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The Basics of Wine Collecting

Written by Tynan Szvetecz
Filed Under: Wine Collecting

Get Your Priorities Straight:

Whether you are considering starting a wine collection or you have had one for years, it's important to make sure you've got your priorities straight. Having wine in your home gives you the ability to share – with friends and with family - the moments in your life that are good, bad, boring, exceptional, celebrational, whimsical and sad. Wine is a vehicle for us all to relate to each other, to celebrate our lives and the lives of those around us no matter the circumstance. In this regard, having a cellar is about sharing wine, not hoarding it. As Errol Flynn remarked: "Anyone who dies with more than $10,000 in the bank or more than ten bottles left in his cellar was a fool and certainly had not lived his life correctly."

And times are changing. Having a cellar used to be about making sure you put away those wines that were likely to age well for five, ten, twenty years. Now there is an appreciation for enjoying the youth of wines as well. This means the social stigma of popping the cork on a wine that would be truly outstanding in ten years is disappearing. Times are also changing in regards to the number of wines around the world that are making great cellar items. Wines from Australia, Chile and California are likely to now take up as much cellar room as Bordeaux's and Burgundies. Let's not leave out white wines, either. White burgundies, Rieslings, Alsatian wines and Champagne are proving to age wonderfully.

So given all of this, where do you start?

You start with who you are. Are you a raging hipster? An esoteric intellectual? A chef? A traveler? The best thing you can do for yourself is start a collection that caters to your personal style. Most likely you'll need some help with this, but more and more wine merchants are responding to the idea that wine is about personality. A big, over-the top Shiraz from Australia makes a great cellar item for a hipster entertainer, whereas a delicate Oregon Pinot Noir will get the wheels turning in the mind of an esoteric intellectual. Sometimes, we have different facets of our personalities that come out at different times, so why not stock-up for those moments!

Many people also have a diverse group of friends. Keeping wines in your cellar that speak to their personalities and the different dynamics that are created when you are in the room together is a great idea. Your friends will also consider it thoughtful you have wines in your cellar reserved for their style.

Remember as well: personality applies not only to the type of wine in your cellar, but the prestige of it. Are you more likely to bring out a bottle so you and your significant other can enjoy the sunset off your villa just like you did the night before? Or do you throw lavish parties with big guests that would be impressed by a prestigious and well-aged wine from the old world? Many of us have a little of both types in us, but it\'s important not to stock your cellar with $100 bottles of wine if your enjoyment of it would be just as meaningful with a $15.00 bottle. However, having a few knock-out wines for special occasions is a must.

Some Wine Collecting Basics

Whether you have ten bottles in your collection or one thousand, you are a wine collector. Dennis Overstreet offers a simple definition: If you have more wine than you can drink at one time then you are a collector. Rule #1, as discussed in the right hand column, is that you know your collection is there to be enjoyed and shared, preferably before you die, with the friends and family that you love. Rule #2 is that your collection speak to your personality, not to the preferences of a magazine, a journalist or a wine tutor.

So given those starting points, where do you go next? With your intentions set, the rest is an adventure. Wine collecting is very much about the thrill of the hunt. Storing it is important, but don't obsess over it. Follow some basic guidelines:

 

  • OPTIMIUM STORAGE TEMPARATURE: 58 to 65 Degrees Fahrenheit with not more than 2 degrees fluctuation in a day
  • ACCEPTABLE TEMPARATURE: 65 to 75 Degrees Fahrenheit with no more than 4 degrees fluctuation in a day
  • DANGER AREA: 65 to 75 Degrees Fahrenheit with more than 10 degrees fluctuation in a day

 

Lay your bottles flat so the cork stays in contact with the wine to ensure the important seepage of oxygen that helps the wine's quality evolve over time.

Given the growing popularity of wine cellaring, finding a storage unit at the appliance store down the street should not be difficult. Wine refrigerators come in all shapes and sizes from a 24 bottle storage capacity to a 1,500 bottle capacity.

When launching your red wine collection, you can't go wrong including Bordeaux, California Cabernet, Brunello, Barolo, Barbaresco, Cote-Rotie, Red Burgundy and Spanish Rioja. During the course of your wine tastings, if you like a wine and you're not sure whether it will age well, ask your wine merchant. The best way to start a cellar is with wines you know you will enjoy.

White wines age well, particularly wines with a higher alcohol content (although don't let this generalization dissuade you, some light bodied Rieslings are unbelievably complex and delightful after a few years). White Burgundies, Sauternes, Alsatian and Loire Valley wines are all great. If you have the opportunity, ask about Champagne, this can be particularly fun to pop in a few years. If you come across a fine vintage Champagne, pick it up!

There are, of course, some excellent resources for starting a collection. Many wine merchants who put their hearts into their craft assemble lists like the "Best starting collection for under $5,000". SavorEachGlass.com also offers some specific references for beginning or adding to your collection.