Deaux Vineyards, sell off nine bottles from the case -- for significantly more than the entire case cost you off the winery's mailing list -- allowing you to not only drink the three remaining bottles for free, but financing the purchase of additional wines to drink or flip.

          For years, this made no sense to me. As I said, I find it silly. Well, that's not fair. It started out being an anathema to me -- again, taking wine "away" from the people who wanted it, and then profiting from it. Furthermore, I saw it (and still do) as a serious source of inflation, meaning that the winery sees the prices the wine is selling for in the secondary market and raises their prices still further.

          I begrudgingly acknowledge that, from the point-of-view of the "flipper," I can see the sense of it. But I still do not like treating wine as an investment commodity. I think it's wrong. But, again, that's my perspective. I don't expect anyone to agree with this old curmudgeon.

          * * * * * * * * * *

          OK, BACK ON TOPIC . . . (and sticking with California retailers as examples)

          Let's leave trophy wines out of it. It wasn't quite fair of me in the first place, but you have to remember that the market for old(er) California wines is not all that big, to be honest. Only a few local retailers (K&L, Rare Wine Co., to some extent Beltramo's, Premier Cru, and a few others) offer older California wines. Some they have cellared themselves; others, they have purchased recently. (Remember I've spoken here several times about how I used to "import" California Cabernets BACK to the US from Europe.) The market is not all that strong, and here some real bargains can be had!

          For example, K&L is selling the 2008 Dominus Napa Valley Red Table Wine for $179.99, but they're selling the 1998 Dominus for $99.99. 2008 Beaulieu Vineyard "George de Latour Private Reserve Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is at K&L for $79.99, but the 1990 and 1996 vintages are at K&L for $69.99 . . . ten dollars less! Doesn't make any sense to make. Make of it what you will . . .

          Cheers,
          Jason

      2. I regularly buy mature or older wines. So I'm about the same age as you and while I have a bit higher storage capacity at home I think it's more of a question of how long one has been gathering bottles for aging purposes. For me it's only been a dozen or so years so the back vintages of "original" purchases doesn't go that far back. Most of the older wines I get are barolo from 50s-70s, Rioja from 70s-80s, Madeira, older bottles of Loire chenin (that still might not come to maturity in my life time), and that sort of thing. Is there a premium to do that? Sure, but it isn't always as bad as one might think. A couple of years ago, bought 1994 Riojanas Monte Real for $24 and at the same time only paid $43 for the 1973. $45 for 1994 Cappellano barolo. $67 for 1985 Noval VP. There are plenty of good cellar clearance/library deals out there from reputable dealers like RWC, Chambers, Crush, etc.

        1. I am pretty much forced to buy old and rare wines when I want to have a special bottle. I simply haven't been collecting long enough that current release wines meant for long term aging are ready for drinking. I may not be able to find exactly the bottle I'd ideally want, but if my goal is to buy a second or super second Bordeaux from the mid 80's to mid 90's for example, I usually don't have a problem finding one at what I consider an acceptable price.

          I have about the same storage capacity as you do and have already outgrown it with most of the wines not really ideally ready to drink. I'd like to increase my capacity but the only realistic way in the short term would be for me to rent a locker at wine storage facility and I haven't decided yet if I really want to do that. Unless I increase my capacity though, I am going to have to rethink how much wine I buy that needs aging. I will always buy some bottles that I know would be hard to find as a library release. I am already though cutting down on my purchases of higher production (but excellent) whines that require aging.

          A last point though on the idea that you don't have time to wait 30 years, I'd guess that you know this but I can't think of a wine that really requires 30 years. To say that it will still be at its peak in 30 years does not mean that you couldn't enjoy in 10-20 years.

          1 Reply
          1. re: bg90027

            I just finished converting an inner closet this year so I am starting pretty fresh. Except for the ports, I have maybe 10 bottles that may age well, and 5 cases of various and sundry. Since my tastes have changed so much in the last 2 years, I am a bit leery of buying just to age. I am, however, caught by the romantic notion of a dusty bottle found in some serpentine cave under the manor. Charles and Sebastian at Brideshead with cut crystal stemware, and bottles of liquid treasure all around.

          2. My view is why not let the merchant age the wine? If one can afford to buy aged wines, certainly buy them - you need something to drink.

            I hold this view even though I have been disappointed in a couple of purchases just in the last couple of years, neither of which were extremel;y expensive in today's market, but both of which were $100+.and 30 years + (a Bordeaux and a Burgundy).

            However, as another wine hobbyist told me many years ago, 'It's the thrill of the chase, isn't it?'

