How does a wine cellar begin? With one bottle. One bottle that you decide not to drink tonight. Collecting wine is exciting: the treasure hunt for a specific bottle, the cataloguing of your inventory, the progressive tastings through the years. There is no right way to put a collection together and there is no perfect collection. If you plan to "lay down" bottles for more than, say, two years, you'll want to ensure proper storage conditions. Generally, this means a temperature and humidity controlled environment. A lot of wine lovers use a basement area in their home. This can work, although humidity fluctuations can cause problems over really long storage periods of 10-20 years. Specific wine storage equipment is recommended if you anticipate holding on to bottles for a long time, are dealing with more fragile wines such as Burgundies, Rhones, and Rieslings, or are considering taking the wine to auction years later when proof of proper storage is imperative. For most wines, however, a variety of storage methods work fine. The basic principles are cool, steady temperatures of 50-60 degrees Fahrenheit, minimal light, minimal handling, and horizontal bottle placement. I've seen elaborate redwood cellars containing thousands of bottles, basement storage racks, kitchen wine coolers, and crates in a coat closet. The point is, just get a collection going and have fun. When you decide to keep a bottle, though, don't leave it on the decorative rack you have on your kitchen counter. Kitchen counters kill wines.
My collection began with a special bottle of Antinori Tignanello (an Italian "super-Tuscan") that I decided not to drink for a while. It was a birthday gift from my wife and after reading that it would age well, I decided to put it on the cool tile floor of our bathroom closet (no basements in Florida). The collection had begun! From there, I simply began to pick up an interesting bottle here and there. Some won't age well and I plan to drink those within 12 months of purchase. Others will age gracefully for many years. Numerous sources will help you determine which wines have ageing potential, including magazines, websites, the label, and the wine producer's notes. I soon laid down a number of other Italian wines, inspired by my travels through Italy. These included mostly Tuscan wines such as Chianti Classico Reservas and super-Tuscan blends from Vignamaggio, Antinori, Lamole di Lamole, and Querciabella. As my interest in other wine regions grew, I would buy something new that I could lay down for a while. After exploring Chilean wines, for example, I decided to lay down Concha Y Toro Don Melchor and Casa Lapostolle Clos Apalta, two premium Cabernet Sauvignons (Cabs). I have a row of fine Bordeaux such as Chateau Haut-Brion and Chateau Leoville Las Cases. I also have a number of California Cabs, Zinfandels, and Meritage (blend) wines from the likes of Far Niente, Pride, Silver Oak, Beaulieu, and Opus One. Many of these were just single-bottle purchases, which has made for an extremely well diversified cellar. My collection currently numbers nearly 100 bottles, all in the standard 750 mL format except for a couple of Sauternes and a Vin Santo (both dessert wines). The bottles populate a stand-alone wine cooler and a set of bottle racks that share my home office with my desk and bookcase. I recently inventoried the wine and discovered that the collection represents 19 varietals and blends from 11 countries. It is exciting to explore the world of wine and put a few aside so there will always be something interesting to choose from down the road. I anticipate a consistently evolving collection. Some wines don't get better with age (actually, about 90% of all bottles sold are in this category), some wines peak after just 3-5 years of ageing, and some bottles can last for 200 years. Discovering this as you collect will add to your enjoyment. Most of my wines will be consumed within 5-10 years of their vintage except for a few Bordeaux. Then again, it is a collection and will likely evolve. The world of wines is amazing. Raise a glass!