Wine Collecting TipsGrape Expectations – A Wine Collecting Guide
You know your Barolos from your Barberas, and can tick off Spain’s DO areas as if they were your own kids’ names. Those strawberry notes in the Sean Thackrey Andromeda Devils Gulch Ranch Pinot Noir? They’re as poignant as if you just ate the fruit itself. But while you're no novice when it comes to drinking wine, collecting it can be a whole different ballgame. There are just so many factors to consider: Which cooler is best? What’s the optimal way to store it? Should you buy a case of Cune Rioja Imperial Gran Reserva or just one bottle? (This is a rare instance in which more booze is not merrier.)
It can be a little overwhelming at first, but we’re here to point you in the right collection direction. We tapped our in-the-know panel of experts, including a top collector, a sommelier and a wine importer who eat, sleep, breathe and drink a whole lot of the grape stuff – just to make sure we cover all our bases. Also, you've picked the right time to start: It was announced this week that the U.S. has edged out France as the world’s largest consumer of wine. So let the collecting (and consuming) begin.
- Alfio Moriconi, Vice President of European Imports and Sales, Total Wine & More
- Brian DiMarco, Founder & Managing Director, Barterhouse
- Erica Nonni, Fine Wine Consultant, WSET Advanced Certificate holder (Distinction), formerly with high-end U.K. wine merchants
- Matt Tornabene, Founder, Manhattan Wine Company
- Lauren Watters, Certified Sommelier and Senior Wine Capability Manager, Diageo Chateau & Estates
For pleasure or profit? That’s the first question for a starter collector. The answer, of course, is a blend of the two. A wine collection mirrors the owner’s life – some years, the focus is on investment; others, on imbibing. (Like when you break out the good juice for the 10th wedding anniversary. And the 11th. And 12th. You get the point.) There’s also another way to look at it: All wine will eventually be consumed – it’s just a matter of deciding how long to wait to do so.
In selecting collectible wines, it comes down to “four elements,” says Alfio Moriconi, Vice President at Total Wines. “The soil, the vines, the season/year and the winemaker.” All these factors affect the longevity of wine – high marks on all four translate into a wine that ages well, which might be anywhere from 2–5 years for quality whites and 7–25 years for the finest Bordeaux and Burgundy. Not surprisingly, our experts recommend going French to launch a collection. Moriconi says that “Bordeaux, on the left bank” yields excellent collectible vintages, particularly in the Haut-Medoc, and villages like Paulliac, Margaux, Saint-Estèphe and Saint-Julien.
Brian DiMarco is the Founder and Managing Director of Barterhouse, a New York City-based wine importer and broker. After working as an advertising executive, DiMarco embraced his self-proclaimed “third-life crisis” and pursued a professional education in food and wine. DiMarco sips his way across the world to “identify and import artisan wines that honor local traditions.” His top picks for collectible wine: Burgundy’s iconic Domaine Romanée-Conti. “This is where scarcity meets quality with little to no downside, assuming the bottles are real and the storage is ideal. The price will always go up,” says DiMarco. From the Rhône Valley, DiMarco suggests Châteauneuf-du-Pape and Hermitage from storied names like Rayas and Chave, which “produce extremely high-quality, age-worthy wines that deliver drinking pleasure and reward your patience given some cellar age. As investments, these wines always hold their value and in many cases can be acquired for under $150 a bottle.” And, then there are the “birth year” wines, says DiMarco, explaining that some of his clients purchase cases of Château Latour for each of their children's birth years. “Acquiring vintage wines from significant birth years is many times the launching point of wine collecting. This type of investment is the most liquid of assets, pardon the pun…”
Matt Tornabene, Founder of the Manhattan Wine Company, is a proponent of emerging wine markets: “There has been an explosion of wines coming from old, traditional regions that had been discredited.” Among these are Jura in France; Lombardy, Alto Piemonte and Sicily in Italy; parts of Rioja, Spain; and all of Greece. These lower-priced alternatives are well-poised to leap in value. Tornabene cites Rioja’s R. López de Heredia as an example: “Five years ago,” he says, “you could buy Heredia for next to nothing. Now, that’s no longer the case.” Adds Tornabene, “Wine’s a little like fashion, with fads that come and go, like skinny jeans.”
