Starting a wine collection?

If you speak to industry professionals who provide wine storage facilities or assist in building cellars, they will tell you that a great many mistakes are made along the way to building a dream wine collection. The good news is that, unlike doctors who have to bury their mistakes, those of wine lovers can be drunk – or at the very worst, poured down the sink. However, this can become expensive, so do be careful.

Surprisingly, the experts will tell you that it is often those with the deepest pockets that make the most errors of judgment. They can take a scattergun approach to filling the cellar, tossing a wallet at every offer so as to corner as many of the best wines as they can. Unfortunately, they often also dredge up a lot of dross on the way. Those who take greater care however, often have more interesting cellars.

So the million-dollar question is: what do you put in your cellar?

Any one with a cellar will tell you that they have all manner of wines in which they no longer have any interest but which seemed a good idea at the time. Regular culls are necessary, even if only to clear space for new purchases. However, a plan to begin with helps prevent a lot of heartbreak. Balance your purchases between current and daily drinking, investment (if that appeals), special bottles and those for long-term cellaring.

Deciding if you are a collector or an investor is key. Investors usually have an entirely different agenda, and some may not even like wine. Collectors, on the other hand, are the real wine lovers, although they may make the occasional purchase for investment purposes. Buying two cases and later selling one allows for future expansion, and if done astutely, can even finance the cellar. Naturally however, not every wine appreciates in value.

Star performers

Bordeaux has underpinned the secondary market in wine for decades but not every Bordeaux is the same. First Growths and wines known as Super Seconds, along with the best from the Right Bank, such as Cheval BlancPetrus and Ausone are as close to blue chip as is possible, but a good vintage is vital.

In recent years, the pronouncements of American critic Robert Parker have had a profound influence on this market. A good score from him can propel an unknown into ‘blue chip’ territory, or send well-known wines into the pricing stratosphere.

Lately, Burgundy has been faring better, as it is now seen as less of a gamble. Wines from the great Domaine de la Romanee-Conti have always had strong support in this market, but others have joined it.

DomaineLeroyRousseauRoumierJayer and de Vogue count among those that are equally prized. In whites, Coche-Dury is a star but almost any producer from the tiny, famous vineyard of Montrachet is in demand. Other than Yquem, Sauternes is fairly static. Parker’s reviews have helped send a number of Rhone producers to new levels, such as RayasBonneauGuigal,Perrin and Chapoutier. Champagne is rarely a stellar auction performer.

Outside of France, things are more hit and miss. Spain has many exciting wines developing reputations, but Vega Sicilia and Pingus are probably the most reliable investments for the moment. Vintage port is an auction staple, especially in the UK, and has seen somewhat of a recent revival. German riesling is rarely a fruitful investment, and Italian wines are mixed. Super Tuscans, like Sassicaia,Ornellaia and Masseto have done very well (the 1985 Sassicaia has been one of the great wine investments of all time), and the best Barolos are starting to see the sort of return that such great wines deserve.

From Australia, Penfolds Grange and Henschke’s Hill of Grace are the leading performers, but the next generation is making strides. Some of the boutique producers from the Barossa and McLaren Vale with their turbo-charged shiraz have been given a boost by Parker points, though the gloss is beginning to tarnish a touch.

Giaconda, especially the Chardonnay, from Beechworth is top of the tree locally. New Zealand has yet to establish such iconic auction performers, though some of the pinots from Martinborough and Central Otago, like Dry RiverAta Rangi and Felton Road, are close. From the United States, the auction performance of such wineries as Screaming EagleAraujo,Phelps ‘Insignia’Opus OneHeitz ‘Martha’s Vineyard’ and Harlan Estate is legendary and not completely unrelated to positive reviews from Parker and Wine Spectator.

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One Response to “Starting a wine collection?”
  1. Emily says:

    Interesting article. I’m intrigued by the difference between collecting/investing versus cellaring for drinking. You make a bet on either –the former on how the critics/auctions will rate/appreciate the wines over time as well as how they age, and the latter more on how they age as you know your own palate. Although perhaps that too, changes over ten years…

    As with any investing, I suppose the big wins come from identifying a new trend early and buying in before the broader market discovers the area/style, creating the demand that outpaces limited supply. Like recognizing downtown Napa real estate as a gem before the river reconstruction, the Coppola theatre, etc. which boosted the town to a lovely destination along with the rest of Napa Valley. And doing something about it.

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