Liquid Assets – The B Beyond Cellar

Wine investment has become one of the most significant alternative markets and now millions are spent annually securing allocations of the most rare and rated Chateaux. Bordeaux dominates the Fine Wine market (85% of top London merchant Berry Bros & Rudd’s £250million turnover in 2011), its longevity in good vintages, the quantities available and its unrivalled Blue Chip status ensuring its no. 1 position for investors. Brokers turn up to boardrooms with the same old chart in their presentation to potential clients – showing, over a 10 year period, the FTSE looking forlorn, Gold steady but not spectacular, and the price of Bordeaux rocketing skyward like a Champagne cork. A closer look at the indices should indicate this refers specifically to the ’82 vintage with 1990 being used as a slightly less dramatic second example. Interestingly the vintages ’81, ’84, ’87 and ’91 – uniformly poor years are never used as would paint a very different picture.

Although traditionally the preserve of a cadre of European and American connoisseurs, increasing interest from Eastern collectors over the last decade has meant that the Asian market is now the most significant for Bordeaux. A less solid bet for investors (given its relative fragility and more esoteric nature) and thus traditionally the preserve of specialist collectors only, Burgundy is now catching the eye of the Orient. As Bordeaux previously, this interest will cause a rise in prices, even more marked because of the considerably smaller quantities of top wines produced from the premium domaines. This may usher in a more widespread change to the landscape of wines in the East as the softer tannins of Pinot Noir are a much more sensible match to a number of South East Asian cuisines. Indeed – a Chinese client of mine always has Domaine Romanee Conti La Tache with Peking Duck on his birthday, claiming it is the perfect food and wine pairing. The Rhone may well be next (the esteem in which the iconic wines from Chapoutier, Chave and Guigal are held by pre-eminent critic Robert Parker, giving them ready appeal) and already some are turning to Italy – to the wines of Barolo, Montalcino and Bolgheri.

The conclusion therefore is that being able to afford these exclusive top wines will soon no longer be enough to ensure an allocation. The ever- increasing interest of the global elite in wine, whether for investment, prestige, entertaining, genuine passion or a combination of all factors, means the always limited availability of these finite commodities is a bigger impediment to ownership than price. Opportunities to put together a cellar of the world’s greatest wines are diminishing so to give B Beyond readers a head start, below are the must have wines of the last century. I have concentrated unapologetically on the great reds of France and used as a guide the ratings of the influential Wine Advocate and Fine Wine to help compile them (all scored 98+ out of 100). I have largely excluded boutique wineries from California and Australia because, however impressive they may be, at a dinner party, it’s unlikely more than one other person will have heard of them and part of the pleasure in drinking and sharing fine wine is ensuring everyone appreciates the privilege of doing so.

This first selection picks the best wines from 1811-1989 and only includes those that have still been pleasurable to tasters within the last five years. Wines become increasingly fragile with age and there are never guarantees that all will be in condition still, hence the adage – with old wines there is no such thing as a good vintage, just good bottles. In the next edition I will cover the vintages of the 90’s and also suggest some smaller producers worth considering and in the last B Beyond of 2012 the top wines from the previous decade will be listed. However for those who cannot wait so long – WineChap’s Premier Crew, our invitation only private wine concierge service, may be able to provide further information and assistance.

Tom Harrow

Full article and wines selection published in the Spring 2012 edition of B Beyond magazine.


London’s Best Restaurants

Only our concept of celebrity has become more debased than our definition of luxury today. We now have those for whom a ‘VIP event’ constitutes an evening spent in a Surrey Aston Martin showroom in lurid Paul Smith shirt and huge watch, drinking warm Piper Heidsieck, looking smug and paunchy whilst waiting for a similarly-attired ex-England sportsman to regale them with motivational anecdotes worn to the nub on the after-dinner circuit. Stumbling into such a motley gathering Nero or Peter the Great would probably have assumed they had interrupted an assembly of their grooms.

Our declining appreciation for quality is evidenced by the very existence of laughable websites like – (featuring Cafe Rouge and Spaghetti House to indicate the depths of their credibility void), the lead reader review of whose top-rated establishment included the unintentionally apposite comment ‘the whole experience was superfluous’. Aside from furthering my belief that although everyone has the right to an opinion, few have the sense not to express it, I paused to consider, in the run up to the recent San Pellegrino’s annual World’s 50 Best Restaurant Awards: ‘Which are London’s best restaurants’?

