Back 6 or 12? That’s The Question

Published on 6 November, 2020

What parents and gardeners have in common is the long game. Parenting and gardening involve effort, commitment over the long term. It’s not instant gratification. Armand Heitz recently reminded of just how long term some of their choices are: plant a vineyard, and the impact – the life cycle of the vine – is potentially several decades’ of output. The risk is that you make bad decisions, but the rewards run deep. 

This longer term thinking used to be the norm when it came to fine wine purchasing. In the olden days you bought everything by the case every year and laid it down. Indeed, in the most classic model you drank your parent’s cellar while laying down the wines for your kids! It’s not quite like that anymore. Wines are more approachable younger, and we love the variety of so many wines to sample. And there are businesses like ours now offering an enormous selection of wines available by single bottle purchase, ready to drink. You can choose on a whim, or for a specific requirement.

©The Drinks Business

But there are some pleasures only available by the case…. With 6 or 12 bottles of a wine, you can see, and track it, as it evolves over a number of years. People used to keep notes of how wines showed in their cellar book, so they could read the pages later and decide what to pull from the cellar – 7 bottles into your case you’d have 7 brief tasting notes in the book. Today you can use CellarTracker. But by getting to know a wine as it evolves over many years, you know it so much better; it gives a more enriched experience.

2 or 3 bottles into your case, you know how it tastes, what to eat with it. You now have a wine you can depend upon in situations that count. Needing a bottle to take to a dinner, or inviting someone over for dinner? You have your banker sitting in that case. You may end up with some rare bottles. If you view this case as something to enjoy over the long term, the provenance will be your own for much of the wine’s life, and you will know the wine, and its condition well. While the other bottles in the market have been drunk, yours have become rarer.

So, how do you choose your full original wooden cases of wine? The first thing is to choose wines you really like, and like to drink, like to anticipate. It sounds obvious, but sometimes we get swayed by the opinions of others. This is not the time for that. You are going to have a relationship with this wine!

The classic way to buy by the case is to do so en primeurs. There is something quite special about owning wine that is still in barrel, not yet in bottle. There at the birth so to speak. And there is anticipation as the wine ages in your cellar. 

But, if you prefer to fast forward to the moment the first bottle in the case is opened, and then enjoy the wine’s maturity curve as you monitor the case bottle by bottle, I understand. With that in mind I have prepared a small selection that are ready for the case to be broached, but with time in hand for you to take your time. (The full list of OWC - original wooden cases - of 6 or 12 can be found here).

Oh, and one last point. If you have your eye on things in your cellar gaining in rarity, buying full OWCs of wines that are already mature is a smart move. As everyone else tucks in to their cases, those cases that still have their full complement of 6 or 12 become rapidly rarer. (Not that I want to put you off enjoying your wine!)

While of course everything I have said holds true too for original cartons, there is something particularly special about opening a wooden case…

1998 Château Cheval Blanc, OWC12
1982 Château Latour, OWC12
1982 Château Laville Haut-Brion, OWC6 magnums
1989 Château d’Yquem, OWC24 half bottles

Two reds, each of which stand as absolute landmark years for these two châteaux, and although the Latour is much older already than the Cheval Blanc, both are only just really beginning to shine. Decades on the maturity plateau lie ahead for both. They can only become more sought after. The Laville is there for three reasons – firstly, in 1982 it is delicious right now, second in magnum it is likely to be as fresh as you can find, and three, how rare must this white be already? (The wine is, today, bottled as Château La Mission Haut-Brion Blanc). This Yquem vintage happens to be a favourite. It’s full of intensity, botrytis and character, and by the half bottle, ideally sized for the next several years’ of pleasure. 

2007 Joseph Drouhin Montrachet Grand Cru ‘Marquis de Laguiche’, OWC12
1976 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti La Tâche, OWC6 magnums

There is something particularly satisfying about knowing you have a case of wines already incredibly desirable in single bottles. La Tâche is one of the spicy highlights of 1976, and Drouhin’s Montrachet has both great elegance, and tremendous legs for refined ageing.

1998 Vega Sicilia Unico, OWC12
Because it’s great, it’s Spain’s greatest wine (IMHO), and because it seems to age forever. One of the best ‘young’ vintages, you could start now already, but no end in sight.

1982 Philipponnat ‘Clos des Goisses’, OWC6
1982 Jaboulet Hermitage ‘La Chapelle’, ex-domaine late release, OWC6
1999 E. Guigal Côte-Rôtie ‘La Landonne’, OWC6

‘Clos des Goisses’ is one of those wines for both Champagne lovers and white Burgundy lovers, because this single vineyard wine is south-facing, and gives a rich expression in the glass. Bottles back to the ‘50s are still showing well. Exceptionally rare now in this vintage in a case. This particular vintage of La Chapelle is here because it has arguably the most beguiling fragrance and delicacy of any post-1960s example, and its ex-domaine late release provenance gives surety. It’s one of my favourites. And the ‘La Landonne’ is my pick from the Guigal’s perfect 1999 trilogy because La Landonne is the late developer. At 21 it is only now starting to show its potential, while La Mouline and La Turque are in their apogee. The long initial wait has been done for you.

These are a few picks, from what is at The Fine Wine Experience, a very broad selection. Time to enter into some serious relationships with individual wines over a case-worth of bottles. The extra rewards are worth it.