Travel Belles’ resident wine expert tackles the important question
When people tell me they have a 5,000 bottle wine cellar and are obsessive about growing their wine collections, I’m thrilled that they’re excited about wine. I think it’s great to have that kind of passion. I totally get it. I have that passion too – wine is my thing, after all. But when someone tells me about her hefty assortment of bottles, her eyes aglow with excitement and camaraderie, I know that she expects me to tell her that I, too, have a giant wine cellar in Casa de Schneider … and I have to disappoint every time.
Does it seem strange to you that someone who is a sommelier, wine podcaster and writer, and generally wine obsessed person doesn’t have an elaborate cellar? Well I’m telling you now, I don’t. But I can shed some light on the reasons.
The dictionary says a collector is: “one who gathers an accumulation of objects especially as a hobby.” This could be stamps, coins, computers, shells, shoes, or wine. There’s a decent entry price for collecting some stuff, especially wine. And when I say a price, I mean cash; you need money to invest in wine and a place with proper conditions in which to store it. And once you meet those requirements you have to have some desire or need to keep the wine around for a while so you can admire it, maybe show it off, and definitely bask in the glory of the “having” of it.
In my mind, you also need three personality traits to be a good wine collector:
- Diligence for seeking out things to fill holes in the collection.
- Patience for waiting for things to become available, and in the case of wine, for it to be ready to drink.
- Especially with wine, precision in cataloguing what you have so you know when to drink it and when to hold it for more aging.
With that said, even if I leave out the fact that a great big cellar would run me in the thousands to build and fill, I’m ready to admit that I’m lacking in almost all of these personality characteristics, with the exception of the diligence (I love to read and research and am a fact junkie).
After thinking about this issue at length, I’m admitting it here: I’m not a collector. Of anything. My closet is free of clothes and shoes I don’t wear. I don’t own an excess of jewelry or books (amen for the Kindle) and I almost threw out my college diploma one time because I thought it was an extra piece of paper that was cluttering up my files (oops!).
With wine, I apply a similar philosophy. For the most part, I have wine that I’ll drink in the next year in my 48-bottle wine fridge, with maybe 10 bottles in the back that I pretend aren’t there because they won’t be at their most delicious for another five or so years (2005 Bordeaux and Burgundy, which age very well).
I have another rack of wine that is sometimes full and sometimes empty depending on our social schedule and how recently I’ve been to the wine store. I only ever buy wines for “collecting” or holding if they are very special bottles at very special prices, or if I’m traveling to wine regions and can pick up the stuff on the ground from small producers.
I may be an extreme case of a non-collector but I do think that even if you’re inclined towards collection, before you get into amassing wine it’s important to take stock and see if you have the personality, patience and cash for wine collecting.
But if you’re a collection-less wine lover, I’m here to tell you that having a big cellar isn’t proof that you love the stuff. Your curiosity about wine, willingness to experiment and travel to wine regions when time and money allow, or do armchair travel (visiting regions through the bottle) can make you a bona fide wine lover, and sometimes more knowledgeable and passionate than those who collect because they can.
No judgment on our collector Belle friends, but for the rest of us I can say that the feeling that you can drink as you go and don’t have to worry about collecting and drinking on a schedule is a bit liberating. It allows you to enjoy the stuff as you acquire it. There’s something to be said for (relatively) immediate gratification and the feeling of saving just a few good wines for fun.
Collector or not, the most important thing is to keep experimenting, keep sipping, and keep learning more about regions, wines and cultures that enjoy them around the world.
Next month: Dumb Wine Accessories
*Photos by Danielle Scott and Margo Millure