            I don't keep much of a cellar - a couple dozen bottles of Bordeaux and some desserts and a dozen or so of current drinkers. At the turn of the century I had to sell off to friends my previous 'cellar' of about the same size (all but a couple of bottles) and later start over again.

            In my late 50s with heart disease, I cannot muster the old enthusiasm for making long term purchases. Hell, I just want to live to drink what I already own.

            5 Replies
            1. re: FrankJBN

              >>> My view is why not let the merchant age the wine? <<<

              Frank, the problem (in my view) is that you're letting the merchant age the wine . . . and in *most* cases, they DON'T! Only a very, very small number of retailers a) have the proper sort of storage space, and b) can afford to tie up inventory as it ages for sale later. Though this is certainly more common in the UK than in the US, in the 21st century, it remains true for only a decided minority of retailers, even among those specializing in fine wines.

              By far the majority of the older wines offered for sale by retailers -- especially those in the US -- are RECENT purchases made either from someone's private cellar (now that it is legal to do so) or from a wholesaler somewhere. Thus, one has little knowledge of, and zero control over, the wine's storage conditions from release to (today's) purchase.

              That may not stop some people from buying anyway, but it should at the very least give them reason to pause and think . . . and this holds true for retailers like K&L and Chambers St., just as much for Beverages & more! or the local store down the block -- indeed, even more! Retailers in cities like San Francisco, LA, New York, Boston, DC, etc. are going to get more (and better) offers of older vintages than will, say, retailers in cities like Phoenix, Dallas, St. Louis, Minneapolis, and Memphis . . . .

              1. re: zin1953

                Yes. I not only auction, I sell to retailers (including K & L where you can now sell direct or auction) and have sold to a few restaurants directly. I think it is humorous when folks are "leery" of buying from a private collector, but trusting to purchase from a store instead! Same thing...different mark up.

                The only advantage of buying from a retailer is that they have screened the bottle for observable defects first. So, if you don't know how to do that for yourself- there might be a bit of comfort in knowing that someone (besides the seller) has done this for you.

                That being said, most reputable high end sellers/collectors on private auctions would *never* put a bottle up for sale if it had known defects without clearly pointing them out in the description. Reputation thereby provenance is EVERYTHING. Once you burn that bridge -you won't be selling anymore.

                As far as buying aged wine instead of aging it yourself, I think that it is not as cost effective to age it yourself as it once was. Gone are the "good ole' days" of buying inexpensively at release, affordable futures, etc. then having something of great value -increasing every decade. The release prices for most of my wines now amount to more than one of my mortgage payments.

                I do think that aging wines that are not so easily found on the open market are worthwhile though. Aged whites, zins, champagnes, and many boutique wines are not going to be readily found out there. They can be fabulous, fascinating, unique agers that are still affordable.

                Personally, I wouldn't age port or many dessert wines (unless you really love them, are super esoteric about them or want them in quantities) because great aged ports are a dime a dozen -and fairly easy to buy...meaning you can get a 30 year old port for under 100 or 200 bucks for a special occasion.

                *I responded to Zin, but most of it was to the OP :)

                1. re: sedimental

                  >>> *I responded to Zin, but most of it was to the OP :) <<<

                  Got that, but hope you won't mind a specific comment (or two or three) . . .

                  >>> That being said, most reputable high end sellers/collectors on private auctions would *never* put a bottle up for sale if it had known defects without clearly pointing them out in the description. Reputation thereby provenance is EVERYTHING. Once you burn that bridge -you won't be selling anymore. <<<

                  Agreed, at least in part. With so many places to auction off wines these days, the "less scrupulous" seller has far more options than ever before, and -- as but one example -- a whole lot of heat damaged wines from Hurricane Katrina were offered around the country.

                  >>> As far as buying aged wine instead of aging it yourself, I think that it is not as cost effective to age it yourself as it once was. Gone are the "good ole' days" of buying inexpensively at release, affordable futures, etc. then having something of great value -increasing every decade. <<<

                  I'm not sure it's an issue of "cost effectiveness," so much as availability. (See below.) Then again, aging wines myself is relatively free: I have a passive cellar that remains in the mid-to-high 50s (F) all year around, as well as a 35 bottle wine "refrigerator" that was a present. Thus, sticking wine in my cellar is little more than the cost of the bottle itself. (Yeah, yeah, I've been all through the "cost of money" argument, but that has never made any sense to me: if I didn't buy the wine, I'd probably spend the money on something else, so . . . )

