Thursday, March 06, 2008

The Frightening Optimism of Wine Collecting

I drink wine (a lot, even); I explore wine; I discover wines; I seek them out, sniff them and sip them. Cheapies I glug, sometimes.

But I have trouble collecting wine. Cellaring it. Purchasing it in quantities sufficient to allow long storage, untouched. Of bottles that need that kind of lengthy slumber before being mellow and right to pour.

To me, collecting age-worthy wines is an act of wild optimism - folly, almost. I have trouble even taking out a magazine subscription - I mean, how do I know I'll still live in the same place a year from now (let alone two)? Or that I'll still be alive? Given my gun-shy attitude toward something as simple as a monthly glossy in the mail, how can I grapple with the problem of amassing many, many heavy objects that you can't take with you anywhere, unless you hire a big truck?

I don't know if I'll ever be able to make the shift from backfilling (since I'm not so crazy as to drink age-worthy wines young) to... aging them. We'll see.


peter said...

How many bottles do you have in your cellar - are they all mature (or do you like them young?)

If I could, I'd buy all mature wines, but the cost is prohibitive, let alone sourcing them.

Even with the cost of cellaring, it's much cheaper (for me) to collect them and wait for them to come around.

But you're right, there is a sort of optimism. And I used to be of your mind, travel light and not own too much crap, including wine.

Jim Cowan said...

I used to feel similarly, collecting merely to have a wide variety to choose from. But I admit that there were more than a few times I'd wish my Dad had passed along fine old wines to me. And so, now in my 60's, I am separating out a part of my cellar to pass on to my daughter. Its an old tradition (European, I think) and one I hope she enjoys.
Maybe my 1994 vintage ports will see their peak . . .
Best, Jim Cowan

Sharon said...

Peter, I have about 150, tops. I tend to buy either champagne, younger drinking-type wines for casual consumption (read: Loire - or lower village Burgundy), and for better bottles, do actually try to backfill and source ones that are ready to drink. Clearly not the optimal approach, but then so many things about wine appreciation and collecting are illogical...

Jim, I see what you're saying - I wish my parents were interested in wine... :) I have no children, so that isn't a factor for me.

Jeff said...

The hardest part is trying to have the vision as to where your tastes will be when the wine finally matures. Mine have changed significantly over the years so I have ended up with a broad cross section of wines some of which I no longer care for. Twice a year I find myself "thinning the herd" to make room for what I think I'll like down the road.

Like Jim I am preparing a portion of my cellar for my children.

noble pig said...

Collecting wine does have its roots in commitment issues. I have 300-400 bottles around the house and the worst is they are all ready to drink! Yikes! Ageable wines and wines of great distinction can be a costly investment, but it sounds great right?

Joe said...

Dear Noble Pig--lately, I buy mostly things with a long drinking window. If I neglect a bottle of Savennieres for a few years, I am confident that I'll be OK.


My worst excesses in the cellar come from library releases from my favorite wineries. When I have the sense that it's my last shot at well-stored wine from a favorite producer, and that the rest will kick around the (globally warmed, or just midwestern) market, I get piggy.



Sean W. McBride (a.k.a. slaked) said...

An activity by any other name --- I think what we're talking about here is the activity of amassing wealth. In this case the property is wine. I think "collecting" is really just a euphanism for that activity. You might also call it "hoarding" or something verbally neutral like "nesting." My guess is it's a biological thing, since you see the same kind of activity (i.e. amassing food stores) in a number of mammals. In any event, in humans, the activity itself may be justified as optimistic (to share with family) or pessimistic (price increase, unavailability), depending on your worldview. I would also guess that most collectors feel conflicted about the activity itself: both optimistically and pessimistically about their collections. On the one hand you want to drink that Bordeaux young, and on the other you want to save it for when it peaks, or to pass it along to your children. At least that's how I feel: as much as I love my cellar and collecting wines and sharing wines with friends and family (that's the optimist in me), I think i've reached the point where collecting any more wine would be rather pointless (that's the pessimist), and so I wonder why I do it all. Sharon, I really like your blog. Good pictures, too.

peter said...

Sharon - my collection isn't much more than double yours. It might be bigger if I had the space, but then I'd be broke as well. Like you, mine is mostly a mix of Champagne, village level Burgs, some nice non-first growth Bdx and Cali pinot/cabs. I'd say 80% of what I have isnt meant to be drunk now, since I began collecting just a few years ago. Stinks to drink wines before their time, but what can one do?

Joe - great point. My wife asked why we needed a 6-pack of 1996Jacquesson Avize when we have several already, and when I replied that soon the 1997 would be on shelves and would be difficult to source, she looked at me like I had three heads. But I'd rather pay for them now and store them than have to hunt them down later at higher prices, IF theyre even available!

Anonymous said...

Sharon, you can leave your cellar to my children if you like, provided you do it soon.

I have a dusty cave under our building with perhaps 150 bottles. Some are utter shite - Muscadets I didn't get round to opening, watery Bergerac I bought from the market because I liked the people selling it, a couple of late 90s "wine club" Bordeaux various relatives have palmed off on me - but there are more goodies I'm looking forward to opening in the next decade or two.

A good way to avoid opening bottles you mean to store is to live five floors up, sans lift, and keep the cellar filthy so you're not inclined to descend there too often.

I try to buy three of a wine I like if it's under 25 euros. I can't often justify more than one bottle of the 50 euro stuff, and I know I'm likely to be punished for this in future: Opening a brilliant bottle twenty years from now and frantically combing the net the next morning for more. It's already happened with 89 Riesling Frédéric Emile.

Neil xx

Anonymous said...

You need to buy better Muscadet.

Some of my most prized wines are Muscadet with some age. I just had my hands on some wines from 1997 today in the cellar, debating whether to drink them now or hold them.

My answer was, some of each.


Anonymous said...

SF Joe, I've started, believe me!

Found some very fine Muscadet, too. I'll be in the region this summer so that should give me the opportunity to explore this wine a little more.

Rajiv said...

What does backfilling mean?

As a college student, I've only recently begun to keep wines more than a few hours before drinking. Sounds silly, but the local wine store is pretty convenient, so why keep them?

However I now have about 10 bottles, some special, some serviceable, some more for my friends' tastes than mine. It's nice to feel ready to entertain, even on a small scale. Long term aging is still out of the question, though.

Udo Hoerhold said...

Is offsite storage common in France? It seems like a good solution to the question "what if I move" or "what if I can't keep my hands off that bottle until it's ready";-)

Kevin said...

My cellar: Oh, about two bottles. But I have dreams, boy do I have dreams. Nice blog.