The Oxford Wine Company Talk to Cellar Maison

This week, Cellar Maison met with kindred spirits of the wine and food world Ted Sandbach and Theo Sloot of The Oxford Wine Company.

Read on for some wise advice for setting up a cellar, maintaining and building a collection, and some key tips on what they’re drinking and cellaring now.

Cellar Maison feel it’s essential to provide our clients with introductions to trusted wine specialists. We design and build your new home cellar, The Oxford Wine Company can help you stock it with a balanced, personally selected portfolio to suit your personal needs.

Ted Sandbach, owner and Managing Director of the Oxford Wine Company for the last 21 years, still loves it – certainly testament to his dedication and passion for wine.  He has worked tirelessly to create a wholesale and retail company, and now a wine bar and café that caters for a discerning market and makes it easy for everyone to learn about, buy, collect, drink and enjoy quality wine. They also have an extensive spirits collection that is worthy in itself of a browse of the shop or website.

Theo Sloot, Public Relations and Marketing Director and wine extraordinaire, has been with The Oxford Wine Company for 10 years. This has followed on from a long wine career, including specializing in Spanish wine for the embassy of Spain. Theo wears a number of hats at The Oxford Wine Company. His famous tasting nights – Tasty Tuesdays, held at The Oxford Wine Café, and Thirsty Thursdays, that take place at the company’s Oxford shop – are popular and fun, showing the passion he has for wine education.

The Oxford Wine Café, where we met to talk to Ted and Theo, opened earlier in 2013. It’s the perfect venue for a glass of something wonderful from the extensive wine list. There is plenty of evidence of fun times with events, live jazz nights, wine tastings and dinners.  Everything is designed to welcome, unite and entertain people – a testament to their company values.

CM – What advice would you give to someone starting a home cellar?

Theo – It’s really important firstly, to work with an established, respectable wine merchant. We work to help people make good choices that suit their needs and wishes.

Ted – People buy the wrong things all the time if they’re not experienced and rush into starting a collection and end up with wine that is either bought poorly, or cellared poorly. Deciding on a budget, then approaching a trusted wine specialist to plan and buy wine to suit is a good place to begin.

CM – What tips do you have for keeping records of a home cellar?

Theo – I suggest keeping an old-fashioned cellar book and accurately recording all purchases in it although I think you can now get apps that will do the job for you just as well. Keep a record of the date purchased, vintage, wine maker, the purchase price, the drinking window and any other relevant details.  The important thing is to be sure you’re updated on all your wine as it comes close to the time that it’s ready to drink. We often see examples of cellars where accurate records have not been kept and hence, the big mistake of keeping wine for too long is made and a lot of it ends up too old to be drinkable.

CM – How much importance is there to cellaring wine correctly at home?

Theo – I get asked to value wine collections frequently and it’s so unfortunate to find wine that has been stored for many years in completely the wrong places, like in the kitchen, or in a cupboard. It’s unbelievable, people say: I’ve got 100 bottles of this or that, stored for 30 years…  And where has it been stored? … Under the stairs!  It’s really ruined.

Generally wine should be cellared at the same, consistent temperature – whether red or white. Then when someone wants to drink a bottle, it’s the time to either bring it up to the right temperature, or cool it to the right temperature.

Ted – Cellaring properly is essential. Keeping wine at a constant, correct temperature is very important. Having proper refrigeration or climate control is perfectly possible now and something very worth setting up.

CM – Are there ways to learn more about wine as you go along with a new collection?

Theo – I host tastings called Tasty Tuesdays and Thirsty Thursdays which are very humourous, user friendly, light, casual nights with a lot of interaction. There is a lot of worry about wine tasting in society, and shame that one might get it “wrong”, which we want to get rid of. We encourage people to enjoy wine and learn through tasting and talking.

We also run WSET tasting courses tutored by our Master of Wine, Marcia Waters  (WSET is the industry standard). If you’re really serious, do one of these.

Ted – Attending tastings at your local wine merchant is a great way to learn. Find somewhere you’re going to enjoy the vibe and a place you can trust that really know what they’re talking about. We also run something called The Oxford Wine School which as well as WSET does our own courses where people can study and learn in a very informal manner compared to the WSET courses that have exams and are more structured – many sommeliers do these too.

CM – Is there any advice you can give to help avoid common mistakes made by collectors?

Ted – Again, taking advice from a trusted, local wine merchant is really the key. They can advise you on what to buy, how to cellar and very importantly, for how long. Reading as well is quite important and finding out about the wine you’re buying.

CM – What about appraisals for a collection over time? Have you any suggestions for the serious collector?

