In chatting with friends, colleagues, and other wine connoisseurs, I often get asked the familiar “What should I collect?” question when the conversation heads toward “cellar-building”. There is no one-size-fits-all answer, but instead, several more questions that need to be asked before I can recommend specifics.
- What do you like to drink?
It does you no good to splurge on exquisite wines that you do not enjoy drinking. Let me advise that you will fare best if you start with the wines you like to drink most often. Don’t worry if that happens to be Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley, your cellar can grow to accommodate new favorites in addition to old friends and almost all wines will benefit from one or two years of age, even crisp Loire Valley Sauvignon Blancs.
- How long do you want this collection to last?
Beyond targeting the things you enjoy on a regular basis, you need to ask yourself what your end game is. What is your timeline for these wines?
Are you laying down wines for an up-coming event or not-too-distant special occasion? Are you laying them down as an investment? Or are you laying them down in hope that they last for a far-distant milestone such as a 21st birthday or unborn child…? If the end-goal is more than 10 years down the road you will want to choose wines that have a proven record of success withstanding the test of time.
3. How often do you want to drink it?
It is important to remember that a wine collection is ultimately meant to be consumed. And if you like to imbibe often, as I myself like to do, you are going to need a healthy supply of ‘Drink Now’ wines to keep you from dismantling the entirety of your collection before you build it. These “Drink Now” wines are free-game at any time and I recommend that you dedicate a percentage of your total cellar to them. For me, that number is 40%. I know how difficult it is to collect tasty treats without opening them and my 40% lures me away from the temptation of drinking the bottles I want to age. Ask yourself how often you are likely to nip into your cellar. If you are in the habit of popping bottles on a regular basis or frequently hosting events with wine, you might want to devote 50% or more to your “Drink Now” stockpile in order to avoid breaking into your future investment.
So here we are again. You have answered the questions above and you are still asking, “Great, so what, specifically, do I collect?” (queue sound effect: dun, dun, dun!)
If your goal is shorter in term then the world is your oyster! Collect any-and-all things fermented grape juice, save for Beaujolais Nouveau and Rose which you should drink as soon as you buy them.
If your wine collection is destined for the long-haul, I recommend you start thinking about the cooler climate wines you enjoy drinking – these will last the longest.
“Why cool climate?” Let me explain.
A few facts:
- As fruit (including grapes) ripens: sugar increases and acid decreases.
- The warmer the climate, the more potential for grapes to have higher sugar (and thus lower acid)
- A cool climate directly correlates to higher acid
- Higher acid directly correlates to longer aging potential.
All these facts are not to say that wines from warm climates cannot be compelling and/or delicious, but simply that they often lack the backbone of acidity necessary to age for multiple decades. And while there are cool climate wine-growing regions in every major wine-producing country as well as pockets of cool micro zones in some of the world’s most notable warm growing regions (read Napa & Sonoma), many of the most age-worthy wines hail from the Old World, where the majority of regions reside in cool climates.