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Britain's Private Cellars: A Wine-Lover's Dream

Posted by perle0 on 2006-04-20 23:20:10 (4151 views)

You may be rightfully proud of your wine cellar. But you're only one person, right? You have only your lifetime in which to buy and store wine, and at least some of what you lay down today will be left at the mercy of your heirs, unless you go on quite a bender on the ol' death bed.

This is not a problem for some of the great private cellars of Britain. The government alone has a stash of 40,000 bottles drawn on for state banquets and other forms of hospitality, spending about 100,000 British pounds a year on wine for future generations of monarchs, leaders, and diplomats to enjoy. Other private cellars belong to groups with a long-established tradition, making them eminently suitable to buying wine now for its members to enjoy in 20 or 30 years.

To enjoy these exclusive treasures you really have to be a member, or a guest, of one of the select groups that form part of what was once known as the British establishment--London's traditional clubs, such as the Garrick and the Carlton; a few banks and city houses; the Oxbridge colleges; the more traditional Army regiments; some professional institutions, and the city livery companies, descended from medieval trade guilds. Their cellars, stocked over the centuries, always with an eye to the future, are often extensive and always high quality, exclusively for their own enjoyment, and that of their favoured guests.

The emphasis is on traditional, serious clarets, burgundies, and ports, bought at cost price from fine wine dealers for "laying down" until the wine matures. Edward Cottrell, general manager of Justerini and Brooks, Mayfair-based wine dealers which supplies many private cellars, said: "Although we do sell some what we call 'drinking Claret' for serving now, most of those who buy for such places are not buying wines they will drink themselves, but for future generations. And they will be drinking wine bought perhaps 10 or even 20 years ago."

As traditions fade a bit, the maintainance of private cellars, which were once the norm, has declined too. The really big cellars belong to the 12 original livery companies of the City of London, and to the Oxbridge colleges. Among the livery companies, the best cellars are maintained by the Vintners, which represents the wine trade, the Goldsmiths, and the Fishmongers. The cellars are used for regular entertaining. Each of the livery companies host monthly dinners for the masters and clerks of the other companies, as well as numerous other ceremonial occasions.

The Goldsmiths, first chartered in 1327, have a fine collection of ports dating back to 1948, but have recently sold some off at auction because drinking port has become less popular. Most of the private cellars sell excess wine to raise funds for buying future wines at cost, when it is released.

A representative of the Goldsmiths, which keeps around 800 cases, said the grander the occasion, the better the wine served. "We have 18 bottles of Madeira dating from 1835, when our hall was built, which is not something we open very often. But some of our older members still ask when they will get the chance to taste it."

Read more about these large private cellars and some of the outstanding wines they hold.


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