Creating and maintaining ones own wine collection is one of life’s greatest pleasures and …. challenges! How to begin, how many bottles, how much to spend, which wines, what types, how long to keep, how will I know a good wine to add ….? The list of questions, and therefore challenges is endless. So I’d like to share with you all here how I started and what I’ve built it into.
I began my collection around 40 years ago with a 12 bottle rack in the spare bedroom of our first house in North Wales. Today I have two temperature controlled wine chiller cabinets and a collection of 191 bottles categorised as Everyday (79), Premium (79), Investment (33); I will explain the categories later but it’s important to know that this profile of roughly 2:2:1 has changed over the 40 years I’ve been collecting, and that my “wine education” began some 5 years prior to that.
To create a collection of ANYTHING you need a level of knowledge that matches your objective and aspirations for the collection, whether it’s pottery, art, furniture, silverware or wine. Naturally you have to like a wine before stocking it so prior knowledge of it is vital. Also knowing whether it will improve in taste and value is a good idea too (!) over 1, 3, 5, 10 years. You must decide whether you want it as a special occasion wine in the next couple of years, or as an investment either to sell OR to drink knowing it’s now worth x2, x5, x10 etc what you paid for it originally! Conversely you don’t want to buy a wine that has turned to vinegar 12 months after you bought it! In my own case I have written previously, From WineBluff to Wine Buff, about how a group of us as students formed our own wine club and metaphorically toured the world in different wine bottles and grapes. It’s not a bad idea to go and read it now as a very pleasant way to learn about wines without going on courses or reading too many books. I’ll wait for you to come back! Go here ….
Step 1 Create A Collection Profile
This may seem an odd place to begin, at the end, but it’s a bit like knowing your destination BEFORE beginning a journey. I have already mentioned my own profile above and it is based on a simple assessment system I use when tasting a wine at a restaurant, in a wine bar, or with a winemaker in his cellars, as well as tasting in my own home. Here’s my simple assessment system:
🌟🌟 Enjoyable but wouldn’t buy/rebuy
🌟🌟🌟 Everyday wine, rebuy
🌟🌟🌟🌟 Premium wine for special occasions
🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 Investment wine for ageing/longer storage
Naturally you don’t want any 🌟 or 🌟🌟 in your collection but you DO want to build up a proportion of Everyday, Premium and Investment wines with the initial cost of each probably increasing as you ascend the scale, but not necessarily. Don’t agonise over this too much, you can split the three categories by number of bottles or by money spent. Let’s say you kick off with £100, you might decide to split that money 3 ways by spending £33 on each category which might result in 5:3:2 bottles for Everyday, Premium, and Investment respectively.
So you now have 10 bottles in your collection. This is just an example, but 10 isn’t many bottles and only having 2 Investment wines stored isn’t going to give you a good “return”, but it’s not about the money! You don’t have to buy 10+ bottles every time either, you might read something about a brilliant wine for £20 which will age well so go out and buy one bottle. Or, maybe it’s your birthday and you ask for present(s) of a couple of Investment level wines. Of course, the trick is having the knowledge to choose the right wines to invest in!
Step 2 Choose Storage Space Wisely
Under the stairs, in your garage, in a spare bedroom, in the loft? These places MIGHT all be suitable provided some simple rules are followed, especially for wines you want to keep for some time. But certainly digging out a cellar under your dining room is not necessary. You need to understand that the Three Enemies of wine storage are …. Temperature, Light, Vibration. So, having a wine rack in the kitchen on a window ledge above your cooker is not an option! You need to find somewhere in your house that minimises the effect of all three. Under the stairs sorts out light and vibration but isn’t much use if there’s a radiator next to the entry. Similar with a bedroom unless you have a blackout blind on the window and switch the radiator off permanently. Short term storage of Everyday wines isn’t a problem here, but Premium and Investment wines would be at risk, so choose your space wisely.
