Eventually, you may find yourself turning from a wine connoisseur to a wine collector. It’s not just that you want to preserve bottles of terrific vintages, storing them up against the lean years. You’ve suddenly realized that a bottle of great wine might be as strong an investment as a block of Microsoft stock. Collecting wine is a lot different from just buying wine. For one thing, it’s going to cost more.
On the other hand, collectors have an opportunity to get their hands on wines that most people can only dream about tasting–rare vintages of such depth and complexity that their proper accompaniment is the roasted haunch of some extinct animal. That bottle of ’85 Cabernet that you paid $35 for can now be worth as much as several hundred dollars.
Not surprisingly, the rule for collecting wine is “let the buyer beware.” The most important thing you should be able to find out is how the wine you want to buy has been stored. You don’t want a bottle that’s been exposed to light or heat, or one that’s been stored upright so that the cork has dried out, allowing the wine to oxidize.
Most wine collectors buy their special wines at auction. There are many reputable auction houses, some of them on-line (opening up the field to buyers who can’t physically be in Los Angeles, New York or Chicago). You can also purchase wines by catalogue, which is a good way to obtain wines that are issued in very small quantities.
You can also visit wineries and purchase bottles onsite. Some wineries sell as much as half of their wine in this way. (You won’t find the winery prices any bargain, however, because there’s a gentleman’s agreement in force not to undercut wine shop prices.)
If you have found a wine that you are passionate about you can buy a case on release (or futures) and put it in your cellar for several years before you start drinking it. After all, many wines are not meant to be drunk when they are released but only after years of maturity. You will find some years better than others, but it is always fun to dip into an old bottle that you have been saving. Many collectors get into a rut where they are always saving wine for some as yet unnamed special event in the future. Remember, you started collecting wines to drink and enjoy them. Do it.
If you’re buying wines as an investment, you should take into consideration several factors. The wine should have good “reviews.” (That is, the wine industry and wine press have unanimously praised the wine in question.) The reviews are another good place to find out how long the wine will last. It will tell you that you should drink your wine by a certain year in the future (sometimes 30 years) or your wine will “be over the hill” (or bad).
The wine should be one that has a record of becoming more valuable with time. (For the most part, red wines keep longer than white wines, and will be more likely to appreciate in value.) Also, don’t bother buying younger wines at auction–you can get a better deal elsewhere.
Finally, don’t forget that auction houses will take a cut or percentage, whether you’re buying or selling, so figure that into the price.
It’s a small price to pay for the pleasure of possessing a cellar full of liquid gold.