There are two categories of “best” restaurants in London: Those you always recommend to die-hard gastro-tourist acquaintances who want to experience the city’s finest (with
or without your company), and then those places you enjoy taking people yourself. Whilst you’d expect some overlap, the list will not be identical. The former are based almost wholly on the consistent high quality of the food, divorced from other considerations; the latter more dependent on other contributing factors mentioned above (see full article in B Beyond magazine).
Thus my top 10 choices in the first case would be:
The Ledbury
Galvin La Chapelle
The River Cafe
Le Gavroche
St John
The Square
Pied A Terre
Locanda Locatelli

In the second case:
The Opera Tavern
Great Queen Street
The Ivy
Ristorante Semplice
Mien Tay
La Gazette

This last list is more humble (less expensive and Michelin driven at least) and closer to my office, so the more often frequented. If I had the time, resources, desire to dress for the occasion and a driver waiting outside then more of list 1′s choices might start appearing on it, but expediency, convenience and pricing have led me more often to the latter selection. So a benign circle ensues, where your treatment in regularly-patronised establishments improves and visits correspondingly increase in frequency. This is still arguably the most important aspect of eating out for many London diners – who are happy to overlook a bad meal, or poor wine choice in a regular haunt so long as we are greeted effusively by name on the door, led to our preferred table and comped an aperitif Champagne by the management. Its these restaurants that remain our favourites – the best to and so for us. Through the lens of luxury redefined we prove a preference for the experience over the extravagance, the value added over the VIP.

N.B The full article appears in the summer edition of B Beyond magazine


Notes from the Bottom of a Bottle: Remy Martin Gastronomic Cognac pairing:

For the discerning drinker, Brandy – specifically Cognac, is the most refined and noble expression of digestif distillates:  Whisky has more romance but is an untamed savage next to Cognac’s urbane sophistication.  Grappa, remains as was always so, the preserve of the peasantry.  However for something a little different for your next evening gathering of dilettantes, rather than enjoying a Brandy after dinner (or if in the Tropics, before with Soda) why not try drinking Cognac throughout?   Below are notes from a recent such soiree, after a brief introduction to this most patrician of grape spirits:

The best of the region comes from the Coeur de Cognac, Grande and Petite Champagne, from the Latin ‘campagna’ – chalk, and one finds correspondingly mineral terroirs in the chalk-enriched soils of Champagne, Chablis and the Coeur de Cognac.  The pinnacle of achievement from the latter is possibly found in Remy Martin’s Louis XIII, recently topped by the release of a Louis XIII Rare Cask – the world’s most devastatingly exclusive and expensive Brandy.  From a single and singular barrel (that had uniquely and inexplicably achieved 43.8 alcohol as opposed to the usual 40),  the contents have been meticulously nurtured and now bottled in a series of 786 Baccarat black crystal decanters.  These limited edition releases are, whilst not priceless, unrivalled in expense.

Whilst I am looking forward to reporting back on the exquisite nuances of this particular rarity, in the interim I suggest Beyond Black readers try the following distinctive and surprisingly effective pairings to create a novel and stimulating dinner party:

Remy Martin Cognacs and Pairing suggestions:

VSOP – a blend of 240-wines, with 4-14yrs barrel age.  Top floral notes of violets, some vanilla and caramel, ripe peach and traces of nutmeg leads to a burnished palate, aniseed and apricot and some of the chalk coming through to give a mineral drive to the finish.

Works surprisingly well with Roquefort which emphasises the Cognac’s creamy and nutty tones and, unlike more traditional matching with sweeter Sauternes or Tokaji dessert wines, the VSOP doesn’t mask the cheese’s character but rather lifts it.

Served chilled – ironically given the almost-iconoclasm of cold Brandy, it tastes like the smell of an old church (some polished leather, old wood, lingering incense) so that you can almost taste the walls of the cellar.  With smoked salmon blinis a rich oiliness and the smoky character is more easily discerned.

XO – from 350 blended wines between 10-37yrs old.  This was darker-toned, edgier, flirting with nature’s more illicit recesses, like a Saki short story; Pan – remotely mischievous.  Wild flowers, irises, elder, and then passionfruit, cinnamon buns, a touch of brioche moving on the palate to preserved lemons, gingerbread and liquorice.  The XO is as pungent as an old forest in spring with remarkable freshness , lively fruit and floral components, overlying a much older, deeper complexity.  Not more concentrated than the VSOP – just more elegant and nuanced, it expands in both directions – at once more deft and light-footed but also more serious and complex.  Good with bitter black chocolate or a Cohiba Siglo VI or both, or even Foie Gras.

Coeur de Cognac – a new blend from the house – of both Grande and Petite Champagne sites (so Fine) which prefers a more feminine, delicate composition – this is Brandy removed from the fishbowl goblet, and the smoky recesses of Gentlemens’ Clubs.  Elegant but with very ripe fruits and vanilla pod tones, very pleasant served chilled with Tarte Tatin and a white chocolate sauce.

Coming Up:  Rendevouz Remy Martin – the ultimate luxury visit to the Chateau culminating in a tasting experience of the famous Louis XIII Cognac

Tom Harrow


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