Age before beauty

Drink - Victoria Moore shares a new and secretive passion for hoarding

My new obsession is buying wine for my cellar. I don't just mean wine to have in the house so that there's always a bottle on hand when I need one. I mean wine that I hide away somewhere and pretend that I've forgotten all about, the idea being that, one day, I'll suddenly realise it's ten years old and tastes ten times better than it did when I first bought it.

Until now, this was always beyond me. Before, I'd buy a bottle, stash it in a drawer and peep at it every few days to see if it had got any older. It never had. Then, one day, I'd drink it because I had run out of wine and couldn't be bothered to walk to the shop.

But something quite remarkable has happened. This time last year, as a wedding present, I bought some friends a bottle of Italian wine so expensive that it had a hand-written label and needed to be kept for at least five years before drinking. I also bought myself one, hid it away and genuinely forgot about it until last week, when I realised that I had succeeded in ageing it one year.

The sense of accomplishment was so incredible that I practically threw a birthday party in its honour. And now that I know I can do it, I am consumed by a desire to add to my stash.

This is not good news for my bank balance. I can no longer be released into an off-licence without supervision. Even then, I am usually caught sidling over to the counter with an irresistible but expensive St Emilion, or a little something from the Haut-Medoc, cunningly hidden among my everyday-drinking Chilean Cabernet Sauvignons.

Once you begin to collect wine for a cellar, the process becomes utterly addictive. I keep a book in which I log the date when I bought the wine and how much I paid, so that, in years to come, I will be able to browse through it smugly and tell everyone how something I picked up for a song is now worth a hundred pounds or more.

Most of all, however, I am looking forward to drinking it. Really good, bottle-aged wine is in a different league altogether to the stuff one normally drinks. I know this only because my friend Nina's father is a bit of a wine buff, and his house is packed to the rafters with bottles. I am always trying to get myself invited round to dinner so that I can drink it. Unfortunately, Nina now has a boyfriend. When I complained that his existence was affecting my own access, he jeered: "I'm in there now, I'm in there. Nina's dad's wine is all mine."

Never mind. I now have my own burgeoning collection and, if I might, I would like to suggest a few tips to would-be amateur cellar-ers. The ideal storage temperature for wine is 13 C; bottles should be kept horizontally and in the dark, because the quality deteriorates when exposed to light. This is why cellars are ideal. My own wine racks are under the stairs (away from temperature-changing windows and radiators) at my boyfriend's house (there is no room in my flat). I have, naturally, taken the precaution of forcing him to agree to an oral contract stating that, if we ever split up, he is on no account to hold my wine hostage, or to "forget" to return any of the bottles to me.

As for what to buy, I have enlisted the help of the excellent Keith Milton of HestiaVolos wines. He says: "For five- to ten-year cellaring, most southern French reds from the 1998/99 vintage are good. One of my favourites is from Oddbins: Domaine de Grangeneuve Vielles Vignes 1998, at £5.99. At a slightly higher price of £9.99, the Valpolicella Tenuta Sant'Antonio 1998, also from Oddbins, is phenomenal. And I really do have to recommend one of my own wines, as it's my favourite of all time. Domaine de Trevallon 1998 Coteaux les Baux is awesome, will keep for a minimum of 20 years and should start drinking in five or six years. At £30.42 a bottle, it's not cheap, but it's a serious wine to cellar at a fraction of equivalent quality claret."

And if you can keep your mitts away from the corkscrew for as long as 15 years? "Exceptional wines only are going to fit into this category. I've just bought some 1997 Tignanello at about £30 from Wine Rack for my own cellar." (Tignanello is, in fact, £28.99, and has apparently almost sold out thanks to its cult status.) I have saved my best tip for the end: make sure you always have plenty of ordinary wine at home. Otherwise, you might be tempted to raid your cellar before it's mature.

Hestia Volos Ltd can be contacted on 020 8404 0752

This article first appeared in the 27 November 2000 issue of the New Statesman, The rise of stealthy wealth