Cellar dilemmas

A wine cellar with plenty of classics brings joy to most restaurateurs but make sure that the stock turns over.

Perfect hindsight is a wonderful thing and anyone who stocked up on Rockford Basket Press Shiraz and Jim Barry’s The Armagh Shiraz a few years ago will now be driving a brand new Merc and taking holidays in the Bahamas.

These are two drops which regularly bring smiles to restaurateurs who know that many people see lunching and dining not just as an excuse for a fine meal but also an opportunity to explore rare, unusual and exciting wines.

When it comes to creating a cellar, these cult wines are up there with the usual top shelf suspects like Henschke’s Hill of Grace and Penfolds Grange. Elderton’s Command Shiraz is another I’d put in this category.

They’re big, rich, dense concentrated wines, handmade by some of the finest craftsmen, and with prices that usually reflect this. Few of us would want (or could afford) to drink them day after day but a couple of bottles every now and again—why, they make you feel glad to be alive!

For example, the current vintage of The Armagh Shiraz (2001) has an LUC (landed unit cost) of around $123.95 ($185 retail) and it’s not unusual to see it in restaurants priced from $250 to $400—a bargain alongside the $700 to $800 which is typical for Grange.

Not all wines deliver such blissful returns but they are an example of how a  cellar can do wonders for the bottom line.

Admittedly, a restaurant can pay tens of thousands of dollars to stock a cellar but this should be seen as an investment. This  investments involves a lot of research and a strong sense of caveat emptor—let the buyer beware.

But the basics are easy to follow. First, know what your customers drink. If you have a daily deluge of business suits on expense accounts and people with deliciously high disposable incomes, you can go for the best. You’d be silly not to as  mega-premium wines are in limited supply.

Conversely, a less affluent clientele may prefer sticking with quality drops from major wineries where supply can be guaranteed. Even here, bottleshop brands like Wynns Black Label Coonawarra Estate Cabernet Sauvignon ($19.43 LUC) have shown financial muscle.

As to the age-old question of how long a restaurant should hold onto a cult or super-prestige wine before selling it … well, how long is a piece of string?

These wines will cellar for a decade or more and customers may well prefer wines that have been allowed to snooze after their release date. It makes them more desirable.

The downside is that the wines are not turning over and the restaurateur’s money is tied up. These drops command an even bigger mark-up to cover the cost but that’s the name of the game.

As for wines that should provide good returns after lengthy cellaring, any of the drops mentioned here should do the trick, as well as classics like Mount Mary Quintet Cabernet (Yarra Valley), Leeuwin Estate Art Series Chardonnay (Margaret River), Moss Wood Cabernet Sauvignon (Margaret River), Wendouree Shiraz (Clare Valley) and Penfolds Bin 707 (SA).

All of these have been picked from the current Langton’s Australian Fine Wine Guide ($24.95, ph: 02 9362 1800) which is  regarded as the bible for price movements on the secondary market for wine.

But be warned—not all wines are a good investment. “Wine is an agricultural product that’s primarily produced for drinking,” says Andrew Caillard, Master of Wine and a director of Langton’s.  “Although there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence to suggest that many wines appreciate in value over time, there are no guarantees.”

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