The 18-year-old white wine that cost £3.99

It was 1998, and already a few years into becoming a fully-fledged wine writer I still lapped-up anything new, anything unexpected, anything that might offer a genuine wine experience.

The wine column in the Sunday Times newspaper recommended a wine from the Safeway supermarket, priced at £3.99, that the writer predicted should age and improve for a decade or more. And what was this bargain basement Vin de Garde? Not a Claret (already far too expensive by then) and not, surprisingly enough, even a red wine.

The wine was a dry Chenin Blanc, from the Montlouis region of the central Loire Valley. Intrigued, I bought a couple of them and tucked them away in my cellar, where they have lay, undisturbed, for 17 years.

labelI have occasionally come across the bottles as I looked for something to drink from the cellar, but by-passed them in favour of grander whites from Chablis or Alsace, fearing I may have left it too late for these cheap wines. In May 2015, however, the stars aligned and one bottle was retrieved. Through the glass the colour looked deep but good (no browning) and so after half an hour in the fridge I popped the cork. And what do you know? The wine was absolutely marvellous, still full of life and perfectly balanced. The epitome of mature Loire Chenin at its best.

Clos de Cray, Montlouis Sec 1997, France
Pouring a brilliant buttercup yellow, the nose soars from the glass, a mysterious and wonderful melange of old waxy parcel string, fresh butter, lanolin and the zest of lemons. There are honey and flower nuances too, in a deep, intriguing layering of scents, some Botrytis notes perhaps. On the palate it has a fairly rich texture, and that butteriness is there, an old wine obviously with notes of honeyed oxidation, but sweet, ripe apple fruit, before a thrusting, sharpened-steel core of acidity slices through, all fresh citrus and salts, into a long, balanced finish. 93/100.

What can I say? I have one remaining bottle that surely must be shared with a wine-loving friend or two at some point in the future?

The back label: “The Clos de Cray vineyard is sited on a high plateau overlooking Montlouis. The Chenin grapes are hand-picked with several passages through the vineyard to select only the ripest bunches each time. A light pnuematic pressing is followed by vinification at 18 – 20ºC with indigenous yeasts.”


  1. I found a bottle in my cellar expecting nothing, particularly after seeing the color (almost copper, but was shocked by the balance, complexity and overall joy the wine delivered. Yes, a hint of botrytis and honey, but not sweet. Surprise!

  2. Just opened a bottle on Sunday and it was blisteringly impressive. Astonishing colour as a deep buttercup and more dry than I was expecting which was very welcome and allowed the beautifully balanced flavour composition to come through. I was quite taken aback at how robust it was and it certainly is now a more powerful performer than its original 12.5. Please don’t overlook this wine. It is quite beautiful and full of long awaited joy.

  3. I bought a case or two of this wine from Majestic back in 1997, the main reason for the choice being that my surname is Cray. We took it to Sweden where my wife and I got married and I like to think it was a nice touch having the “family” wine! I have just located a bottle at the back of my cellar which is dated 1995 hence looking at this article, we plan to open it on my son’s 18th later this year so hopefully it will have survived its journey!

    1. Terrific Andy. They do seem to be immortal, at such low prices. I remember a parcel of Moulin Touchais appeared in Majestic some time ago, already 20 years old, I think well under £10, and lovely.

  4. A bottle has been languishing in a cupboard for 20 years . Am no wine expert but am fearful that it has not been stored properly. Don’t think I can chance it on friends ? but am curious as to condition if I finally pluck up courage to open.

    1. Sandy, there’s one way to find out! 🙂 My bottle had been stored well (cool, lying down, in the dark) and was in great condition for its age, but those conditions are so important and if it looks abnormally dark/brown in colour through the glass you might find it has suffered. I’d open it, but have something else on standby just in case – and please do report back.

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