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Wine Collecting Tips & Mistakes to Avoid

A lot of folks who regularly enjoy wine don’t want the “bother” of setting aside wines for future consumption. Perhaps the idea of massive wine cellars stuffed with bottles costing as much as the family car may be a turn-off. The anticipated cost of buying wines that won’t be opened any time soon may lead many to believe that a wine cellar is not for them.

But put those sentiments aside for a moment. There are many benefits to starting a modest wine collection. Notice I said “wine collection,” not wine cellar. A collection is a much simpler (and cheaper) way to get the ball rolling. Here are some tips to get you started, and some common mistakes to avoid.

Maybe you feel that you don’t have the space. But look again. Is there a small closet that can be dedicated to a few boxes of wine? Or an unused basement corner (away from any heat source, of course)? Just a couple of wood planks on concrete blocks were the start of my DIY wine storage system. All you need is a place that maintains a relatively stable temperature throughout the year, is away from direct sunlight and is vibration free.

What about the expense? Collecting wine on a modest scale can save money. You can receive case discounts, even for a mix of bottles. There are also savings to be had during seasonal sales or closeouts on older vintages.

You can start slowly. Buy two bottles at a time: one to drink and one to put away. That helps avoid one common mistake, which is to buy too much wine all at once. The result can look like a monoculture of one vintage, one region or one type of wine.

Don’t be tempted to purchase only
high-scoring trophy wines.

Buying too much of the same type of wine—whether reds, Cabernets or wines from California—ignores the likelihood that your tastes will evolve over time. One of the joys of wine collecting is experimentation.

You don't need a cellar like this one to start collecting wine / Photo by Al Powers, Aureole, Las Vegas
You don’t need a cellar like this one to start collecting wine / Photo by Al Powers, Aureole, Las Vegas

Maybe you think that only dry red wines can age and there’s no point to put anything else away? Wrong! Dry white wines often improve after a few years in bottle. Sparkling wines (especially vintage Champagnes) age gracefully, as do most sweet wines and virtually all fortified wines.

Once you’ve got a collection going, there are bound to be some special bottles you’ll want to save for the right occasion. But avoid becoming paralyzed waiting for such perfect circumstances. Unless your wine is specifically tied to a certain birthday or anniversary, opening a great bottle makes any night a special occasion. Why delay?

Don’t be tempted to purchase only high-scoring trophy wines. A few of those are great to have, but they’re also not likely to be pulled out for a weeknight dinner. Make the bulk of your collection those wines that can be enjoyed within a few years, no special fussing required. This ensures their quality will not fall off a cliff before you can get to them. A few years of extra bottle age will help most young wines. The extra time will smooth out rough edges, soften tannins and better integrate flavors.

Beware wines purchased as an “investment.” The more rare and expensive a wine is, the more risk you’re taking. Many sellers won’t guarantee the drinkability of really old wines, and corks do fail. For most people, a wine collection exists to learn, share and enjoy, not to make a profit.

Remember that wine collections are like gardens. They must be tended regularly. Poorly organized stacks of random cases will likely mean that bottles will be lost, overlooked or forgotten completely. Without some sort of organization, that pricey bottle you were saving could wind up in the spaghetti sauce.

However you arrange and curate your wines, be sure to make time to look through them periodically, take stock of your collection and don’t forget to reward yourself with one of those special bottles every now and again.