Wine experts Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher never planned on becoming serious collectors — it suddenly happened one day when they realized they owned more bottles than they could possibly drink. However, it isn’t always this easy to start a wine collection. As much as 90 percent of the wine sold in the US is meant to be drunk within days of being purchased, making it difficult for beginning collectors to find the types of wine that are truly worth cellaring. Gaiter and Brecher have a solution, “Our advice to people who want to start a big, serious collection is simple: Relax. Take your time. The only collection worth having is one filled with wines you like.” The best way to start your own wine collection is to buy a wide range of styles from various regions, and hone your collection from there.
Diversify Your Regions
Great, cellar-worthy wines come from all over, so you should sample vintages from the New World as well as classics from France or Italy. Not only will this teach you a great deal about the wine world, it will protect your future investments. Just like stocks and bonds on the global market, you don’t want to invest too heavily in any single country or category when you buy wine. That’s because bad weather or economic crises can impact the quality of the wine and its worth on the market. For instance, Bordeaux experienced a huge economic bubble years ago, and its wine prices skyrocketed. Now that prices are beginning to even out once again, those who paid those high prices years ago are finding that the wine isn’t worth as much as they’d hoped it would be today. When you diversify, you protect yourself against these economic bubbles and other uncertainties.
Invest in mostly short-term cellaring wines at first, then buy into long-term investments as you narrow down which regions you love most. To start, buy about a few red wines and a few white wines, and compare the different regions. Buy at least one bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon from California’s Napa Valley, and compare it to a similarly-priced bottle of Cabernet from Bordeaux. Which do you prefer? Repeat this for as many other regions as possible, comparing Oregon Pinot Noir to Burgundy Pinot Noir, or Australian Shiraz to Rhone Syrah. Once you’ve tasted the stylistic differences between regions, look into red wines that you can only find in certain countries, such as Barolo in Italy. Decide which of these regionally-specific wines you enjoy most.
When you choose your white wines, make sure you get at least one bottle of Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, a bottle of German Riesling, a bottle of white Burgundy, and two bottles from Loire in France (one sweet wine and one dry wine). In addition, try buying sparkling wines from Champagne, Spain, and Italy. The primary goal is to make as many comparisons and connections as you can. You shouldn’t narrow your collection down to only French or California wines as a beginning collector because you’ll miss out on some spectacular wines–maybe even some that could become your favorites. Keep an open mind, and as you gain experience, you can find a niche region to focus on, like Burgundy or Napa Valley.
Sample Many Different Types of Wine
After you’ve decided which regions you want to try, the next step is to consider varietals and styles. This is a process of trial and error, requiring both patience and an open mind. Wine expert Will Lyons says he splits his must-have wines into five categories: sparkling, sweet and fortified, full-bodied red for cellaring, fruity red for drinking, full-bodied white for cellaring, and fruity white for drinking. These are the styles that will give you the best idea of which wines you prefer to drink, which in turn will help you choose the best wines for your beginning collection.
Sparkling, Sweet, and Fortified Wines
When you choose a sparkling wine, don’t just buy a bottle of Champagne and call it a day; sample vintages from a wide range of regions to find the flavors that you enjoy most. Do dry, Brut wines appeal most to you, or do you find that you love sweet, bubbly rosé instead? Keep this preference in mind as you buy wine in the future. You can use this same technique when you try sweet and fortified wines. Port will be your best choice under this category, since it cellars well and it is very collectible on the market, however, you’ll also want to try sweet wines from regions like Sauternes, which are made with “noble rot.” These are intense wines that not everyone enjoys, so it’s important to decide now whether you enjoy sweeter wines, or if your tastes are inclined toward more savory fortified wines, like spicy dry Port.
As for your two red wine styles, you’ll want to look at their aging potential first. For a full-bodied red wine that will cellar for long periods of time, stick with regions like Napa Valley or Bordeaux, and choose varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot, since these can often age for decades. Also buy a red that is meant for drinking now or in the near future. Look for tasting notes that say the wine is best drunk young, which you might find in varietals like Gamay or low-tannin Pinot Noir. These are the wines that you can drink while you wait for your other wines to age, so buy them according to your current tastes.
When you choose your white wines, you need to be extra careful about cellaring. Most white wines aren’t designed to cellar at all, so if you want a full-bodied white that will keep for years, you should stick with something like Chardonnay made by a top-tier producer. Read the wine’s reviews before you buy it, verifying that critics think the wine will age well over the next five years, at least. Young, fruity, drinkable white wines give you much more freedom, allowing you to go with the varietals that you think taste best. Make sure you sample sweet wines like Moscato, Sauternes, and certain Riesling vintages, then compare them to dry wines like dry Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Sauvignon Blanc. The goal is to find the varietals and winemaking styles that strike your fancy, giving you a refined collection catered specifically to your tastes.
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