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How to start a wine collection

With some help from two experts in the wine trade, we break down the fundamentals to getting a cellar stocked with top vintages

By House & Garden | February 17, 2021 | Travel Leisure

Picture: Pixabay

There are two types of wine collection; a cellar full of all your favourite wines, some ageing well and others available for everyday drinking, and then there is collecting wine as an investment. The approaches to these two types differ quite a lot, though in both cases, a lot of tasting and good storage are key.

Collecting wine to drink

This is the easy one, because essentially all you need to do is drink a lot of wine and hone your taste. If you’re wanting to amass a good cellar or wine rack or fridge full of bottles you love, then simply drink broadly to decipher what it is you enjoy. 'This may seem an obvious point but it’s important to remain focused so you don’t end up with a collection of wines you aren’t excited about drinking,' explains Toby Watson of Marlo Wine, an online wine boutique that focuses on fine wines by the bottle, without lofty descriptions that make it hard to understand what you're buying. Once you can say confidently that you like a Pinot Noir with a farmyard note or a crisp, crunchy Sauvignon Blanc full of florals, you can talk to people who have a wide range of knowledge and they can suggest other grapes, regions or producers for you to try. Speaking to those in the wine industry – whether that's your local wine seller, a sommelier or reading columns from the likes of Jancis Robinson and Jane McQuitty – can be a huge help, as Toby confirms: 'People in the wine trade love talking about wine and will be happy to assist you in putting together a collection which will give you years of enjoyment.' There may be times you take a recommendation and find that it really isn’t what you’re after, but that’s all part of the journey too.

Another easy way to go on a wine tasting journey is via a wine subscription. Ourglass is a wonderful way to broaden your wine horizons, whilst staying on a path of wines you’re more likely to enjoy; when you sign up, you speak with the team there about what you enjoy drinking already and they will tailor your first box around that. Each month, you then send them your thoughts on the bottles you received, so the team can keep on personalising your delivery to your tastes. Alternatively, if you already know you love natural wine and want to collect more in that genre, go for Little Wine. When you become a subscriber, you get exclusive access to a range of digital content, from interviews with producers to educational pieces about winemaking and wine tasting. All of that will help feed into picking bottles that interest you.

'Of course there are exceptions, but as a general rule the more you spend on a bottle of wine, the longer it is likely to keep and improve,' says Toby. 'If you’re drinking £10 white wines at home, then you don’t need to think too far in advance. If you are drinking reds and whites for £30 a bottle and above, then you can think a few years ahead of time, up to decades ahead if you’re planning to drink top-shelf Bordeaux, Burgundy and other great examples from around the world.' This means you'll need good storage in place; temperature-controlled so that the wines age well - it's worth investing in a wine fridge if you don't have a cellar to store your haul.

Collecting wine to sell

Amassing a collection of wine that will appreciate in value over time is a much less simple task, as it is dictated not simply by your own palate, but by that of the luxury collector and relies on you having a good understanding of whether a wine has ageing potential or not. Moreover, it’s an expensive arena to enter, though the rewards if you do end up with a sale-worthy collection far outweigh the costs. The Wine Society's fine wine manager Shaun Kiernan says 'I’d urge anyone to have a go at storing a few things and seeing how they change. If you take your time over something, I find, the results are worth it: the growers have taken their time to make the best wine they can, and by maturing it yourself you’re taking the time to get something really special from it.' The question is, how do you know what to choose?

Toby of Marlo wines explains 'As with all investment markets, nothing is guaranteed. Bordeaux is by far the biggest and most active wine investment market. Each May and June, wines are released En Primeur – meaning it's still maturing in barrels and has not yet been bottled or aged – from the previous summer’s harvest and scores on each wine will determine their popularity in the future. This is a great way to get wine at a lower price than when it is released to the general public in a few year's time, but it does mean you are buying without tasting it. Beyond Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne are popular regions for investors, as are the key areas of Italy (Chianti and Barolo are two), California (look to the Napa Valley's best producers) and Spain (Rioja is the best one to start with). Your merchant will happily advise on which wines have a good track record of performing well financially.'

When collecting wine as an investment, there are ways to store it outside of your home: 'In the UK, there is a network of climate controlled, bonded warehouses which allow private individuals to keep wine “in bond”, meaning we can buy a case of wine without having to pay for the duty and VAT at the point of purchase,' details Toby. What this essentially means is that if you are buying wine and storing it in bond, purely to sell on at a later date for a higher price, you never have to pay VAT on it as the seller and save an all-important 20%. 'Storing wines under bond gives the buyer confidence that the wine has be stored properly, adding to their value. There is a charge to store wines in bond, which includes insurance. Most bigger merchants offer this service, or you can approach bonded warehouses directly.' The best way to start with either approach to investing in wine is to taste broadly and read what the experts are saying; consider a subscription to Noble Rot as top of your next birthday wish list.

Written by Charlotte McCaughan-Hawes.

This article originally appeared on House & Garden UK.