Wine Buyers & Cellars: Starting Your Collection

Posted by | Posted in Wine Education | Posted on 04-10-2012

Tasting six wines to compare ages & Old vs. New World.

“Wine, even for the investor or collector, is not just a holder of wealth. It’s a holder of dreams.”

I 100% agree with this quote from a panelist at a recent seminar I attended. However, interestingly enough, in a session described as “starting your wine collection,” many of the panelists didn’t consider themselves wine collectors at all; but rather, just people who love wine and need a place to store it until they drink it. Most seemed to view wine collections more as an accessible and pleasurable assembly of wine than as a formulaic and formal dusty collection.

The panel, hosted by FIAF in its midtown Le Skyroom, was led by Hristo Zisovski, Beverage Director at Ai Fiori. Hristo was joined by Charles Antin, Associate Vice President & Wine Specialist at Christie’s, Michael Chaney, CEO of MEA Digital & Private Wine Collector, and Emmanuel Dupuy d’Angeac, Owner & Founder, AOC Fine Wines.

Below, I put my key takeaways from the panel discussion. Maybe some of them are obvious, but good reminders nonetheless. Anything else you’d add? Lessons you’ve learned as you’ve assembled your own collection? Please share!

Wine Buyers & Cellars Lessons

The Big Ones

  • Think about what you already like. Find wine enthusiasts who also love that wine and pick their brains, find out what they’re buying, even buy bottles from them.
  • Discover and learn. Keep yourself interested. Hristo’s recommended reading for potential new ideas includes Decanter magazine, Wine & Spirits, Eric’s articles in the NYTimes…[and my own addition] blogs like Terroirist.com.

Other Cool Ones

  • Stop chasing the critics & magazines. Get to know a wine shop owner or retailer well. They’ll know your tastes (and budget) better than Robert P. will.
  • In good vintages, buy smaller chateaus down the street from the big guys. In “bad” vintages, buy from the big guys. Slightly worse vintages aren’t that bad when it’s from a reputable house.
  • Buy for occasions and how you live. Think about situations when you’ll want to open a bottle and stock your cellar for those occasions. E.g., your anniversary, your kid’s birthday, having your boss over for dinner, having your next door neighbor over for drinks on the porch. The big things and the little things.
  • Don’t twist or turn your bottles unless you’re drinking them. Leave riddling to the pros in Champagne. Your stuff is better left alone.
  • Steady temperature is ideal and important, but do the best you can and don’t flip out about it. A.C. didn’t exist when some of the best old wines were aging, and they still taste fine. Especially if you’re cellaring them for your own enjoyment vs. to sell to auction, it’s NOT the end of the world. It’s wine. That said, if you’re in Arizona with a massive cellar, think about a back-up power source.
  • Get other people excited about what you like and share your passion. It’s contagious and will likely lead to your friends enjoying what you enjoy. The opposite can be dicey – just because a magazine writer gets excited by 1997 California Cabs doesn’t mean you need cases of it.

To close out, one final takeaway on “blue-chip” wines. They’re consistent and they last. They’re predictable. However, I’m also reminded of a lesson I learned in corporate finance: there is no arbitrage! The market predicts how the wine will go up in value and prices it today already expecting that change. So, yes, you can make money…but unless you know something that the market doesn’t, you’re not going to make much. Perhaps this quote from the tasting, which I’ve heard before in various iterations, sums up the investment in wine, as well as wine-lovers obsession with the stuff. “Wine…is always moving ahead of you.”

Comments (5)

  1. great post. i’m new to this site, but love my modest little wine collection.

    i’ve never bought a wine with the idea of re-selling it and making money (the same can be said about my record collection, or my collection of old video games). and as much as i love wine journalists, i rarely listen to wine critics.

    my collection is made of bottles that i drank once or twice, really loved, and squirreled away to drink on a special occasion. it’s not temp. controlled, although it is in a dark closet.

    i do like the idea of trusting a retailer more than a critic. it makes me want to go out and support my local wine shop!

  2. What are the favorite wines in your collection, Gabe? Curious so I can potentially add them to my modest collection as well.

  3. +1. I’d drink [Côtes du Rhône ] to this.

  4. Well, this is interesting. I only recently built my wine cellar. It was built inexpensively in an unfinished basement with 2x4s and 2″ foam and conventional insulation with a cooling unit and humidifier (only needed in winter).

    The problem with building a collection is determining what you think you will drink in an average year. 100 bottles? 200 bottles? How much of that doesnt need bottle age, how much does? How much burgundy per year, bordeaux, brunello, etc? Then you have to figure when the 2010 cases you bought will be ready, do you need to buy other stuff at auction to fill in for drinking in the near term? En primeur for stuff thats not easy to get after release (Burgundy, rhone)? It can get pretty complicated.

    I actually recommend buying more of high level wines (premier and grand cru burg, super second bordeaux, the great american cabs) than you will drink. Those wines you can consign down the road if you dont drink them. If you are lucky, you can even have them pay for other stuff you drank. Dont get stuck with 2003 chianti in 2020 after its fit only to make vinegar.

  5. Eric, I wish I had your problems. My problem is that I drink up my cellar too fast! If you ever need a hand finishing off those Grand Cru Burgundies, I’m willing to help

    Rebecca, I recently drank a 2001 St Clemente Cab from Napa Valley, and I am happy to say it was worth the wait. Some of my other favorites are a 2001 Produtorri Pora Vnyd Barbaresco; I drank 1 bottle on my B-day last year, and I have 1 bottle left. I have a 2000 Dufort-Vivens Margaux; I bought six of them when they were released, and drank five of them within a year. oops! I still have that last one, tho. And I have a bottle of 05 Royal Tokaji that we drank at Thanksgiving in 09, and I think would be great at a Thanksgiving in a couple years. All pretty modest wines, mostly in the $40 range, but all wines that age nicely.

    What do you have in your cellar, Rebecca?