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Biondi-Santi for under a tenner

Updated: Jun 19, 2019


The joy of finding a vintage wine at a bargain price is amplified by its right time, right place difficulty and the risk that the bottle in question hasn’t been looked after.


The joy of finding a vintage wine at a bargain price is amplified by its right time, right place difficulty and the risk that the bottle in question hasn’t been looked after.


We’re on holiday in Stresa which is on Lago Maggiore in northern Italy, stunning landscapes distract our eyes as we cruise along the lakefront roads between towns and wine bars. We stop off at an antique shop, which frankly, once inside, looks rather more like an overpriced charity shop. I quickly realise I won’t find a deal here and so the search moves into a competition to find the weirdest item.

““Ben, they have an antique wine cabinet over here!” and to my surprise, there are actual bottles of wines inside it, each priced at 11€10.”

Mickey heckles over at me: “Ben, they have an antique wine cabinet over here!” and to my surprise, there are actual bottles of wines inside it, each priced at 11€10. Now there’s no way of telling what their storage conditions have been. You will sometimes see wine bottles baking in the sun at antique markets which -unless made in Madeira- will certainly spoil. Amongst the very obviously overaged wines are some potential gems and we settled on 3 wines with increasing risk, but at under a tenner, worth it and the reasons for choosing them:


2000 Biondi-Santi Brunello;

(£100-200 bottle of wine, less than 20 years old, likely good for drinking)

1975 Barbaresco

(over 40 years, likely too old, but might have some life left and be very interesting)

No Vintage Barolo

(vintage sticker has fallen off and am hoping it will be on the cork. Taking a punt)


Basically, the Brunello was 30€ and the other two are in for the ride. We load them up in the baking car boot and continue our journey up the coast. Later in the day, we’re drinking an Italian Gewurztraminer on the cobbled terrace of a little wine shop, bar and deli called Al Buscion. We spotted the 2011 Biondi-Santi on his shelf for 180€ and we tell him our story and invite him to taste it with us - after all, wine is for bringing people together. When we get back from the car 3 sommeliers from surrounding restaurants are also waiting, eager-eyed, for their pour.


He doesn’t hesitate in pulling the cork and decanting into a pre-prepped shiny clean vessel and passing it around the room. The wine was certainly needed the open-up as the tannins were punchy and grainy. A few swirls around the glass help to release those aromas punchy ripe fruit black fruit and a lovely tertiary edge with notes of tobacco, leather and grilled lamb, the wine was flawless, drinking beautifully and could have been kept another decade. At the suggestion that he open his 2011 to compare, the neighbours go back to work and he hid in the kitchen.


Excited we opened the other two bottles at home. The Barbaresco was a dud. The Barolo had no vintage on the cork and despite still having some life left in it, was a bit tired and after a long day of boozing in the Italian sun, so were we.


Here are my top tips for buying old wine. They aren’t fool-proof and there some things you can’t guarantee such storage history, so:


Look for signs of over-age or spoilage. If the wine level, seems too low (at or below the shoulders) or if there are tears or sticky patches near the cork, don’t buy the wine.

Look it up on the internet, you have a computer in your pocket with most of the answers a few clicks away. Remember the person selling it may also have done their research and will mark the price up accordingly.

Remember the risk factor when you buy and when you open the bottle. Don’t invest if you’re not prepared for the loss and have another bottle of something sure by the side so you don’t go thirsty.

Finally, don’t be selfish - remember to share your glug with those around you! It all adds to the experience when you get to talk about it.


I’d love to hear about a similar story of yours, so comment below with anecdotes and your own top tips for buying second-hand wine.




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