Price versus Provenance

Anything to do with Port.
Post Reply
John Owlett
Cockburn’s Special Reserve
Posts: 38
Joined: 23:26 Wed 04 Dec 2013
Location: Southampton, UK

Price versus Provenance

Post by John Owlett » 20:23 Fri 15 Jul 2016

(1) How much can the long-term storage of a port affect the enjoyment of those who drink it?

(2) How on Earth can one tell whether a port one is thinking of buying has been properly stored?

Occasionally, not often admittedly, I have had a bottle of port that has tasted dull in comparison with others of the same vintage and shipper ... bottles that have always, so far, come from smaller retailers who offer keen prices. I have always suspected that these bottles have resided in imperfect private "cellars" (or possibly in imperfect shop wine racks) before they got to me.

This doesn't happen often because I am an example of that maligned minority, the Berrys' customer. Berrys' makes a big deal of the provenance of its wines -- even to the extent of distinguishing between broking stock that has always resided in its warehouse, and wine bought from "customer's own stock" -- and I have found even its bin ends to be in good condition. But Berrys' is not the cheapest of suppliers.

I have sometimes bought Rhone wine from Justerini's and Burgundy from Whigham's / Corney and Barrow; and found them to be in as good condition as Berrys' ... but not really any cheaper.

I have also bought wine from a slew of smaller merchants in England and Scotland, often successfully, but I do feel uneasy about provenance.

I have never chanced my arm at auction.

What's a fellow to do!?

John

User avatar
DRT
Fonseca 1966
Posts: 15533
Joined: 23:51 Wed 20 Jun 2007
Location: Chesterfield, UK
Contact:

Re: Price versus Provenance

Post by DRT » 08:38 Sat 16 Jul 2016

John,

This is indeed a problem. There are external signs one can look for the suggest less than perfect storage (seepage, excessive ullage, label/capsule condition, etc.) but I am certain that many badly stored bottles show none of these signs. Buying old wine from uncertain provenance truly is a minefield and I find the best approach is to only buy bottles at a price which matches their history, or lack thereof.

The reason why retailers such as BBR can charge what they do is that they can on occassion state with absolute certainty what the provenance is. If the wine has been with them since bottling it is a relatively safe bet, but still not certain, that the wine will show well. That, as you know, comes with a premium on the price.

I suppose it simply comes down to personal appetite for cost versus risk.

Derek
"The first duty of Port is to be red"
Ernest H. Cockburn

LGTrotter
Dalva Golden White Colheita 1952
Posts: 3706
Joined: 17:45 Fri 19 Oct 2012
Location: Somerset, UK

Re: Price versus Provenance

Post by LGTrotter » 23:41 Sat 16 Jul 2016

Provenance has become more of an issue for me as I get older. In my youth I would buy all sorts of odds and ends from auction and retailers who thought the place to keep grand cru burgundy was on top of a fridge. I would generally try to buy them cheap and often it worked. However I am now much less tolerant of duds. Those auction buys, which seemed so reasonable can very quickly start approaching retail pricing when two of the eight bottles are no good. This may also be because I drink few bottles of top tier wine and I want them all to be good.

I too am a regularish customer at Berrys, and I have been stung by them, they once sold me some Croft 77 which had Dutch import labels on them, something they made no mention of when they sold them. However they were cheap enough for this not to be a problem and doubtless if I had objected at the time they would have refunded me. The other point I would make about Berrys is that they often sell ports which have been stored for most of their lives in Portugal. These are reputed to be more advanced than port stored in the UK. I can't say I have noticed a problem with them, but I have little experience with these recent imports.

I find talking with the bloke (it still seems to be mostly blokes) behind the counter one of the most helpful things. They will often have information on where a wine came from, I steer away from those who set off my b******t alarm, you know the "only one careful lady drinker" salesmen. These days I seem to buy from a very few retailers who I have come to trust over the years. And the grand cru burgundy from the top of the fridge was beautiful.

There were some other things I meant to say which I have now forgotten. They may come back to me.

LGTrotter
Dalva Golden White Colheita 1952
Posts: 3706
Joined: 17:45 Fri 19 Oct 2012
Location: Somerset, UK

Re: Price versus Provenance

Post by LGTrotter » 12:23 Sun 17 Jul 2016

Provenance is an unknowable, I have had terrible looking bottles (faded labels, low levels, signs of weeping etc) which have been beautiful. And conversely I have had terrific looking bottles which have been dud.

But the preponderance of poor bottles have shown signs of being flawed from their appearance. Auctions have been particularly unreliable for me. I suppose that good wines of good provenance are more likely to be snapped up before they get on the block. Unless I can go and see the bottles before I buy I don't bother with auctions anymore. And life being the way it is I don't have much time to tour the auction houses of the south west.

