How to build an exciting wine collection

So, you’ve created your perfect cellar. Now you must begin creating your life’s work by filling it! Many people start collecting wine seriously when they’re in their thirties or forties, in order to reap the rewards of aged wine in their sixties.  I began as soon as I was legally allowed! At 18 I kick-started my collection by buying a small private cellar from a collector who was relocating. I only have a few of these bottles left, which is typical of most cellars and an important point to remember: the contents of your cellar will change as your palate evolves. Your cellar is not static but a living thing that develops and transforms. Your wine collection will become as unique as your taste-buds but it can be hard to know where to start. What follows are a few ideas to keep in mind as you begin choosing wine to cellar.

1. Grape varieties for cellaring

A common ratio when cellaring is  70% reds / 30% whites. Most wines above $20 a bottle will cellar, apart from fresh fruity wines that are made to drink young such as Sauvignon Blancs. Wines need a sufficient level of structure and acidity in order to get better with age and develop the characteristic richness and texture. I recommend looking to the renowned growing regions for each variety to start. For example, I would consider Riesling from SA, WA or the Alsace, Semillon from the Hunter Valley. Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay also age well, as does the more unusual choice of Champagne. With the huge choice of Reds, again I would look to the key regions, maybe Pinot Noir from Burgundy. Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon should also form part of the mix. Tastings and recommendations will also point you in the right direction – this is one of the many fun parts!

2. Aim for variety and balance

Personal taste will guide your decisions, but it’s important not to over-invest on one or two styles. Just because you love Shiraz right now, will you feel the same in 10 or 20 years time? More than likely your palate will change over time and you need to account for this by keeping your cellar diverse. Most collectors purchase in lots of three, this provides one bottle to ‘try now’ and two to cellar longer term. Sometimes, if you know you will be drinking more now, or it’s a very special wine, a six pack is more suitable. Personally, I have 10 producers I religiously collect every year in this way and then I add some more unusual wines to the mix, just one or two bottles of each.

3. Consider how you will use your cellar

The makeup of your cellar will also depend on how you intend to drink the wine you collect. Many collectors would consider 10% of their cellar is for use as everyday drinking, and there would definitely be bottles ear-marked for special occasions. Certainly if you plan to age wines in your cellar, this period of establishment is when you’ll be drinking from it the least. It’s also the time you’ll be investing in it most heavily, so you really have to take a long-term view; in 20 years time you’ll be reaping the rewards of bottles you put down now. Once your collection is mature, you’ll have access to wine that is probably unavailable to the public to buy – that’s why it’s so amazing to invest in a cellar and so important to start now.

A final practical note on keeping track of your collection. There are various online cellaring systems that can help you do this or you can set up an excel spreadsheet; the important thing is that you know what you have and how old it is. The standard practice is to group your wine by producer, and cellar tags are useful if your wines are in racks. As you can see in the photo at the top of the page, I also like to keep the wrappings on some bottles to protect the labels.

Whatever you do, be bold and buy the wine you want when it’s offered; the beauty and pain of wine is that there are finite bottles of each vintage and once they’re gone, they’re gone. Unless you have some tucked away in your cellar…

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