Collecting wine is easy and doesn’t have to be expensive.
By Louis Marmon
Washington Jewish Week October 28, 2004
A good wine is fun to share. Keeping bottles of wine around the house makes entertaining easier and eliminates the last minute run to the store to find “something to serve.” Starting a wine collection is actually very easy and can be done to fit any budget. And learning about different wines is an experience that couples can do together.
The most important thing to remember is that if a wine tastes good to you, then it is a good wine. Do not be overly influenced by press hype or intimidated by friends that may have more experience with wine. Everyone started out as a beginner and it is only by tasting many different wines can anyone discover their own preferences. Great wines at very reasonable prices are being made all over the world so be adventurous and do not just stick to your usual Merlot or Chardonnay with a cute animal on the label.
When just starting out putting together a wine cellar, it is best to set a limit on the purchase price, usually no more than $20 per bottle. As you taste more wines and learn about your own preferences, then you can consider increasing the amount you spend per bottle. Starting with less expensive wines also makes it more likely that you will open a few bottles at one time, making it easier to compare the different wines.
Wine needs to be stored in a location that is protected from direct sunlight, vibration, and sources of heat. It should be stored at a steady temperature, usually between 55 and 63 degrees, and 70 % humidity is considered ideal but is not essential. There are some excellent commercially made wine cellars available for purchase or an insulated room can be constructed with a cooling unit. But really any space that meets these criteria such as a closet or a quiet corner of a basement will work fine. Wines that are going to be kept for a while should be placed in wooden or metal racks since cardboard containers may collapse if stacked on top of each other. The wines that are going to be consumed early such as Beaujolais and most white wines should be readily accessible in the cellar.
It is a good idea to keep some notes about the wines including the price and the date of purchase. If the wine was recommended to you by a merchant, then note their name, location and their comments about the wine as well. There are software packages that will help keep track of the cellar inventory, but most people keep this type of information either on the bottle label or in a separate notebook. After tasting the wine, be sure to write down your impressions to help with future purchases.
The goal is to have a constant source of good wine, some that can be drunk now and other wines that will reach their maturity later. Begin by purchasing single bottles to decide which wines you prefer, then purchase half or full cases of the ones you like for your cellar. That assures that you have your favorite wine on hand for impromptu occasions. Another benefit is that you can open a bottle every few months to see how the wine has changed and developed.
A reasonable beginning cellar is 50 to 100 bottles which should include at least 2 cases of wines for aging and 1 to 2 cases of your favorite “everyday” wine. The rest should be wines for short-term consumption as well as wines that will improve in about 3 to 10 years. Be sure to mix your inventory by including various grape varietals as well as wines from different countries. And also include some dessert and sparkling wines for special occasions.
For the short-term consider white wines such as Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand or California. The NO Sauvignon Blanc 2003, a first effort from this California winery, gets its name because it is produced without oak aging. It is crisp and refreshing with melon and grapefruit notes. Two good medium bodied red wines for early drinking are the Domaine Foillard Morgon 2002 with raspberry and cherry flavors and the Russian Hill Ellen’s Bock Syrah 2001 with licorice and spicy pepper notes.
There are a number of wines, mostly red, that will benefit from 3 to 10 years of aging. These include Italian wines such as Palazzo Altesi IGT 2000 made from 100 % Sangiovese grapes. It has ripe berry and cherry flavors with an excellent structure. The Selvapiana Fornace 2000 is a blend of Cabernet, Merlot and Sangiovese with blackberry and currant tastes. Another is the Di Majo Norante Aglianico Contado IGT 2001 that has raspberry flavors with firm body and a solid finish.