But on the other hand I do know several merchants who like to have a few old ports to round out the list which they have bought at auction and are now punting out at retail prices. The only advantage is that if they prove faulty you can take them back and bang on the counter to demand a reckoning.

John Owlett
Cockburn’s Special Reserve
Posts: 38
Joined: 23:26 Wed 04 Dec 2013
Location: Southampton, UK

Re: Price versus Provenance

Post by John Owlett » 15:42 Sun 17 Jul 2016

Thank you Derek, thank you Owen.

So, there is no panacea. External signs can help but aren't a definitive guide. And no supplier, no matter how prestigious, is completely free from risk.

I think I shall have to accept that I'm rather good at being neurotic, and should shop at the lower risk end of the market.

From what you folk say, I infer that the lowest risk of all is to buy the wine en primeur and store it, either in bond or in our cellar, until drinking. No doubt Berrys' would be pleased if I did. But it would rule out buying older port that I've never tried before.

Thank you again,

John

User avatar
jdaw1
Cockburn 1900
Posts: 21791
Joined: 15:03 Thu 21 Jun 2007
Location: London
Contact:

Re: Price versus Provenance

Post by jdaw1 » 16:07 Sun 17 Jul 2016

John Owlett wrote:From what you folk say, I infer that the lowest risk of all is to buy the wine en primeur and store it, either in bond or in our cellar,
Storing in your own cellar can be the highest risk. Rather arriving at maturity somewhat tatty, it might fail to arrive at all.

John Owlett
Cockburn’s Special Reserve
Posts: 38
Joined: 23:26 Wed 04 Dec 2013
Location: Southampton, UK

Re: Price versus Provenance

Post by John Owlett » 16:27 Sun 17 Jul 2016

That's interesting Julian.

Our cellar is a "room" under our house, which is still, dark, runs at a temperature of between 11 in the winter and 16 in high summer, and runs between 70% and and 80% relative humidity.

The humidity is not good for labels, I admit, but otherwise I had thought it was quite a reasonable store for wine.

John

LGTrotter
Dalva Golden White Colheita 1952
Posts: 3706
Joined: 17:45 Fri 19 Oct 2012
Location: Somerset, UK

Re: Price versus Provenance

Post by LGTrotter » 18:16 Sun 17 Jul 2016

John Owlett wrote:Our cellar is a "room" under our house, which is still, dark, runs at a temperature of between 11 in the winter and 16 in high summer, and runs between 70% and and 80% relative humidity.
I once had the offer of use of a 'proper' cellar from a relative. It was underground on the north side of an old (1800) stone house. I was surprised to find the temperature variation was the same as you describe in your cellar. And it was about the same as the arrangement I have already so I stuck with what I had. The few bottles that are down there have lost their labels entirely due to damp and I wish I had labelled them more clearly as I have no idea what they are anymore.

But having had port stored with the temperature variation you describe for nearly twenty years I do not find that they are noticeably over the hill compared to what I have bought in from merchants. I think it is rapid temperature fluctuations over the course of a day you have to watch out for, rather than a few degrees over months. Anyway, I like being able to visit it, and look at it which you can't do if it is at a merchant.

John Owlett
Cockburn’s Special Reserve
Posts: 38
Joined: 23:26 Wed 04 Dec 2013
Location: Southampton, UK

Re: Price versus Provenance

Post by John Owlett » 20:11 Sun 17 Jul 2016

LGTrotter wrote:Anyway, I like being able to visit it, and look at it which you can't do if it is at a merchant.
Ooh, yes, that is good! :lol: After writing my last post, I went down to make sure they were all well. None of them had any complaints, but the hygrometer told me that the recent rain had put the relative humidity up to 90%. I told it not to worry.

User avatar
AHB
Fonseca 1963
Posts: 12464
Joined: 13:41 Mon 25 Jun 2007
Location: Berkshire, UK

Re: Price versus Provenance

Post by AHB » 22:21 Sun 17 Jul 2016

There are a couple of things I would add to the accumulated wisdom:
(1) You can buy a white wax pencil via the Internet very cheaply. Use it to write on bottles before the label completely deteriorates if your cellar is humid.

(2) Oporto cellars are generally a little warmer than UK cellars but port seems to mature in them rather nicely. I recently had the good fortune to drink ex-cellars bottles of Warre and Dow 1966 and 1970 and they were delicious. Gentle seasonal variation does not seem to harm the development of the port.

