If you told me you wanted a single bottle of a rare old wine, I would recommend you contact Reid Wines. If you had a cellar or personal collection you wished to sell, I would suggest you contact the same two-person wine merchant located on a chicken farm south of Bristol.
You would probably go online and search for reidwines.com — in vain. You might then wonder if perhaps this merchant produced a printed wine list you could check out. Again, you would be disappointed.
I asked a wine-minded London restaurateur how he bought from Reid. “With difficulty,” he laughed, and forwarded me three idiosyncratic spreadsheets headed variously “Champagne”, “Mixed” and “Trade Offer” that he received from Reid in 2018, including one bottle of 1816 Spanish Moscatel listed at £375 and an 1840 Terrantez Madeira at £2,200. At the other end of the scale, 35 halves of 2000 Hugel Gewürztraminer Vendange Tardive were £12.50 apiece.
Reid Wines is clearly unconventional but also hugely admired within the trade. I have recommended Reid’s owner David Boobbyer to several friends who planned to liquidate their wine collections and all were delighted by the service they received. One such was philosophy professor John Harris, who decided to translate his precious collection of claret into bricks and mortar for his son in 2018. By email, he described Boobbyer as “charming” and “reliable”.
“Having spent some hours examining each bottle — which made me panic a bit since we had damaged some of the cases when we opened them — and talking to me about these and other wines, we agreed on the offer price he had made on the unseen consignment,” Harris wrote.
The enviable cellar of my FT predecessor, Edmund Penning-Rowsell, was sold to Boobbyer by his son, another Edmund and another professor, who told me recently, “There was no fuss, no argument about the price that David set, and [he took] a very generously reduced commission on the most prestigious wines.”
One could say that Boobbyer has been surrounded by great wine all his working life. His first job straight out of Oxford Polytechnic (now Brookes) in the early 1980s was at Gidleigh Park country house hotel in Devon, where the owner Paul Henderson had a passion for wine and a massive cellar. Boobbyer fell under the spell and has fond memories of fine-wine weekends there led by luminaries such as Michael Broadbent and Harry Waugh.
From there, he moved up the road to Averys of Bristol, where his role included supervising the fabled collection of the late John Avery. In 1986 he landed the perfect job for a lover of old wine, working for the much-missed Bill Baker, co-founder of Reid Wines and a larger-than-life character in every respect, especially as a trencherman.
Not surprisingly, Baker chose to interview Boobbyer over dinner — and Boobbyer can recall every drop they drank: Cuvée Christine 1976 Alsace white, an Ampeau Meursault 1978, a Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste 1959 (the year he was born), which he still drools over, and a top-quality calvados.
Baker — beloved by many an epicure, and not just in the UK — was proud of his disdain for technology. He used to produce a beautifully written, unusually honest wine list when he felt like it. About a wine described as “1920 Nasty White Bordeaux” (£14.50 apiece) he wrote, “Joy, oh joy only six bottles left.”
When Boobbyer took over Reid Wines after Baker’s sudden death in 2008, he abandoned the idea of a printed list altogether. “There was no point in trying to emulate him,” he told me during a long phone conversation last week. Baker would pepper his list with barbs aimed at his various bêtes noires — “myself included”, said Boobbyer, “if I happened to have bought something he thought was disgusting”.
Baker cultivated wine sales to restaurants (only the good ones) and particularly treasured his annual sales tour of Scotland’s finest establishments. Boobbyer was assigned everything from the Scottish border as far south as Birmingham, but excluding Yang Sing in Manchester because Baker particularly liked the Chinese food at this useful lunch stop to and from Scotland.
Boobbyer didn’t need to be taught to treasure old wine — “I just love the historical angle, the stories,” he said. But what Baker instilled in him was the importance of tasting what you sell. “He’d say, ‘Just try it, and if it’s good, flog it.’ We were famous for our 11-bottle cases.” (Fine wine usually comes in cases of a dozen.) “The problem with Bill was that he’d drink most of that 12th bottle. I’d get the last glass if I was quick.”
Virtually all of Reid Wines’ stock, which is kept nearby in the “showers and urinals section” of an old Ministry of Defence bunker, comes via word of mouth. “There’s a huge trust element,” according to Boobbyer, “because you could be handling bottles worth thousands.” The most common reasons people sell their wine collections are, he said, death, doctor (putting the owner on the wagon), divorce and financial hardship. He has found divorce by far the most painful if acrimony and alimony are involved.
“We don’t cherry-pick. It’s easier for everyone if we buy the whole cellar, and we have people who’ll take what we don’t want.”
Investment-grade wine is what thrills Boobbyer least. “Twenty cases of Mouton ’82 is not our game. We’ll pass that on to Farr Vintners, for instance. My pleasure is in finding the small stuff, the underdog — things like old Australian Chardonnay, Baron de L 1985 [a Pouilly Fumé that would normally have been drunk 30 years ago] or old champagne. The best wine I remember in Bill’s time was some oak-aged Roederer non-vintage from the 1950s that we bought in a clearance sale. Gosh, it was stonking.”
I wondered whether they ever ran out of stock. “Never, though we do hold quite big stocks,” he laughed, admitting that he was once asked whether he actually sold the wine he bought. “It’s fun. You get some duds but you also get some surprises.”
Does he ever have to turn down a cellar? “The labels don’t matter but if the wine has obviously been kept badly, then yes. If it’s a hot cellar, I’ll walk away — there’s no point. You’re only as good as the last bottle you sold.” Boobbyer claims he can smell it when a wine has been kept badly. “You get that smell of a hot wooden case. There’ll be discoloration on the label and oiliness on the glass. It’s like antiques. You get a sixth sense.”
The big change he has witnessed is that cellars are no longer automatically handed down to the next generation. “People are much more discerning now that Château Latour ’61, for instance, a wine they perhaps bought for £1.50, is worth £2,500. Thanks to Winesearcher.com, people are much more aware of prices than they used to be, and so is probate. Although many people assume, quite wrongly, that a wine is worth what Harrods is selling a perfectly stored bottle of it for.”
He prides himself on telling people where their wine ends up and told me the story of a couple who made a special trip to Harrods to see the wine they’d sold him displayed in a glass case.
And then there was the California wine merchant who wanted to know every detail of an aristocratic household that supplied a particular consignment. “There were two cases of Petrus ’82. The butler was lazy. He just threw away the wooden cases, put the bottles on a shelf and never moved them, so the labels at the front were much more soiled than the ones at the back. My customer wanted to know all about the gardener and the housekeeper, too.”
Boobbyer’s favourite drink at home is seriously old non-vintage champagne — “Wine Society champagne with age is fantastic.” Yet the bottle that has brought him possibly the most pleasure of all was a Mouton 1928 made in the year that the much-loved Burgundy winemaker and mayor of Volnay Michel Lafarge was born. Lafarge had never tasted a great bordeaux of his birth year but was given the chance at a lunch in Burgundy in late 2019 after a stupendous vertical tasting of his own Clos des Chênes organised by one of Reid’s best customers, Hong Kong collector Richard Orders. “It was just before Michel Lafarge died. He was so humble about his own burgundies but the bordeaux was superb and brought tears to his eyes. It was the best feeling.”
Reid Wines 01761 452645
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