How can I start a wine cellar? I'm asked that question a lot and while I believe it's a sincere one, I never answer too enthusiastically because, to be brutally honest, it takes some work as well as perseverance and plenty of self-restraint to have a wine cellar. You'll also require some hard-earned cash upfront, but likely not as much as you think.
What's clear is to me and those who maintain cellars — or, more likely in today's condo world, a collection of wine refrigerators stashed in a spare room — is that buying wine at today's prices and waiting for it to mature in your cellar makes sound economic sense. Not only will you save the premium that years of aging adds to the retail cost of wine, but a decade down the road you'll be assured of owning a scarce and valuable commodity.
But investing in wine is not just about the money. Marking time in the bottle is essential to the development of fine wine. During the aging period the harsh, angular components of youth give way to the rounder, more complex flavours that are the hallmark of fine, old, mature wine.
The long maturation period offers other possibilities as well. Many collectors now "put down" wines to mark special events such as a child's birthday or a wedding anniversary. Imagine celebrating your birthday every year with a wine as old as you are that you have owned for years. It's a neat prospect.
Planning that far in advance means doing some research about the people and the wines they make. Before you know it, the culture, history, geology and geography of the world's top wine regions will become part of you education — and you'll be hooked.
Knowing what to buy is an on-going project that requires regular maintenance. Wine publications are good sources of information. Even this column from time to time can be useful to collectors when we explore those wines built to age.
In terms of cost, quality and quantity, always keep in mind that you are not buying wine for next week. If the difference between a good wine and a great wine is only a few dollars buy the better wine. Believe me — the few extra dollars will look like a bargain a decade from now.
As for quality, don't waste your money on famous wines from poor vintages. Worldwide, there are simply too many excellent wines for you to squander your hard-earned cash on a "name" wine that doesn't measure up in a so-so vintage.
As for the amount to buy, it's really a matter of budget, but six bottles of any one type is sufficient to age, taste, track and trade along the way. Now, what to buy...
It's possible to cellar any kind of wine but if the wine won't improve, what's the point? In short, most red wines have what it takes to age and top-class reds, possibly designated reserve or single vineyard wines, are your best bets. A sprinkling of riesling, some chardonnay, champagne and port should round out the beginner's cellar.
Just to show you how easy it can be to get started, I spent some time scouring the B.C. Liquor store on-line guide for some suitable candidates. Here's a "12 x 6" (72 bottles) to get you started.
From here you can slowly add wines to replace what you're drinking and eventually get your cellar number up to the 300- to 500-bottle level. That, and a little patience, is all you need to enjoy aged wine at home with your friends for a lot less than you would pay to buy an even younger version of the same wine down the road.
Finally, pay attention to vintage and bottle age. The whole idea of maintaining a personal cellar is to give you the opportunity to drink less youthful wine in favour of mature versions.
Personally, I like the eight- to 10-year mark, but even the five- to seven-year window is a good place to be. Some of the wines I'm recommending today are already five or six years old so you can see it doesn't take all that long to build a cache of wine that will exhibit the secondary and tertiary flavour characteristics and improvements in texture and tannin that comes with age.
In 2013 it's still possible to sleuth out a few wines from 2005 or 2006 and, of course, later so you can see it's not as daunting a task to build an older cache of wine as it looks. You can also protect the cache by buying an extra bottle of a younger vintage that's destined to be great. That way you can open a few extra bottles while you wait. Remember — perseverance and patience are the wine collector's friend.
Finally, if waiting is an impossible task for you or your budget, you can always enjoy any of today's picks now, but they will get better with time.
By the way, the entire starter cellar — 72 bottles — comes in at $1,876. After that, it's all just a matter of time.
A CELLAR FULL OF WINE
Colomé 2010 Malbec Gran Altura, Cafayate, Argentina $30
Château Pesquié Côtes-du-Ventoux Quintessence Rouge 2010 Rhone Valley, France $30
Emiliana Coyam 2008 Valle del Colchagua, Chile $30
Pétalos 2008, Bierzo, Castilla-Leon, Spain $29
Drouhin Vaudon Chablis Reserve de Vaudon 2010 Chablis, Burgundy, France $29
Ricossa 2007 Barbaresco, Piemonte, Italy $22
Chateau de Serame 2007, Minervois, France $25
Sebastiani 2008 Cabernet Sauvignon, Sonoma County, California $23
Close de la Siete 2008 Mendoza, Argentina $25
Campo Viejo Reserva Rioja, Spain $20
Penfolds 2010 Shiraz Cabernet, South Australia $17
Taylor Late Bottle Vintage 2007, Portugal $26
Anthony Gismondi is a globetrotting wine writer who makes his home in West Vancouver, British Columbia. For more of his thoughts on wine log onto www.gismondionwine.com.
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