Whether as a hobby, an investment, or because of a great appreciation for the grape, wine collecting has become increasingly popular over the years and is fast becoming a passion for many.
Getting started is not as complicated as you might think. Just begin with wines you like, says Tony Lawrence, a Philadelphia-based sommelier and certified wine judge. He advises tasting a variety of wines to cultivate your palette and develop a preference.
“Wines are like people,” Lawrence offers. “There are many flavors to suit as many personalities. Each wine has its own vibrato, or flavor profile; we gravitate toward the characteristics we find appealing.”
André Mack, former sommelier of New York City’s Per Se restaurant, says, “A well-rounded cellar should include red and white burgundies and sweet wines from around the world.” Experts suggest acquiring a 3 to 1 ratio of reds to whites. Reds tend to be more age-worthy because of their tannins (compounds in grape seeds and skins that slow oxidation and promote aging); whites are fruitier, have greater acidity, and reach their optimal age faster. As a result, says Mack, “Bordeaux is one of the most investment-worthy wines.”
Vintage champagne for the wine cellar is a must. Less effervescent and earthier tasting than other sparkling wines, they allow you to enjoy the wine’s craftsmanship. Mack, whose company Mouton Noir Wines will produce its first vintage this fall, suggests Philipponnat, Clos des Goisses. “It’s one of champagne’s greatest secrets. It’s a single vineyard champagne, which is a rarity in the region.”
Old World wines are renowned for their terroir, a term that refers to the climate, soil, and topography of a grape-growing region. Lawrence recommends whites such as the superbly balanced Comtes Lafon and Bonneau du Martray, known for its zesty citrus flavor and oak accent. He also gives a nod to Spanish cavas such as Segura Viudas and Marques de Riscal, known for their complex aroma of spices, impression of acidity, and persistent tannins.
German Reislings such as JJ Prum and Lingenfelder enjoy above-average vintages and will last longer than most chardonnays. Mack likes Italy’s Brunello and Barbaresco, both of which are ranked among the highest quality wines, and Barolo red, considered the king of Italian wine.
New World wines, from the U.S., South Africa, Chile, and Argentina, are among the hottest today. Argentina produces the intense red Malbec, known for its cherry aroma and great structure; Australia is home to Shiraz, “a full-bodied, fruit-driven but spicy wine,” says Mack.
Natural wine cellars should be in the coldest part of the house. The space should be dark, still, and maintain a constant temperature. Insulated wine refrigerator units are also available for purchase. Store red wines at between 65 degrees and 67 degrees, and whites at 50 degrees to 55 degrees.
Enlist the services of a reputable wine merchant who will give you tips on vintages and encourage you to taste a variety of wines. To become familiar with the great years and with newly released vintages, Mack suggests starting with the Oxford Companion to