(3) Auctions are a good place to acquire port but I would always, always recommend personal inspection of a bottle before purchase. Check colour, fill, where the cellar dust has settled, whether the cork is firm in the neck, whether there are signs of seepage. I have had some wonderful bottles via auction, but do like to have a chat to the auctioneer to learn a little about the cellar and family from which they have come.
Top Ports in 2019 (so far): Cockburn 1947 and Quinta do Noval Nacional 2017
2018 Ports of the year: São Leonardo 1927 White Port (Bottled 2018), Quinta do Noval Nacional 1994

User avatar
g-man
Quinta do Vesuvio 1994
Posts: 3394
Joined: 13:50 Wed 24 Oct 2007
Location: NYC
Contact:

Re: Price versus Provenance

Post by g-man » 17:30 Mon 18 Jul 2016

John Owlett wrote:
LGTrotter wrote:Anyway, I like being able to visit it, and look at it which you can't do if it is at a merchant.
Ooh, yes, that is good! :lol: After writing my last post, I went down to make sure they were all well. None of them had any complaints, but the hygrometer told me that the recent rain had put the relative humidity up to 90%. I told it not to worry.
i have an actively cooled cellar,

I suffer from drinking my ports before they reach maturity, so i put stuff offsite for those i really want to age properly :lol:
Disclosure: Distributor of Quevedo wines and Quinta do Gomariz

John Owlett
Cockburn’s Special Reserve
Posts: 38
Joined: 23:26 Wed 04 Dec 2013
Location: Southampton, UK

Re: Price versus Provenance

Post by John Owlett » 20:34 Mon 18 Jul 2016

AHB wrote:There are a couple of things I would add to the accumulated wisdom:
(1) You can buy a white wax pencil via the Internet very cheaply. Use it to write on bottles before the label completely deteriorates if your cellar is humid.

(2) Oporto cellars are generally a little warmer than UK cellars but port seems to mature in them rather nicely. I recently had the good fortune to drink ex-cellars bottles of Warre and Dow 1966 and 1970 and they were delicious. Gentle seasonal variation does not seem to harm the development of the port.

(3) Auctions are a good place to acquire port but I would always, always recommend personal inspection of a bottle before purchase. Check colour, fill, where the cellar dust has settled, whether the cork is firm in the neck, whether there are signs of seepage. I have had some wonderful bottles via auction, but do like to have a chat to the auctioneer to learn a little about the cellar and family from which they have come.
Thank you for that, Alex, though I doubt whether I shall chance my arm at port auctions. I am pleased to learn that port can survive temperatures that, while in no way high, are more than the 12 degrees sometimes suggested as optimum.

The white pencil is a useful lateral thought, but I may not need it. 10 years ago, when I put half-a-dozen 1994 Dow into my cellar, I experimented by wrapping half of the bottles in cling film (= US Saran Wrap). I had a look at them earlier this evening.

The wrapped labels are still pristine, but even the unwrapped labels are in pretty good condition for 10 years at 70% to 80% (occasionally 90%) relative humidity ... there is neither mould nor fragmentation ... the edges of the labels are starting to lift up.

A bottle -- whose label had fragmented badly over 7 years in our previous, wetter, storage -- was wrapped in cling film in 2006 on its transfer to the new cellar, and the label has not disintegrated further.

Nowadays, our cased wine is kept in bond in Basingstoke until 6 to 12 months before we expect to start drinking it, so I feel comfortable with our current wine storage.

<digression -- psychiatrically off-topic>

"There are a couple of things ... (1) ... (2) ... (3) ..."

" Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition.... Our two weapons are fear, and surprise, and ruthless efficiency."

<digression off>

Later,

John

John Owlett
Cockburn’s Special Reserve
Posts: 38
Joined: 23:26 Wed 04 Dec 2013
Location: Southampton, UK

Re: Price versus Provenance

Post by John Owlett » 20:50 Mon 18 Jul 2016

g-man wrote:i have an actively cooled cellar,

I suffer from drinking my ports before they reach maturity, so i put stuff offsite for those i really want to age properly :lol:
If that is an air-conditioned room, I'm well impressed. Even a Eurocave or similar is serious wine storage.

Many of our friends drink wine but, for most, wine storage is a rack in a shady part of the house. Others use a Eurocave; a basement cellar is unusual.

I'm told it doesn't increase the value of the house. If people were looking for a 200 square metre four-bedroom detached house in Southampton, they would buy ours first, in preference to all the others, but they wouldn't pay more for it.

Later,

John

User avatar
uncle tom
Quinta do Vesuvio 1994
Posts: 3037
Joined: 23:43 Wed 20 Jun 2007
Location: Near Saffron Walden, England

Re: Price versus Provenance

Post by uncle tom » 17:48 Thu 04 Aug 2016

I'm told it doesn't increase the value of the house.
It's an odd one this - even if you're not into wine, a basement is very useful to have as a utility room, games room, workshop, home cinema or just somewhere to put stuff that's got nowhere else to go.

With building land at such a premium, you'd think that new houses would now come with basements as standard - but the big UK house builders just don't want to go there..

- Strange..
I may be drunk, Miss, but in the morning I shall be sober and you will still be ugly - W.S. Churchill

Post Reply