How to Start a Wine Collection
When it comes to wine collecting, Master Sommelier Gilles de Chambure knows a thing or two. De Chambure has six wine cellars, spread across three continents, perfect for a man who frequently travels and entertains guests around the world.
But for fledgling wine collectors, de Chambure says it isn’t necessary to boast thousands — or even hundreds — of bottles. Instead, collectors should focus on selecting bottles with meaning, whether from a certain place they love, a vintner they’ve come to know or from a certain year (like that of an anniversary or birthday).
“The good thing about collecting is you’re tying it to a place, and to a time, and that’s why people love collecting,” says de Chambure. “Like any collecting, it’s about origin: Do you know the origin? Do you know where it’s from?”
Seconding de Chambure, John Conover, the general manager of PlumpJack Winery in Napa Valley, suggests would-be connoisseurs explore their local wine regions (upstate New York, Oregon, Washington and Napa Valley) to find what they like before they begin.
“You’re more likely to buy and potentially become a collector of a winery’s wines if you know where it comes from and have made a connection with the property,” says Conover.
Courtney Humiston, the wine director at the Dry Creek Kitchen at Hotel Healdsburg in California, says to ignore scoring and classifications. “One of the joys of a wine collection is pulling a special bottle 10 years after you first tasted it and being able to share the story of that first discovery with your friends and loved ones,” says Humiston. “Having a personal connection to the wines in your cellar, to me, is very important. Otherwise, it’s just a cold room full of very expensive fermented grape juice.”
And, it doesn’t take a collection of Yquem or a bottle of 1865 Chateau Lafite-Rothschild (or six wine cellars) to get started, either. Instead, de Chambure and Conover suggest selecting a less expensive, but more specific type of wine to “specialize” in, like Australian Malbec, California Chardonnay or German Rieslings.
Besides the emotional connection, wine also needs to age well. The alcohol and tannins are the most important factors here, but sugar is also a consideration. De Chambure suggests collecting Champagne, saying people don’t tend to realize how well it ages. He also suggests buying different volumes of wine: for example, if you want to drink a wine in ten years, you’ll want a larger volume than a standard bottle so that it ages well. The larger the volume, the more slowly it ages.
Ken Frank, the chef and owner of the Michelin-starred La Toque Restaurant in Napa Valley, suggests buying wine “you’ll be happy to drink if you never put it back on the market. That way you never lose.”
“Wine is so much more fun when you share it,” adds Frank. “If you have the opportunity to acquire a special wine and it’s more than you need, buy it with a partner, split the cost.”
As long as you enjoy it and can share it with friends, there’s no right way to go about a collection.
- Trust your sommelier – “When dining out, let the sommelier know if you prefer red or white wine and then let them do the rest! They will introduce you to wines they feel passionate about that you may not know about and end up loving.” — John Conover
- Find a good retailer – “Beginners should absolutely find a good local retail shop and get to know the individual that runs it. These retail shop managers can introduce you to great wines that you would have otherwise overlooked. It’s a plus if the retail shop has a tasting bar and conducts tasting or wine classes.” — John Conover
- Invest in storage – “Given the amount of money you’ll have tied up in wine, impeccable storage, while it need not be fancy, is money well spent. Wine damaged from poor storage conditions is no fun to drink, and has no resale value.” — Ken Frank