How can I start a wine cellar? I'm asked that question a lot and while I believe it's a sincere one, I never answer too enthusiastically because, to be brutally honest, it takes some work as well as perseverance and plenty of self-restraint to have a wine cellar. You'll also require some hard-earned cash upfront, but likely not as much as you think.
What's clear is to me and those who maintain cellars — or, more likely in today's condo world, a collection of wine refrigerators stashed in a spare room — is that buying wine at today's prices and waiting for it to mature in your cellar makes sound economic sense. Not only will you save the premium that years of aging adds to the retail cost of wine, but a decade down the road you'll be assured of owning a scarce and valuable commodity.
But investing in wine is not just about the money. Marking time in the bottle is essential to the development of fine wine. During the aging period the harsh, angular components of youth give way to the rounder, more complex flavours that are the hallmark of fine, old, mature wine.
The long maturation period offers other possibilities as well. Many collectors now "put down" wines to mark special events such as a child's birthday or a wedding anniversary. Imagine celebrating your birthday every year with a wine as old as you are that you have owned for years. It's a neat prospect.
Planning that far in advance means doing some research about the people and the wines they make. Before you know it, the culture, history, geology and geography of the world's top wine regions will become part of you education — and you'll be hooked.
Knowing what to buy is an on-going project that requires regular maintenance. Wine publications are good sources of information. Even this column from time to time can be useful to collectors when we explore those wines built to age.
In terms of cost, quality and quantity, always keep in mind that you are not buying wine for next week. If the difference between a good wine and a great wine is only a few dollars buy the better wine. Believe me — the few extra dollars will look like a bargain a decade from now.
As for quality, don't waste your money on famous wines from poor vintages. Worldwide, there are simply too many excellent wines for you to squander your hard-earned cash on a "name" wine that doesn't measure up in a so-so vintage.
As for the amount to buy, it's really a matter of budget, but six bottles of any one type is sufficient to age, taste, track and trade along the way. Now, what to buy...