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Perhaps it was that night you ran out of wine smack in the middle of a great dinner party when the mood was just hitting a nice buzzy point, over candlelight no less. You could have sworn you had another bottle of Malbec, but you forgot you drank that a couple days ago while watching “This is Us” (that show requires alcohol), and now the liquor store is closed and the last drips of that Gamay are swirling around the bottom of empty wine glasses. This is the moment where you envision yourself strolling down to your basement, picking up a great bottle you bought in Spain last year, and saving your dinner party guests from that inevitable party-killing, oh-I’ll-just-have-water-for-the-rest-of-the-evening feeling.

But starting a wine collection isn’t something mere mortals do, right? Wrong. Talk to Richard Hanauer, the wine director at RPM Restaurants, and he’ll tell you wine collecting is completely doable even for us novices who are still storing our reds and whites on our kitchen counters. Below, a guide to starting your own collection and how to actually enjoy it.

I want to start a wine collection, but I have no idea what I’m doing. What do I need to first?

You always want to start with proper storage. Whether you’re building a cellar, buying a small refrigerated unit or using an off-site facility, one cannot start collecting until they know their wines will be safe in a healthy aging environment. Also knowing the size of your storage will give you an idea of maximum possible number of bottles and how much wine to eventually buy.

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Any rules for beginner wine collectors?

  1. Spend wisely. Only invest in expensive wines you know you already like. Experiment with lesser-priced bottles that you’re unfamiliar with.
  2. Follow vintages carefully. Greater vintages tend to age better and for much longer. Buying wine from a good house in a great vintage year is a sure thing. As the old adage goes: “In the best years, buy the inferior houses. And in the inferior years, buy the best houses.”
  3. Diversity is king. Your palate and tastes evolve throughout the years, meaning that the wine you like most today likely will not be your favorite ten years from now. Food pairings will consistently change; you don’t know the flavor preferences of your guests. Making sure you have wine and styles from all over the world will ensure that you’re set for years to come.

What are some regions or vineyards producing great wines at terrific value that I should be keeping my eye out for?

For white wines, my favorite regions currently are France’s Loire Valley, Australia’s Hunter Valley, Italy’s Verdicchio grape, and the champion German Riesling (if you don’t like sweet wines, it just isn’t for you…yet). No white wine is more prone to a complex aging process than German Riesling.

For reds, Italy’s Piedmont and Tuscany regions make incredible age-worthy wines that don’t always fall into major categories. Instead of Barolo, look for Ghemme, Boca or Gattinara. In Tuscany, instead of Brunello or Super Tuscans, look for Chianti Classico and Rufina. Spain’s Rioja wines seem indestructible and are staples of good aging cellars.   

Sweet wines seem as though they all have a destiny towards long life: the Loire Valley’s Chenin Blancs, Hungary’s Tokaji, and the endless Port and Madeira wines. Some of these are capable of outliving their owners and produce haunting aromas and flavors after decades at rest.    

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What’s the difference between buying wine as an investment and buying lots of good wine you just want to drink eventually?

Buying wine as an investment is a lot like collecting baseball cards—t’s a combination of the card and the condition. The wine has to be in mint condition to trade at the highest value. When buying wine for personal consumption, I’m not concerned with the condition of the label as long as signs of its storage are strong.  

If you just want to drink the wine you collect over the years, what are some guidelines to follow?

Have a plan and make goals. Don’t overload your cellar on wines you don’t like since it minimizes storage. Plan to eventually drink as much as you add once the cellar starts, but plan space for regular drinking as well.

Check in on your bottles and vintages regularly. Don’t hesitate to open bottles before their criticized prime—you’d be surprised that your personal preferences could be for older or younger versions. Make sure that none of your bottles are going to go past their prime. Regular inventories help a lot to remind you of bottles and their ages.

Make sure to celebrate! This is a sad, repetitive component to cellars. Too many have bottles that have passed their prime. Sometimes people can’t justify opening their best bottles, regardless of circumstance. This isn’t what wine is about. You have to celebrate; you have to drink the wines in your cellar. This is why you bought them in the first place!

Related Video: The Best Wines to Bring to Thanksgiving Dinner

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