How to Start a High-End Wine Collection: The Best Fine Wines to Stock Your Cellar With

how to start a high-end wine collection

Starting a high-end wine collection means investing in age-worthy bottles that are likely to increase in value as they mature. Photo Credit: Flickr CC user Matthew


 Starting a high-end wine collection can not only be hugely enjoyable for a wine lover, as it introduces you to some of the finest wines in the world, but it could also be a worthwhile monetary investment. High-end wine collectors can often make hundreds or even thousands of dollars back when they sell their wine. To start your own collection from scratch, we suggest starting with:

-A budget

-A handful of wines that you can drink right now

-At least five blue chip wines

-A curated set of cult wines

-A detailed plan for buying more wine in the future

Generally, what sets a casual collection apart from a high-end wine collection is that high-end collectors research and consider carefully what wine they buy, especially their age-worthy bottles. Many first-time collectors make the mistake of buying too much wine at once without considering their goals for the bottles in the future.

Goals for Starting a High-End Wine Collection

Most high-end wine collections can be split into three categories: age-worthy wines, aged wines, and drinkable young wines. When you first get started with your own collection, you should stick to the following ratio for each type of bottle:

how to start a high-end wine collection

Each of these categories has a different goal, and when you combine each category, you get a well-rounded wine collection that’s worth showing off to your peers. Here’s why you should use the 60-20-20 ratio as you get started collecting fine wine:

Age-worthy wines still have more than five years left to cellar before they reach their peak. When they’re stored properly, these wines should taste better and be worth more in the future. This is why the majority of your collection should consist of these types of wines–they’ll give you the most back on your investment.

Aged wines have fewer than five years left to cellar before reaching their peak, and you can drink them right now. These are wines that have already spent a handful of years, or even decades, in storage. These are great wines to have if you want to enjoy drinking or selling your wine while you wait for your age-worthy bottles to mature.

Drinkable young wines won’t improve in taste or value with age, but they’re useful to have in a starter collection because they allow you to enjoy your collection now, while you wait for your other bottles to mature. Make sure to leave some room in your cellar for drinkable wines, or you won’t be able to enjoy your collection right away.

Steps for Starting Your First High-End Collection

how to start a high-end wine collection

Begin with a reasonable budget that will give you enough wiggle room to buy some high-end bottles. Wine prices rise and fall frequently, so it’s best to start with a budget of at least $15,000 in disposable income. You should also commit to buying fewer bottles at higher prices. When you’re looking to build a cellar of solidly high-quality wines that will get you a great return on investment (and will taste amazing), it’s better to buy just one $1,000 bottle of top-notch wine than it is to buy an entire case of cheaper $85 wine.

The Best Drinkable Wines for Your Collection

Following the 60-20-20 ratio, about 20 percent of your collection should consist of drinkable young wines. Ideally, you should buy about one case of drinkable young wine for every five cases of age-worthy and pre-aged wine that you own. Replace your young, drinkable wine bottles as you open them throughout the year.

Start out with a $4,000 to $5,000 mixed case of drinkable young wine. Buying many different kinds of bottles gives your collection more variety and keeps your palate from getting exhausted. With a $4,000 to $5,000 budget, every bottle in the case will be worth in the $300 range. This is a great way to acclimate your palate to finer wines and learn which wines you’ll want to invest in again in the future. You can discover the varietals, blends, and producers that you enjoy, which will help you make better wine buying choices for the rest of your collecting career, and when it comes to buying wines that you’ll lay down for years or decades.

The ideal first-time mixed case will have:

  • 50 percent white wine bottles and 50 percent red wine bottles
  • 50 percent New World wines (e.g. California, Australia, Oregon) and 50 percent Old World wines (e.g. France, Italy, Spain)
  • A wide range of varietals (e.g. Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay)

Take detailed tasting notes whenever you drink one of these bottles. Your goal is to decide whether you enjoyed them enough to invest in them again in the future. The best high-end wine collectors are constantly on the hunt for their next “it” bottle.

Your First Five Blue Chip Wines

Now that you have a mixed case of drinkable young wines, you’ll want to buy your first five blue chip wines to increase the value of your collection and set yourself up for returns in the future. Blue chip wines are tried-and-true producers and vintages that are almost guaranteed to increase in value as they mature. These are excellent bottles for beginning collectors because they introduce you to the world of fine wine trading with relatively little risk–producers like DRC and Leroy will almost always sell well on the market.