Step 3 Build your Knowledge, Experience, Strategy
Please don’t go rushing out now and lash out £100 on 3 wines to kick off your collection! It reminds me of the joke about the old bull and his son in a field. Looking down on the cows below them, the young bull says “Quick dad, lets go down there and have sex with one of those cows each” to which the old bull replies to his son, “No son, let’s take our time and have sex with them ALL”! Wine collecting is based on both cognitive and emotional features. Only buy what you like ….. you will have to drink it one day, so don’t go buying some Grand Cru Burgundies with massive ageing potential if you don’t like Pinot Noir. Conversely, if you really like a fruity Rose wine from the Languedoc don’t buy some for Investment purposes as they’re made to be drunk in 6-12 months!
Wines with ageing potential have “balance” in terms of acidity, tannin, fruit (and oak). So learning how to spot this is vital, though you could just read tasting notes from experts on a website such as Wine Searcher (https://www.wine-searcher.com) where you will also get an idea of ageing potential anyway. Supermarkets may be the best place for Everyday wines, but the better place for Premium and Investment wines will be a good reputable wine merchant (we used to use Oddbinns originally) or join the Wine Society if you’re in the UK. This is also where visiting vineyards and winemakers comes into play, go and meet them, taste their wines, ask them about ageing potential and when the wine will “peak” (apogee in French). Most are delighted to discuss this with you, go back each year and before you know it you’ll have personal tastings from the barrels before bottling even.
There are millions of books on wine you could buy ranging from specific annual guides that give you advice on what to buy NOW, through to books on general principles and knowledge about wine. My favourite reference book is The World Wine Atlas from Jancis Robinson & Hugh Johnson, loads of stuff on grape varieties, countries, regions, winemakers, as well as maps going down to named field level!
Step 4 Monitor Your Storage and Tasting
We all make mistakes, but not learning from those mistakes is the biggest mistake of all. I’ve made plenty over the years when it comes to wine buying, and I still make them to this day but less often. For example I’m currently exploring Italian wines from different regions and from different grapes, mostly with the help of Danell of Vinthropology, my sommelier friend in Italy. Some of the wines she’s recommended I just didn’t like, too acidic for my taste, and noted in my chosen wine app on my iPhone VinoCell. https://apps.vinocell.com
Here you can easily enter the name and details of every wine in your collection. The more data you enter on name, vintage, winemaker, grape variety, country, district, village, peak years … the better and easier it will be to check back through your records to see if you’ve had a wine before and your view of it. Also as your collection expands to a few hundred bottles finding that extra special single bottle of Burgundy for Christmas lunch gets harder unless you’ve logged its position in your cellar/collection.
Step 5 Which wines?
These are the main factors overall in relation to creating your wine collection. I haven’t mentioned budget because it’s obviously a personal choice. Likewise choosing the profile and types of wine for your collection is personal choice too. In my case my whole profile is built around Burgundy, especially red wines from Pommard and white wines from Chablis. Why is this you might ask? Well firstly I like Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, especially unoaked and terroir driven wines. (You might need to google that last term). Secondly they are both easy and enjoyable places to visit from the UK. Finally and most importantly we have built a relationship with the owners and winemakers of Domaine Michel Rebourgeon in Pommard and Domaine des Malandes in Chablis. Also these wines age/mature really well but both domaines make wines that are early drinkers too, and cheaper, so it’s possible to cover my profile from these two winemakers alone. However I also like wines made from Cabernet Franc in Chinon, from Chenin Blanc in Savennieres, from Sauvignon Blanc in Menetou Salon and St Bris, so these all figure in my collection too. I like sparkling wines but NOT the inflated prices of champagne so I collect Cremant de Bourgogne and Cremant de Loire at a quarter of the price when I visit Chinon and Pommard. And finally finally, my app VinoCell can also tell me how much my wine collection is worth compared to how much I paid at the time! The answer ………. X4 ……. not that I would ever sell anything!
So we hope this post gets you started on your collection or, dare we say it … helps you improve an existing collection. We’d love to hear your experiences too, as well as any extra advice you can comment with here to help other readers. Naturally we’d do our best to answer any questions that could help your collection too. 👍🍷👬