                  >>> I do think that aging wines that are not so easily found on the open market are worthwhile though. Aged whites, zins, champagnes, and many boutique wines are not going to be readily found out there. They can be fabulous, fascinating, unique agers that are still affordable. <<<

                  This is an extremely valid and crucial point, and thank you for emphasizing it. While one has ALWAYS been able to find LOTS of older Bordeaux on the market, and at auction, as well as -- to a slightly lesser extent -- Burgundy, a great many types of wines have always been difficult to find in the marketplace as aged, older vintages. California Cabernets are available -- more so in the US than anywhere else. Sometimes, one can find Germans or Super Tuscans; maybe some Australians. But California wines other than Cabernet, Portuguese wines other than Port and Madeira, Spanish, and others -- all can be difficult at best to find. These almost certainly need to be cellared by the individual.

                  >>> Personally, I wouldn't age port or many dessert wines (unless you really love them, are super esoteric about them or want them in quantities) because great aged ports are a dime a dozen -and fairly easy to buy...meaning you can get a 30 year old port for under 100 or 200 bucks for a special occasion. <<<

                  I understand your point here, but have three specific objections to it:

                  1) The reason that one can find a 30-year old bottle of Vintage Porto for (let's play it safe) $200 or less is that, 30 years ago, these wines were released at $30-40 retail. Current releases of Vintage Port are already in the, say, $75-$150 range (depending upon shipper). These will *not* be selling for <$200 in 30 years. In the FWIW Dept., the 1970 Taylor's sold at retail for $12; K&L is currently offering it for $249.99. I'm glad I still have some I paid $10.80 for . . .

                  2) Not everyone can afford $200, even for a special occasion, let alone on a regular basis. The fact that I have Vintage Ports, and other wines, in my cellar means I can enjoy older vintages for a "Monday dinner," not just an anniversary or "Saturday dinner."

                  3) I am not sure about "other dessert wines," either. You go on to speak only of Porto, but -- with the exception of the major châteaux in Sauternes, a few German estates, and Huet (maybe Foreau) from the Loire, dessert wines can be a) problematic to find, and b) expensive when you do.

                  Just my 2¢, and worth far less I'm sure.

                  Cheers,
                  Jason

                  1. re: zin1953

                    My comment about port (and other sweet wine) is partially subjective, but I believe there are valid points to objectively consider for most American wine lovers that are just starting a cellar. I imagine there are those who drink Porto daily and perhaps even prefer it to other wine, but I think that is not the norm for most American wino's that are interested in cellaring.

                    I stocked my cellar with them and now regret it. At least they make good gifts, because I will never be able to drink all of them in my lifetime. I just can't do that much sugar :(

                    I could have used the space for a more *versatile* wine that I drink more often. I really relate to budnball's commented that his tastes have changed in the past 2 years. This is something not to be ignored. This can happen with sweet wines so much more than other wines (I have never heard of anyone "growing tired of" or ceasing to like Bordeaux or Champagne) but sweet wines...absolutely! I personally know many other wine collectors in the same situation- too much sweet wine and not much interest in drinking it. Or when I want to drink it- I only can handle a tiny bit and the rest of the bottle sits there. I try to only open them now at bigger gatherings so as not to pour it out or have to cook with it. This issue NEVER happens with other wine.....left overs? Ha! What's that?

                    Anyway, the point is, I think it is prudent to think about this when starting a cellar. I wish I would have. BTW, I still would have collected *some* just not to the extent I did- your points are valid- and I would have chosen differently.

                    Sweet wines are also a much "safer" bet to buy already aged because they are "sturdier" agers. I didn't really think about that years ago.

                    There never seems to be a shortage of all kinds of dessert wines (sweet wines) on the internet. I think they might be more difficult to find in stores and shops. Just check out the dessert wines at Winecommune- lots of interesting sweet wines for next to nothing. I am not talking about super high end wines of course (they will always be pricey) but aged Doisy Daene, Rieussec, Kracher...you can buy a 1995 Huet Vouvray for 98 bucks! To me, it is not worth allocating space for decades for as often as I would want to drink it. Of course, if I didn't have 98 bucks- certainly, my opinion would be different. When starting a new cellar, you really need to think alot of things through.

                    My comments are just a bit of "cautionary tales" and to share my experiences.

                    1. re: sedimental

                      Truer words regarding the ports! I didn't think about how hard it is to finish a bottle of port if only one or two people are drinking it. I love dessert wines but those 375 ml bottles work so much better. I am looking to next gift giving season to clear out some room.