Look for:

  • One or two bottles of red Bordeaux (Premier Cru only)
  • One or two bottles of red or white Burgundy (Grand Cru only)
  • One bottle of Sauternes (Premier Cru only)
  • One bottle of Champagne (Grand Cru or Premier Cru villages only)

Here’s a good example of the best blue chip wines for starter collections:

Five Starter Blue-Chip Wines:

 DRC: The 2009 vintage already has a few years under its belt, meaning you won’t have to wait as long for the wine to reach its peak. DRC is also one of the most sought-after Burgundy producers. (Budget: $2,700 per bottle)

Leroy: This wine will last at least another 10 years, but you could choose to drink it now as well. Vosne-Romanee is one of Leroy’s most popular labels, and its 2000 vintage was of very high quality. (Budget: $600 per bottle)

Yquem: This producer is the quintessential Sauternes estate. It’s so high in quality that officials gave it its own Premier Cru Superieur status, which is above even the highest-rated estates in the region. (Budget: $500 per bottle)

Lafite-Rothschild: As with DRC, 2009 Lafite-Rothschild is a relatively young vintage from a sought-after producer. The longer you store this bottle, the more it will be worth in the next 20 years. (Budget: $1,700)

Moet & Chandon: It’s important to have at least one age-worthy Champagne in your collection, since they are usually inexpensive in their youth and increase in value the longer you keep them. This wine could be worth hundreds of dollars more in the next 10 years. (Budget: $200)

All told, you’ll spend about $5,700 on blue chip wine if you decide to invest in these specific bottles. Although this takes up a little more than one-third of your starting budget, these are the wines that will likely be worth hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of dollars more in the future. For instance, DRC frequently sells for around $10,000 a bottle as it approaches age 20. That means that you could earn an additional $7,300 on a single bottle if you have proof of professional storage during the time you’ve owned it.

Your First Five Rare Cult Wines

After you invest in drinkable wines and your first blue chip vintages, you can use the remainder of your budget to buy rare cult wines. Generally, cult wines are bottles that are made by lesser-known producers in limited amounts. These wines have a loyal fanbase of serious collectors, and they’re usually not well-known outside of the wine collecting world. Cult wines are difficult to find on the market, but when you do find them, the prestige of your collection increases. These are also among the best representations of fine, collectible New World wine.

Tips to remember:

  • Primarily invest in California producers, since their cult wines are the most popular
  • Get on the mailing list, if possible, to buy cult wines for the best price
  • If you can’t get on the mailing list, buy from a trusted online auction and keep the bottle under storage until it is one year away from peak maturity (when it is worth the most)

Here’s a good example of a cult wine starter collection:

Five Starter Cult Wines:

Harlan: With high critics ratings and consistent increase in value over the past 10 years, Harlan’s wines could move away from cult status into blue chip territory in the future. (Budget: $600)

Screaming Eagle: This producer frequently receives perfect scores from critics, and the wines are supremely rare. It is one of the best examples of New World Cabernet Sauvignon from California. (Budget: $3,000)

Shafer: This vintage has at least 20 more years of aging left, making it a great option for reselling for a profit later. Shafer is also becoming one of the most renowned names in California winemaking. (Budget: $675)

Sine Qua Non: This producer never makes the same wine twice, which means these wines are always collectible. Since they are nearly impossible to find on the market, holding onto these bottles as long as possible is recommended. (Budget: $900)

Henschke Hill of Grace: The most iconic cult wine of Australia is worth investing in because it is one of the best examples of Shiraz in the world. It receives more near-perfect scores than any other Australian wine. (Budget: $500)

You will spend about $5,675 total for all five of these cult wines.

How to Buy More Wine in the Future

After you invest in your starter wines, follow the cycle of wine buying below:

how to start a high-end wine collection

As you can see from the chart, your first few wines are just a jumping off point for future wine purchases–your collection will always be in flux as you buy, sell, and drink your wines. First, create a yearly budget for your collection based on your income and how much you want to spend. As you drink your young bottles, replace them with new ones to maintain the 60-20-20 ratio. Try to spend less than 1/3 of your yearly budget on drinkable young wine so you can focus on laying down age-worthy wines that will have bigger payoffs in taste and value.

As you add to your cellar or professional warehouse storage, keep track of every bottle’s drink-by date. If any bottles will reach their peak in the next one to three years, decide whether you want to sell or drink them. Any profits you make from these bottle sales can be added to your yearly wine budget to buy more wine.

Finally, buy new age-worthy bottles during spring allocations to get the lowest prices possible. You can buy young, drinkable wine year-round, but it’s best to wait during allocation season to invest in high-end bottles. Repeat the cycle every year, or until you run out of storage space.

What a High-End Wine Collection Can Do for You

The wonderful thing about investing in wine is that you usually have 10 or 20 years to decide what to do with your age-worthy bottles. Investing in the wines suggested in this article will jumpstart your collecting career for at least the next five years as these bottles slowly mature. While you wait, you can continue to buy new wine every year, adding your own preferences and personality to your collection.

You won’t necessarily have to buy 10 blue chip or cult wines every year to have a great collection. These 10 starter bottles are a great baseline for a beginning collector, but in the future, you can choose to buy only as many wines as you can safely store. For some, that might mean buying just one or two new bottles every year. For others, that could mean getting a delivery of one new case every month.

The key to success is to listen closely to wine critics and other experts for tips on the best vintages as well as trending producers and regions. As you get started with your collection, you might want to hire a cellar expert to make sure your storage is safe enough for high-end bottles, or consider using a professional storage warehouse. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice from the experts when you need it.

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.


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.