Taking a Macro Perspective: Wine Cellar Organization from a Bird’s Eye View

wine cellar organization

When you own hundreds, or even thousands, of bottles of wine, it’s important to look at your cellar from a macro perspective at least once a year to ensure that you’re storing only the best bottles possible. Photo Credit: Che

When I visited a friend’s wine bar last year, I asked him which wines he’d recommend. As he pulled out a few bottles, he pointed to one and said, “That’s actually my own bottle. I’m keeping it here because I don’t have room for it at home right now.” My friend buys hundreds of bottles of wine from the finest estates in the world for his wine bar, and as such, he has trouble saying no to any good wine. He’s always had way more wine than he could ever drink in his home cellar. Yet this has caused him stress over the years, forcing him to turn down incredible bottles because he doesn’t have the space to store them anymore. If you’ve found yourself cellaring too many bottles without a solid idea of which ones are worth keeping, consider taking a step back to look at your cellar from a macro, rather than a micro, perspective.

Your Tasting Notes Are Your Guide

The first step to looking at your cellar from a bird’s eye view is to limit the wines in your home cellar to the bottles that you truly love. You might be asking, “Why would you have bottles in your cellar you don’t love?” Well, tastes change, which is where most collectors get into sticky situations. Journalist Oliver Thring said this happened to him a few years ago; he was always a fan of white wines in every varietal, until one day, when everything changed. Without warning, he couldn’t stand the idea of drinking a white wine of any varietal. Factors as simple as the flu or a bad experience with a single glass of wine can make any collector lose interest in wines he once loved. That means any wine bottle you buy now will not necessarily be a wine you will want to drink 10 years from now. To combat this problem, you need to take a macro perspective on your cellar, not only carefully examining your own palate, but considering its evolution over the years.

The easiest way to see how your palate is changing is to read over your own tasting notes, seeking out patterns you would have otherwise overlooked. Community-based tasting note platforms like the one offered by Vinfolio allow you to see a full list of your notes for every bottle in the system, alongside the date on which you wrote the note. First, locate all of the wines that you rated with a score of 95 or higher in the past three years or fewer. If you don’t have many of these wines, or you don’t use a rating system, pick out the wines you claimed were wonderful, and you would be happy to taste again. Look at how you describe all of these wines, regardless of varietal or region; don’t be afraid to compare your white wines with your red wines. Do you notice any patterns with these highly-rated wines? For example, you might find that you have a lot of highly-rated peppery wines on your list. Most of the wines might be fruit-forward. Nearly all of your 95 or higher wines might be Pinot Noir from Sonoma. They might all be Lafite. Whatever the pattern is, after you identify it, you can steer your collection in its direction for future wine purchases.

Most of the time, collectors will find at least one pattern in their highly-rated wines, but if you don’t see anything of note in your most recent ratings, you can try looking even further into the past. Read your tasting notes from five or even 10 years ago, once again picking out the highest-rated wines. Do you see patterns in these wines that you didn’t see in your more recent notes? One common pattern that collectors see when they use this method is that more than five years ago, they absolutely loved huge, jammy wines, but now they prefer drier, more refreshing styles. If you’re hanging on to too many bottles that you’re not interested in drinking, get rid of them unless you’re keeping them as an investment.

Your Cellar’s Financial Worth

An anonymous poet once said, “A man, fallen on hard times, sold his art collection but kept his wine cellar. When asked why he did not sell his wine, he said, ‘A man can live without art, but not without culture.” Most collectors hold onto the wines that they love to drink, or that have personal meaning for them. A man who tried his first Bordeaux during a college trip to France is likely going to have an affinity with Bordeaux wines that extends beyond taste and market price alone. Yet once you have narrowed your wines down only to those bottles that you either love to drink or are emotionally attached to, market considerations are another important consideration. Sometimes bottles that you enjoy are not necessarily worth cellaring.  

This point came up during a conversation between Robert Parker and Food & Wine’s wine editor Lettie Teague, when Parker noted that 95 percent of wines sold by estates were never meant to be cellared, either because they should be drunk young or because they’re simply not worth enough on the secondary market to be worth cellaring for any length of time. Lettie Teague was amused to find that Parker was not impressed with her Champagne collection. The reason? She had too many nonvintage bottles. Parker joked that Teague and her husband must be vying for honorary British citizenship, saying, “I think if its producers were honest, they would admit that most nonvintage wines are meant to be consumed within 30 minutes of leaving the Champagne house.”

This brings up another essential aspect of your cellar from a macro perspective: getting the help of an objective professional to see the problem areas of your cellar that you have become blind to over the years. Vinfolio offers a special service that includes sending a cellar expert to your home cellar who can organize and assess the real market worth of your wines. Wine cellar organization is the first step; the experts typically start by organizing your wine bottles by region, vintage, and producer, then deciding which bottles in each group are worth the most on the market. Bottles that remain stagnant in price or that have dipped in price might be better off being drunk now, depending on the varietal. If you have bottles like this in your collection, ask yourself these two questions: Is this a wine that I love, regardless of whether I can resell it? Do experts think that this wine is going to be worth something again in the near future? If the answer to both of these questions is no, you should consider giving the bottle away or drinking it. Taking a step back from your cellar, and if possible, having someone else look at your collection, leaves you with more space for the wines you truly love.

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 best wine.

Image source: By Che (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons

Leah Hammer is Vinfolio’s Director of Cellar Acquisitions, guiding private collectors through the selling process. When not on the hunt for amazing cellars, she competes in marathons and rehydrates with Champagne and Burgundy.