anguish in the cellar: to drink, to hold or to collect?

by Stevie on July 27, 2011

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are wine collectors saving for the next generation like in the old days

are wine collectors saving for the next generation like in the old days?

Did you read the article about tips for attending wine auctions in the most recent edition of Wine Spectator? I did. I’m always amazed by the prices that folks are willing to pay for wine. Easily thousands and thousands of dollars or even more for a case or two; or occasionally for just a few bottles. Once in a while, I wish that I had the money for that, since it sounds really fun.

Among other practical tips, WS recommends scanning the auction catalog before bidding to look for wines to fill holes in your collection. On the face of it, I suppose that makes sense; that is if you’re trying to amass an inventory of fancy wine. But is that really sensible advice if you plan on drinking the stuff?

If you’re like us, in the later category, than you’ll always have “holes” in your wine collection, since you continually create them yourself through hedonistic living. Despite having a modest wine cellar, I think that I’m a terrible wine collector. We can never hold onto those lovely bottles for very long.

I’ve read that in past centuries, wealthy British gentlemen would buy cases of Bordeaux which they stored for their children and grandchildren. The wine became part of the estate. Since these same men inherited aged cases from their fathers and grandfathers, everyone was happily drinking claret and nobody ever worried: you could be generous and still have fun. Perhaps a bit sexist and classist, it still sounds quite elegant to me. And if that’s what people are doing at wine auctions, than I truly am envious of their grandchildren!

But I don’t have the sense that most modern wine collectors are beneficently planning for their progeny’s palates when they spend hundreds of thousands for exquisite wine cellar-showrooms packed full of ridiculously expensive bottles. You see these vinous palaces occasionally splashed across the pages of Wine Spectator. They truly are stunning: like museums or temples dedicated to Dionysus. That Greek deity was no slouch at the bar, so I wonder what he’d make of these marvelous caches: probably short work.

More often than not, I read these wine-collecting Olympians vaguely worrying that they’ve so much that they’ll never be able to drink it all. Poor things! Or maybe, greedy mean things. I think that I’m critical in part because I totally get these guys.

Truth be told, there is a delicious tension between holding onto fine wine for a while and drinking it. Certainly, I feel the pain. How to manage? Is the purpose of wine collecting to obsessively accumulate a stunning array of bottles that just sit around looking gorgeous? Is it an investment in the future? Or, should you actually enjoy the stuff, come what may?

Do you collect wine, and if so, what are your plans for your precious gems? I want to drink all of ours achingly slowly over many years, to prolong my delight.

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Magic of Spice July 27, 2011 at 7:30 pm

I have too hard of a time waiting…I drink ;)
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Shelley July 29, 2011 at 6:33 am

We aren’t collectors… we’re drinkers. I once thought that only the collectors were really serious about wine. But after visiting several wineries whose wines we enjoy, when I’ve asked the wine makers about their collections, they’ve often responded that they like to enjoy drinking wines, not shelving them. I think that’s the right approach. My motto: Life is short. Leave no bottle of wine undrunk.
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rita tower July 30, 2011 at 11:50 am

I could wait maybe a year or two at the most but after that I would be afraid the wine was turning in a bad direction and thus needs to be enjoyed before any ill flavours come out. Who know’s maybe I am just seeing things from the lense from my low Socio Economic Status roots where supplies were limited so if you have it the urge would be to drink it. Live for today is another way of saying it, you never know where you are going to be in the years to come so why not enjoy today. If wealth abounds and wine collecting is a hobby then maybe accumulating is the joy rather than actually drinking the fruit of the vine. The collecting and storage of wine is a world I do not understand but if you compare wine storage to collecting shoes then yes I totally get it. I have shoes I don’t ever wear but having them makes me feel a sense of completeness in that I know I have them tucked away should the perfect time to wear them comes up. Wine and shoes…interesting ….some would say there is no comparison.

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