So westenddazies this week Colin and I were invited to the wine cellars of Corney and Barrow Wine Merchants in Ayr for a tour and a little taste of their house Prosecco. As you can imagine it was a hard day….
I met Ian from Corney and Barrow around 6 weeks ago when I was at a hen party for my friend Fiona. And no he was not the butler in the buff, he was in fact the wine merchant leading our champagne and canapé tasting in Bar Gandolfi. What a gorgeous way to spend an afternoon. I wasn’t even able to drink any of the champagne as I was tee-total that weekend. However, the atmosphere of Bar Gandolfi and Ian’s knowledge and passion of the champagne was enough to make me love it.
Ian kindly offered to make my non-alcoholic champagne tasting up to me by inviting Colin and I down for a tour of Corney and Barrow’s historic wine cellars…and no that is not a euphemism they were real, historic wine cellars.
Corney and Barrow have been established as a company in London since 1780. In 1994 they bought the wine cellars in Ayr- which are 250 years old this September. The history of the cellars is amazing and like something out of a Robert Louis-Stevenson novel, full of smuggling and hidden treasure (or in this case wine). They were first owned by Alexander Oliphant and Co. in 1766, the owners of which were both custom officers and wine merchants. There are strong rumours that despite their jobs as custom officers, which could be argued to be the perfect smoke screen, many cases of wine were smuggled in through the tunnels that lead into the cellars directly from the harbour. Robert Burns whose family were customers of Alexander Oliphant and Co., was also a custom officer in Ayr Harbour, so who knows he may have been down in those cellars once or twice himself.
Today the cellars are still full of wine, most of which is in bond as investments. As you walk through the charming, old-world shop and descend the stairs into the cellars your senses are awakened to the smell of all the wooden cases. The lighting is dim and it does feel like you have just walked back in time.
The cellars are kept at a stable temperature of an average of 12oC, with an 86-87% moisture level. Apparently this is optimum conditions for wine storage. All of the wine is stored in cases and on its side so that the liquid touches the cork on the inside of the bottle and the humidity surrounds it on the outside. This helps decrease the chance of cork degradation. Which you certainly wouldn’t want, especially if you were the owner of some of the most expensive wines in this cellar- case of champagne for £16,000 anyone!
I never realised wine was such big business!!! Whilst in bond wine can be traded without any VAT or capital gains tax as it is seen as a foodstuff. It is only if you decide to drink it that you would pay the VAT. I wonder if in addition to the perfect storage conditions thats why many people keep their wine here, you can’t be tempted to open your investment on a Saturday night?
After the great tour we had a little try of Corney and Barrow’s Blanc de Blancs Sparkling Wine. It was absolutely delicious. I would like to tell you all about the nose and the subtle flavours on my palate but I think you westenddazies know me well enough to know when I would be making stuff up. So I will just say this it was so delicious that we bought two bottles, so you should try it. At £12.50 a bottle we felt it was well priced too.
In addition to arranging your next investment in wine, Corney and Barrow run regular wine tastings, have a gorgeous shop in Ayr, Edinburgh and online, have a wine club and deliver wine to your front door. The tasting rooms are in an atmospheric part of the cellar, where all the wine is in bond (so can be drunk) and you gather round wine barrels to try your little tipple.
They are also gearing up for the cellars 250th anniversary celebrations on the 14-17th September, which sound like they will be amazing. They have partnered with the Blyth Tall Ship Project, which is a very similar ship to those used by Alexander Oliphant and Co. in 1766 to import and sometimes smuggle wine. There will be wine tasting, re-inactment of the smuggling and lots more fun. So if you are free that weekend get down to see it all- once details are available I will share them with you all. If not then definitely get to Ayr for a wee wine tasting in the most atmospheric setting, literally surrounded by wine and with great teachers. Or you know take your cheque book and do some investing…..