While talking about various investment options at a time of low inflation and poor returns on the traditional markets, an acquaintance remarked that he'd dabbled with investing in wine during the 1980s. "I made a bit of money and kept some for myself. We opened a bottle a few weeks ago," he said. "It was absolutely disgusting." Well, some things improve with age and some don't. One of the first tips passed on about investing in wine was that care is needed. To make that first step easier, use a simple colour code: red is the wine for laying down, white doesn't last more than five years. "Wine investment started in Bordeaux, which is synonymous with the subject," said Jackie Dyer of Yapp Brothers in Mere, Wiltshire, which is handily placed for your humble correspondent's personal visits. "It began in the early 1800s with a shortage of a particular type of wine, at a time of rising prosperity." That origin is a good pointer to anyone considering adding wine to their portfolio of stocks, shares and property. Wine isn't something for a speculator, a wide-open market in which everything, rubbish and quality alike, rises at the same time like the dot-com bubble of the late 1990s. The people who are already interested and knowledgeable take the subject seriously and won't be fooled by the latest fad or market hype. You can pick up some good advice and information from Robert Parker, an American wine critic. "His opinions are taken very seriously; Americans are especially interested in him," Ms Dyer said. If Americans are interested, you can be sure that serious money will follow. It's not that he's ivory-tower exclusive; anyone can follow him by subscribing to www.erobertparker.com. He has a rating system, a vintage chart and provides a glossary of wine terms, all of which are useful to the beginner and the experienced investor alike. Wine emerged as a serious investment proposition in the early 1980s. The major auction houses have their own departments but an interested amateur can build up a reasonable knowledge by looking at some familiar names. "Bordeaux and Burgundy; some Rhone; the `Super Tuscans' in Italy; Riojas from Spain and Henschke from Austria," said Ms Dyer. "Outside of Europe, Californian cabernet sauvignon and Penfold's Grange in Australia have good reputations." If that sounds like a good itinerary for the next few years' holidays, you're on the right track. Getting to know regions, the vineyards and even some chateau owners can be useful and will be fun. Before embarking on a course that could see you tying up a lot of money for several years, it pays to be aware of traps for the unwary. Another useful website is investdrinks.org, operated by Jim Budd. The presentation may look amateur but the content is excellent. He doesn't pull punches and is quite scathing about the `wine investment agents' who will offer services for not such a small fee front and back-end, and charge through the nose for storage in the meantime. Any potential gain will be more than wiped out by their costs. These blaggards tend to spring up with doleful predictability when things are getting quiet in other investment areas - like about now. "The market is unregulated so anyone can set up business and claim to be knowledgeable," Ms Dyer said. Modesty was such that she had to be pressed about where to go for proper advice and guidance. "Yapp Brothers is a member of The Bunch, a group of six long-established wine merchants. " Yapps operates a warehouse and makes an annual charge of £12 per case, to cover storage and insurance costs. The company buys all wine duty and VAT paid; a lot of people suggest buying `in bond', which means you don't pay those charges up front. They will be paid, sooner or later. But one thing you must ensure is that you have you own account and clear title, rather than using the account of an agent. Also, it's vital to ensure that the warehouse conditions are suitable - a plastic box off the M4 near Heathrow won't necessarily do it but nor will an old farmshed out in the country somewhere. One of the attractions of wine is that it isn't subject to capital gains tax: it's regarded as a wasting asset, with a maximum life of 50 years. Do remember: profit is not guaranteed but it helps if you have bought the right wine at the right time. "A popular way to buy is `in barrel' - before it's bottled. You pay less at that stage than when it comes to market; the potential pitfall is that you don't know what it's going to be like," she said. "It's very much about what the market thinks, the reputation of the estate, what the critics say and how much is about." The upside is that there will only be an ever-decreasing supply of any particular vintage. If it's a goody, you can make a lot. If not, well, you can always drink it yourself. "Wine needs to be looked at as a whole portfolio. Spread our risk. If you're going into it in a big way, consider it from both angles: it's there to be drunk but it can be fun to speculate. Be mindful, if it doesn't work out you may be left with something you don't like." But that's hardly likely, is it? I invested in a bottle of unpretentious French vin de pays for myself and the memsahib to enjoy while watching Beowulf on BT Vision. Quite an excellent choice, if I say so, and at just £4.99 for a litre from the local Spar, an outstanding return for very little outlay. I was as amused by its adolescent presumptiousness as m'lady was by Ray Winstone's six-pack, so a good time was had by all. And that's what it should be about.