Theo – Some wine merchants offer appraisals, others don’t. We do have this service. There are wine appraisals on offer by some companies if there is the intention of selling all or part of the cellar, these can be costly so it would pay to do your research.

Ted – Some collectors do buy wine that has already been aged, to get their collection started and give multiple layers and diversity. Buying aged wine requires expert advice. It would be risky to buy from private collectors unless you have evidence that it has been cellared correctly for the whole time.

We can certainly help with this either directly or sourcing aged wine that is wanted.

CM – Have you noticed trends in private wine collections over recent times?

Ted – There are some younger people starting collections and because they were brought up on New World wines, they are tending to include these in their cellars more than collectors have historically. People creating home cellars tend to see it as a hobby as well, and really enjoy the interaction and process of researching and buying wine and well as drinking with friends and family. It’s very much a lifestyle choice.

Theo – We also see people with a bit of extra money who want to do something traditional and make a home cellar with a lot of French and Northern Italian wine that is historically very collectable and generally makes a better investment than most New World wines.

CM – Regarding countries to collect from, can you recommend some wines for the cellar from some less familiar places?

Theo – South Africa is an exciting market. It’s a bit like New Zealand 10 years ago. Many young South African wine makers have been learning the craft and getting experience on old, established wineries in France for instance, then taking this knowledge back with them and making some absolutely fantastic wine. There are some brilliant Chardonnays coming out of South Africa that are reasonably priced (around £10-15 per bottle) and cellar for about 5 years, and even longer in some cases.

Ted – Argentina is another country full of new vineyards that are at their prime. It has the highest wine growing regions, which also reduces rot caused by humidity. The Malbec is wonderful. There is some spectacular Portuguese wine and Port too, that is highly collectable if chosen well. Another favourite we recommend exploring is Chilean Pinot Noir.

The wine we stock has been carefully sourced and represents the best there is. We much prefer to partner with small, boutique producers and work closely and directly with them to get a feel for what they are making.

CM – For wine collectors, is there anything that you might suggest they look at that is really outside the norm?

Ted –   A big surprise for some people may be the spectacular UK sparkling wines that are being produced. They are surpassing some of the big Champagne makers in quality – and that’s well documented, and it’s really just education and getting people adventurous enough to explore this and put aside the stereotypes that are so ingrained in terms of people going for the big names automatically. The UK really are now world leaders in sparking wine.

They are being made mainly in the South Downs, Sussex and some in Kent and Hampshire. They have similar climates to the Champagne regions in France, are close in latitude, and are growing the same grape varieties, with techniques that are proving a real success. The UK’s Nyetimber has been topping big name Champagnes in blind tastings for example … and has been served by the Queen to visiting dignitaries for some years! It’s a great winery – we took a group down there this year, it’s well worth a trip.

CM – What are you currently drinking and really enjoying?

Both – Pinot Noir! (Among other things)

Ted – New Zealand Pinot Noir particularly from Martinborough. It is producing excellent Pinot without the very high prices that some of the Otago Pinot Noir has.

CM – Some wineries to look up?

Ted – Escarpment, Chard Farm, Palliser Estate, Felton Road…

Theo – Chilean Pinot Noir is also becoming very good and worth exploring.

CM – What would be your top choices to cellar now and why?

Theo – Wines from the Languedoc – typical Rhone style is very collectable.

Martinborough Pinot Noir and Californian Pinot Noir – chosen and cellared carefully for a short time, about 5 years for optimum drinking is good.

In terms of investment, you would generally look towards the Bordeaux, Barolo (from the Nebbiolo grape) and what we call super-Tuscans (classic grape varieties from France grown in Tuscany). Ports also are classics for collecting and gaining value.

What you want is a portfolio, so you buy some classic investment wines that last 20 or more years, and you also buy some wines such as NZ Pinot Noir that will cellar for 5 or so years. Then you can sell some off and buy more, to build up a really good, layered collection. We are more than happy to help people building up in this way in their home cellar.

Many thanks from Cellar Maison to Ted Sandbach, Theo Sloot and The Oxford Wine Company.

With their obvious integrity and genuine enjoyment for quality wine, the award winning Oxford Wine Company is a great place to contact or visit for their excellent selection of wine and spirits – plus wine education and information and great attitude.

If you’re in Oxford, lucky you! … If not, what’s not to love about a little road trip there to browse, buy, eat, drink and listen to some mellow jazz at the café?

Ordering online is easy and advice is always available.

Check the websites for details and browse the wine and extensive spirits selection.

The Oxford Wine Company

The Oxford Wine Café