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Starting a Wine Collection

Will Lyons, The Wall Street Journal

Ever thought of starting your own cellar? It was a question a friend of mine recently raised, somewhat searchingly. He was eager, I later find out, to receive confirmation that what he had been buying over the past year was likely to improve with age and was the right sort of wine to lay down. It was.

Judicious purchases of red Bordeaux, red and white Burgundy, a small parcel of port and some Champagne—not from one of the major grand marques but an individual grower—should provide happy drinking for the next decade or so.

For those who don't take their wine consumption as seriously as my friend, I can understand the reticence of spending hundreds of pounds on wine that needs, in some cases, as long as 10 years evolution to drink at its best. With a slew of old, rare and fine wine widely available, as well as many different kinds of good-value wines on offer, you may wonder why bother at all. Most of you, who aren't wine connoisseurs I suspect, will buy your wine as and when you need it and will probably regard the idea of a wine cellar as a little anachronistic.

But starting a wine collection doesn't have to require cloistered cellars, a large capital outlay or wooden cases stocked with Bordeaux's finest and most expensive wine. With a little thought, one can put together a mini cellar that not only meets all your wine needs, but will expand your knowledge and shine a little ray of light on the magic of understanding how wine evolves in the bottle, improving and mellowing with age. More importantly, starting a cellar is by far the most cost-effective way of buying wine, as purchasing by the dozen automatically qualifies for a discount. Moreover, buying fine wine when it is first released and requires a few years aging is almost always cheaper.

Before you start wine shopping, it's worth jotting down a few objectives as to what you want your cellar to achieve. You will want to have a ready supply of your favorite wine to prevent that last-minute dart to the supermarket when the relatives come around. But there is more to a cellar than plucking out your favorite Chardonnay. A good cellar will supply a ready flow of wines for a multitude of different occasions and palates: for sharing with friends, for aging, for investment and, in some cases, simply for owning.

When putting together the basics, try and think in terms of entertaining. First off, you will need a stock of wines that act as an aperitif and don't require long-term aging. I'm thinking sparkling wine and easy-drinking white wines, with plenty of light, fresh aromatics. These include varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand, white Bordeaux, Pinot Grigio, Portuguese white wines or Grüner Veltliner from Austria. A drier white wine with a little more depth and character is needed to accompany food. Ideal candidates include white Burgundy, Californian and Australian Chardonnay, Soave or a Rueda or white Rioja from Spain.

With red wine, pull together a few cases of affordable, reliable wines for everyday drinking, such as a house wine from a wine merchant or a familiar branded red. Chile, Malbec from Argentina, French country wines, southern Italy, Australia and California are your hunting ground here. Also, keep some lighter red wines that won't require aging, such as Beaujolais, Valpolicella and Chianti.

You will also need medium-strength red wines that can be pulled out for the odd dinner party and can stand up to most meat dishes. Look to Bordeaux, the Rhône Valley, Burgundy, Australian Shiraz from Coonawarra, Syrahs from New Zealand and many Portuguese reds. These are your wines that can be aged for five years or more, will improve with time and are fascinating to taste as they evolve.

Laying down a few cases for investment isn't a bad idea, as you can buy three and the sale of one case may pay for the other two down the line. High-end Bordeaux is where you want to look from vintages such as 2005, '09 and '10.

Wine has experienced a phenomenal bull run in recent years, but please remember, if the price rises, it can always come down again, too. On the other hand, you can always drink it.

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Originally published November 4, 2011

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The views of the authors of these articles do not necessarily represent the views of First Republic Bank.