How Do I Tell If a Wine Is Worth Collecting?

Wine Worth Collecting

Some wines can last up to 100 years or more in a cellar, while others won’t last much longer than a year or two. You need to know the difference to figure out whether the wine is worth collecting. Photo Credit: Pixabay CC user ColinB

An estimated 36 billion bottles of wine are produced around the world every year. With this much wine on the market, how do you choose just one wine worth collecting? Writer Heather Irwin says that you shouldn’t expect to collect the most prized bottles of wine in the world right away. Most collectors, even serious ones, have dozens of drinkable, non-collectable wines in their collections for daily use. Only a small portion of the wines most collectors own are truly worth keeping for decades. Irwin says, “In truth, there are legions of us out there, quietly squirreling away one or two prized bottles at a time for our growing collections.” To tell whether a wine is worth collecting, start by looking at its aging potential, its vintage, and its provenance.

Good Aging Potential

The first step in determining whether the wine in your cellar is worth collecting is to consider how long it will last before it starts to spoil. This will depend on the wine varietal and how the wine was made. Wines that age well typically have prominent, firm tannins and high acidity, which you’ll find most often in wine varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon, red Bordeaux blends, and even some types of white wine like Chardonnay. Red wines typically age better in a cellar than white wines, but you can also find high-quality white wines that will last as long as 15 or 20 years in a cellar. Wines like white Zinfandel, which are youthful and sweet, won’t age much longer than about two years, and generally aren’t worth collecting long-term. If you’re not sure whether your wine will age well, take a look at some of your wine’s recent tasting notes online to get a sense of what your peers think about the its longevity.

Wine expert Philip Rich says that the best wine collections have a combination of short-to-medium-term wines and medium-to-long-term wines which allows collectors to drink some of the wine in the near future and store the rest for the long haul. Another wine expert, Chris Morrison, takes this idea one step further, suggesting that you keep about 40 percent of your bottles for long-term aging, and drink the rest. Following this advice, a collector who owns 240 bottles of wine will want to hold about 100 of them in the cellar for at least five years. Alternatively, when you buy a case of wine, you can drink one bottle every year for 12 years, getting a sense of how the wine develops in flavor over time. Morrison explains, “By the time I think it’s perfect, I’m down to that last bottle. You’ve been on a journey with it. It’s like having a relationship with someone very special.” Of course, before you decide to keep your wines for a decade or more, make sure you have the perfect wine storage conditions in place.

Fine Vintage Weather

If a wine is subpar from the start, it doesn’t matter how long it sits in your cellar, the wine will never be worth collecting. Choosing a great vintage is important for beginning wine collectors because aging never improves the taste of a bad wine. Morrison says, “Good wine is in balance from day one. The idea that the bad can become beautiful is wrong.” How do you find that perfect wine that tastes amazing and will cellar for decades? You need to try as many vintages from a single estate as you can. Let’s say you’re interested in Abreu wines; before you invest in these bottles, you’ll want to try at least five vintages of the varietal you enjoy most, like Cabernet Sauvignon, and pinpoint the vintage that tastes best–that one will age beautifully.

It’s a good idea to buy older vintages from the best wine regions in the world that already have a great track record among wine critics. For instance, wine auction expert Jamie Ritchie says that 1998 Bordeaux is widely considered a superior vintage. You’ll likely pay as much as $1,000 or more per bottle, but this is a worthwhile investment because you already know that the quality is high. To find the best wine worth collecting for a smaller outlay of funds, you’ll need to look at wine reviews and the weather for each vintage in a region. Was the weather ideal for winemaking, or did something impact the flavor of the wines for the worse?

A great example of the effect of weather is Bordeaux’s Pauillac wines over the past 10 years. Robert Parker rated wines from this region a 78 in 2013, meaning that the wine was only of average quality. He also notes that wines from this region and vintage might already be too old to drink, even though they’ve only been in the cellar for three years. When you look at the weather in 2013, it’s easy to see why Parker rated the wines so poorly; gusts of wind destroyed grapes and massive rainstorms plagued vineyards that July, causing the grapes to grow without much flavor. By contrast, Parker rated the 2009 vintage in Pauillac at a 99, which is a near-perfect score. He notes that these wines mature early and are highly drinkable throughout their lifespans, making them well-worth collecting. That’s because the weather in 2009 was sunny and dry, allowing the grapes to mature perfectly. The 2009 will likely keep for many years, while the 2013 might already be past its prime.

Rarity and Provenance

Master of Wine Charles Curtis sees the same 200 wines over and over again in his career, but he says there’s a good reason for this: only a handful of wines are truly worth collecting, and a lot of it comes down to rarity. Curtis says, “While there are hundreds — thousands, even, — of interesting wines to drink (and one should), a collection is something that should be curated according to strict standards.” To get a sense of which wines are worth collecting, look to the top wine producers in the most popular wine regions. Winemakers who produce fewer than about 100,000 cases of wine every year are more difficult to find on the secondary market, but they also garner the best price when you finally find them. Buying these rare wines young, then cellaring them for 10 years, can earn you a significant chunk of money down the road.

Provenance is also an important part of choosing wine worth collecting. Once you’ve found a high-quality, rare wine vintage that will age well, you’ll need to verify that the wine is authentic before you invest in it. Writer Peter D. Meltzer says that even if you choose a wine that’s ideal on paper, if it was poorly stored by the previous owner or it’s a fake, you’re going to lose out on your investment. You should always ask for storage details on every wine you buy, and shop with trusted retailers that inspect wine bottles for authenticity and quality before selling them online.

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.

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.