Wine Collecting with Sommeliers: Techniques for Finding the Perfect Bottle from Top Sommeliers

wine collecting

Sommeliers like Mathieu Ginglardi (pictured) and Tali Dalbaha work with restaurants to find the finest bottles of wine available, making them ideal references for fine wine collectors wanting to match their success. Photo Credit: Flickr CC user InterContinental Hong Kong


When sommelier Tali Dalbaha proposed an idea to her partnered restaurant, City Winery, in New York, the restaurant owners weren’t sure at first whether she could pull it off. Dalbaha wanted to find all 61 bottles from the original 1855 Classification growths in Bordeaux, under the most sought-after 2010 vintage. She was one of the first sommeliers to take on such an immense and complicated project, and, seemingly against all odds, she succeeded. City Winery became the first restaurant to own all 61 Classifications for one vintage under a single roof. Dalbaha said, “This is a great way to introduce people to Bordeaux. People love to say they had a Bordeaux.”1 Whether a wine project is complicated or simple, collectors can learn by Dalbaha’s example, using tips from sommeliers to build on their own collections.

Choose Vintage Above All Else

If you’re undertaking a project like Dalbaha’s, it’s important to choose a good vintage, as you’ll have wines from a variety of producers from that same year. When Dalbaha chose the 2010 vintage, she all but guaranteed that the wines she bought from all 61 classifications would be of the highest quality across terroirs. The weather in Bordeaux that year was possibly the finest of the decade, producing wines that were relatively high in tannins and with more fruit-forward flavors than the 2009 vintage. In this sense, 2010 wines generally appeal to a greater range of tastes than the 2009, which was unusually concentrated for the region.

In addition, uneven grape growth allowed for more diversity among estates, meaning that restaurant customers could experience a variety of flavor profiles, even from the same region and climate.2 For example, the 2010 Margaux received multiple perfect scores, and had strong floral notes and spices. By contrast, the 2010 Mission Haut-Brion also received multiple perfect scores, but it has more mushroom-like qualities than the Margaux. Dalbaha allowed her customers to try both, giving them a fuller picture of the Bordeaux terroir.

Collectors can try this vintage-specific method in their own wine collecting adventures, since vintage is often the most important factor in a wine’s market worth. To do this, collectors can either copy Dalbaha’s method, finding the best-possible vintage for a given region and collecting as many bottles as possible, or they can focus on one producer, investing in that producer’s finest bottle years. Patience and persistence is key here, as some of these bottles are difficult to find.

Find the Best Importers

To become skilled at wine collecting like Dalbaha, collectors need to pay attention to the source. Even the most seasoned and dedicated investors find that huge wine projects quickly become too expensive unless they are getting bottles from the best sources possible. Sommelier Alicia Nosenzo suggests looking at a wine’s importer to find additional estates imported by the company.3 When collectors look at an importer’s partnered producers, they find producers that are similar in quality to the original producer, which increases a collector’s chances of finding quality bottles. From here, collectors can either build a relationship with the importers directly to negotiate the best price, or use importer information as a springboard for research.

Vinfolio has a producer page search to assist with the process of learning about and finding bottles from specific producers. After deciding on a label from a producer, collectors should compare online bottle prices to those offered by the importer themselves. On some occasions, the importer can offer a better price on some bottles of wine, but most of the time, online prices will be comparable to those offered directly through the importer.

Collaborate with Peers

Sommeliers like Dalbaha work with restaurants to get the funds they need to accomplish their wine hunting projects, but collectors don’t need to be skilled sommeliers to get the help they need on their own projects. Getting to know your fellow wine enthusiasts through physical wine tastings or through online wine forums can result in better, more diverse wine collections. Some collectors even choose to partner with peers to purchase premium bottles of wine. In this version of teamwork-based wine collecting, the collectors share the research required to find the best bottles, then buy wines by the case, splitting the costs and bottles evenly.

More commonly, however, wine collectors simply ask peers for insight into the best wines on the market. Making connections builds a network of wine sellers and buyers; even sommeliers rely on their peers to guide them to new discoveries. And the same wine enthusiasts who discuss certain wines with a collector could wind up being that wine collector’s customer base later. The wine world is all about making meaningful connections; it is part of a sommelier’s job to understand others’ preferences, and collectors may find that it is in their interest to do the same.

Get Discounts on Cases

Dalbaha had to find more than just individual bottles of wine from quality estates in Bordeaux if she wanted to serve hundreds of potential customers. She needed full cases of wine to get the job done. Wine cases aren’t just for restaurants though. Sometimes, cases are the least expensive way to invest in quality wine, and they can put collectors on the fast-track to becoming experts on a particular vintage. Sommelier Jeremy Adler says that he always buys wine by the case if he enjoys a particular bottle. He chooses at least one “house white” and one “house red” for his cellar every year. By doing this, he can negotiate prices down more easily, because importers and online wine sellers are more likely to discount larger sales.

The best way to invest in wine by the case is to purchase a single bottle first from a retailer like Vinfolio, then taste the wine before deciding on buying the full case. When collectors buy wine by the case, they get to try the wine more often themselves to see how the bottles are aging, which increases the chances of successfully selling the wine at peak drinking age years later. Cases also mean more freedom for collectors, allowing them to both resell and drink their wine without worrying about cutting into their bottom lines.

Whether you are starting your high-end wine collection or adding to an established portfolio, Vinfolio is your partner in buying, selling, and professional storage. Contact us today to get access to the world’s finest wine.



Show 3 footnotes

At Vinfolio, we help our clients buy, sell, store, and manage their most treasured bottles of wine. But in our spare time, we’re just a group of passionate and slightly obsessed oenophiles--we love sharing a great glass of vintage Champagne, followed by a Burgundy, and then a Bordeaux, to get things started. We’re always obsessing over the latest (and oldest) vintages, and we want to share that knowledge and passion with our readers.