Starting a Wine Collection

Last weekend I welcomed my friend Duane over for a visit. During our conversation he mentioned in passing that he was interested in starting a wine collection, but was ambivalent since he’s not a wine drinker and is more interested in the concept than the execution.

This prompted a thought — What makes a good starter collection? Some thoughts:

  • Not all wine needs to be super expensive. If you have very expensive wine (e.g., a price point above $100) you’ll need long-term storage that’s up to the task if you want to hold it a while. This includes proper humidification, temperature, stillness and darkness.
  • Consider your goal for starting the collection. If you are holding wine as an investment, or for a period spanning many years, then you’ll need to invest in proper storage. If you’ll keep bottles for only a few years in a rotation, then normal wine racks — albeit in a wine-friendly location — will suffice. Keep them out of the sun, away from shaking (i.e., not on top of the freezer) and at a decent temperature and humidity.
  • Plan your collection around your drinking. If you drink a lot of wine, keep your daily stock separate from your collected stock.
  • Have a few high-quality bottles, but save them for a special occasion. Invest in that $800 bottle of merlot or that $1,220 bottle of cab. Just don’t pop the cork because you’re bored on a Tuesday night and you ran out of Mad Dog. Collection-quality bottles will often run $50 or more each, which is why they’re in the collection and not in the kitchen cabinet for everyday drinking.
  • Pick a mix of whites and reds. A few bottles of the standbys — merlot, Cabernet sauvignon, Shiraz — work nicely. Add a Riesling or a bottle of two of champagne. A dozen bottles on hand gives you an ample selection. Consider the value of a good dessert wine, too — a port or a muscat. Or ice wine.
  • Depending on where you live, consider being explicit about the origin of your wines. As a Michigan resident, for example, we have access to some phenomenal wines from the wineries along the upper west coast of the lower peninsula. Keeping local wines and being knowledgeable about them may be a bonus for certain audiences.
  • Keep a few “sacrificial victim” bottles on hand: Bottles that are cheap but decent and will work for guests who lack a refined palate. Make it look like you’re picking that $10 bottle just for them while your $100 bottles remain safe. Tip: Don’t let your guests browse and pick their own. Be the “good host” and pick for them.
  • Invest in the accouterments of a wine collection: Elegant glassware, a proper bartender’s corkscrew, a bar towel, a decanter and a wine journal.

Wine collections are pricey — like Scotch collections, actually. But the price can be worth it for people who like to entertain by meals or through wine-and-cheese parties. Keeping a diverse stock of decent labels marks a great way to start. Then, keep it growing.


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