I did come across one very useful dated solera wine recently, De Muller's Aureo 1954 Solera Tarragona.With its orange cellophane wrapping and distinctly retro label, it rather reminded me of Lucozade to look at but, although it's as sweet, it is infinitely more interesting – and great value at not much more than £20 a bottle.Based on Grenache grapes of all three colours, these Rivesaltes, Banyuls and Maurys are the most traditional wines produced in Roussillon and dominated the wine scene there until the fashion for table wines and international grape varieties came along in the 1980s.
One way round the difficulty of squaring suitable vintage year with depth of pocket is to look for solera wines carrying the year when the solera was established.
These generally fortified wines are made by fractional blending of old wines with younger ones in systems known as soleras.
These used to be common on the Atlantic island of Madeira – and many of those who bought a wine with a nice old year on the label thought erroneously they were buying wine made exclusively in that year.
The category was so abused that it was temporarily suspended by the EU but madeira soleras are now being established once more – still too youthful to be useful for our purposes.
Only the smartest table wines last that long, and there can be massive question marks over the authenticity and storage history of single bottles of venerable table wine.
Fortified wines, wines to which alcohol has been added during the production process such as port, sherry and madeira, are much more robust than table wines and, since most unfortunately the category is far from the height of fashion, they tend to be much better value than classic table wines.In late 1988, Koch spent about half a million dollars to add four of the famed bottles to his personal cellar.The world of elite wine collecting, as such purchases demonstrate, is an expensive and high-stakes hunting game.(Few wine drinkers realise how widely these 15% additions of something else are allowed for wine in general.)But he points out that the French customs authorities and their colleagues from the delightfully named Répression des Fraudes are very much on his case.His wines are authenticated by detailed records from the producers that are scrutinised regularly by customs officials.'They kept small lots of these wines like a gold bar, an investment for the future', according to Gayral.