Tornabene’s top collectible choices include Vieux Château Certan in Bordeaux, as well as “farmer fizz” in Champagne: “For many years, most of the smaller property owners in Champagne sold their fruit in bulk to the larger houses like Moët Hennessy. It wasn’t until the past few decades that these growers decided that they would bottle their wines under their own labels. Some of my favorites are Jerome Prévost, Ulysse Collin, Marie-Courtin and Françoise Bedel.” And, Italy’s Brunate-LeCoste, Barolo from Giuseppe Rinaldi: “The 2010s are about to be released. This wine is amazing and will be highly sought-after. Jump on it when it comes out as the price will escalate quickly. You must be patient with this wine as it needs time in the cellar. If you can find ’89 and ’90, please call me so we can drink together!” Our pleasure.
Domestic wines are also increasingly adding value to well-rounded collections. Lauren Watters, the Senior Wine Capability Manager for Diageo Chateau & Estates, has worked with many premium wine brands, and says, “The Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon ($135) is an American classic, named in honor of the winery's founder, who brought winemaking legend Andre Tchelistcheff to Napa Valley, setting in motion an important element in Napa’s rise to its position as the pinnacle of American quality winemaking. Beaulieu Vineyard also has several less pricey but certainly ageworthy wines, such as the Tapestry and the Rutherford Cabernet.”
The first myth to dispel is that you can’t properly store at home. Even in a city like a New York, you’ll usually still be able to find a shelf, corner or closet that’s suitable for a small collection. As Alfio Moriconi explains, the criteria are simple: “Keep the cork wet (wine bottles on their side), make sure that there are no dramatic changes in temperature and avoid excessive light or vibration. "In fact," says Moriconi with a grin, “before I built my wine cellar, I had 15 cases under my bed – for years.” (Presumably, bed vibrations were kept to a minimum.)
Heat is the main culprit for premature aging of wine. The optimal storage temperature is generally 50–65°F – the sweet spot, say most experts, is 55°F. Over 70°F and the wine “cooks,” and it’s usually irreparably damaged. But, just as important is consistency. Temps shouldn’t fluctuate more than 2–3°F within the day. Naturally, cellars and basements – which are not too damp or dry – are ideal. Avoid storing wine in the kitchen, laundry room, boiler room or attic.
And this brings us to the wine cooler (no relation to the ‘80s fizzy beverage). There was a time when these wine units were hard to find; no longer. Most appliance stores have them, ranging in capacity from 24 to 500 bottles. For a starter collection, with wines in the aging range of 2–4 years, a basic fridge will suffice; beyond that, and you’ll want a more sensitive and dual-temp cooler. Key variables to take into account: The better refrigerators have an aluminum interior (instead of plastic). Look for units with strong stabilizing elements so that there is no vibration, which can kill a wine over time. And, consider roll-out shelves, which are supremely helpful for lovingly running your hands over labels (and showing off your bottles to dinner guests). Our experts recommend top brands like Avanti, Electrolux, Sub-Zero and Vinotemp. As for capacity: When deciding, consider that wine-collecting is like tattoos – you can rarely stop at one. So, whatever number you’re thinking of – double it. Or, triple it.
Taking it Outside
As anyone with a shoe collection knows, there comes the day when your wines will outgrow your apartment. After all, the most precious commodity in NYC (besides an open cab during a rainstorm) is space. “It’s the real estate paradigm,” says Matt Tornabene. When you consider the price per foot of living in New York City, “why would you turn a closet into a wine cellar when you can store it offsite?” In other words, instead of moving to the suburbs, let your wines do so. In this case, the suburbs is Clifton, New Jersey, where Tornabene’s top-notch wine facility is headquartered. Manhattan Wine Company is much more than storage. As Tornabene explains, “Having people’s wine here is like taking care of their children. We are the guardians of their collection. There’s an inherent amount of trust in that.” Also, says Tornabene, no account is too small. MWC welcomes collectors who are just starting out. There’s another very practical component to offsite storage: It saves you time (another precious commodity in New York). Essentially, the facility manages everything, from signing for wine when it arrives to keeping a vigilant eye over it 24 hours a day. So, you won’t have to worry about your former college roommate-houseguest breaking into that $5,000 bottle of Domaine Ramonet Montrachet Grand Cru. Or, hey, why not? In the end, it all goes down the same way. The most important thing is the spirit in which you drink it. Cheers.
(Beaulieu Vineyard photos courtesy of Beaulieu Vineyard)