How to buy a bottle of fine wine good enough to pass down as an heirloom

David Elswood, International Head of Wine at Christie's, talks through the options if you're after a bottle of wine to hand down through the ages.

When looking to buy an heirloom in the field of wine, it’s best not to stray from the arena of classic regions such as Bordeaux, Burgundy, Champagne or vintage Port.

The logic is sound: wines from these places not only have a long and fairly predictable future ahead of them in terms of drinking potential, but the best will also appreciate steadily in value should your offspring turn out to be teetotal and more likely to sell the stuff rather than pull the cork.

Some might argue that the odd famous wine from Spain, Italy or Australia could also join the list, and that’s true, but these are likely to be more on the borderline of your personal preference as against a certain bet for a worthwhile heirloom.

The wine market has been this way for the past 50 years and, for heirloom purposes at least, unlikely to change much in the next 50. Don’t forget that fine-wine drinkers are a pretty conservative and risk-averse bunch in the main.

Up to £5,000 at auction

There’s great choice at this level, including 12-bottle cases, ideally still packed in their original wooden case or carton. Younger vintages of most of the classic first-growth Left Bank wines of Bordeaux can be found around the £3,000 to £5,000 mark. Châteaux names such as Lafite-Rothschild, Latour, Mouton-Rothschild, Margaux and Haut-Brion will be familiar to many.

Recommended videos for you

To buy: Château Haut-Brion 2007, £3,000; Château Latour 2008, £4,500; Château Margaux 2011, £3,500

£5,000 to £10,000

At the next bracket up the main factor to consider is the all-important vintage or year of production — the better the year, the higher the price, of course. Modest vintages such as 2007 or 2011 could be a starting point, while for serious years such as 2005 and 2009 the price for wine from the same château could be doubled or perhaps more.

Vintage Port was — and, in some cases, remains — the quintessential ‘heirloom’ purchase with a ‘pipe’ (meaning about 733 bottles) being the standard measure to lay down for a lucky infant. When he or she reaches the age of majority, the newly mature owner could then elect to either consume or sell the 20-year-old Port, according to their situation and wishes.

A wide range of superb young Ports trade from about £1,000 per dozen – and often much less, as in the case of Taylor’s future classic 2011 at £650 to £700 for 12 bottles under bond.

To buy: Château Lafite-Rothschild 2000, £14,000; Château Mouton-Rothschild 2000, £15,000; Chambertin 2010 from Armand Rousseau, £18,000

£20,000 to £50,000

As you spend more, other evocative Bordeaux names such as Pétrus and Le Pin will enter the equation. In Burgundy, this figure will also get you into Grand Cru territory — famous single-vineyard wines from a well-respected domaine. Both red and white are available, but if you want a Grand Cru from a top-rated domaine in a superb year such as 2009 or 2015, the price will quickly accelerate into the stratosphere as Burgundy is made in tiny quantities compared to Bordeaux and all the world’s wine lovers are hoping to land a case or two for their cellar.

To buy: Château Lafite-Rothschild 1982, £35,000; La Tache DRC 2005, £32,000; Château Pétrus 1998, £28,000

Here’s a bottle of wine that we had to drink while researching this article. (Then we woke up.)

Beyond £50,000

At this level, the best advice is to collect wines you know or know about and buy from someone you trust and who most likely will still be around in 20 years should your offspring want to sell rather than consume. The lifespan of different wines can vary enormously — even the most modest vintage of a first-growth Bordeaux or Grand Cru Burgundy deserves 15 to 20 years of maturity and a great Vintage Port can still be evolving after 50-plus years. For Champagne, I would venture that a 20-year-old vintage would be considered by many as ideal — currently a 1995 or 1996.

To buy: Château Pétrus 1982, £50,000; Romanée-Conti 2013, £120,000; Le Pin 1982, £100,000

Alternative view

If this purchase is to eventually to be enjoyed, it’s worth thinking about buying something that isn’t too prohibitively expensive to actually drink, says wine merchant Alistair Viner of Mayfair’s fine-wine and spirits boutique Hedonism Wines:

‘Some Californian wines — those from the 1980s or 1990s — are both drinking nicely and are very affordable, as are some interesting South African wines from the same period,’ he says.

‘Alternatively, go for smaller or newer producers in places such as Spain or Portugal.

‘Overall, remember wine that’s bottled is meant to be drunk and take advice on what’s going to last the distance and be enjoyed in 30 years’ time.’