|Many wine enthusiasts turn into wine collectors by accident. Over time, they buy better and better wines and, one day, find themselves with several bottles that need years of ageing to achieve their potential. Others come into collecting more consciously. Perhaps the start of a new lucrative job or a romantic wine experience on vacation piques their interest. Whatever the path, once they have entered the world of wine collecting, it comes time to consider their goals, learn ideal buying strategies, and discover where to acquire collectible wines.
What are ‘collectible wines’?
While exact definitions vary, a ‘collectible wine’ or a ‘fine wine’ is in general a wine that exhibits exceptional quality and will age well. These are the top wines, made from the highest quality fruit, by the top producers, in the best parts of a wine region. A further subset of collectible wine is ‘investible wine’, which is, by definition, a wine for which there is a secondary market and can thus be resold for a profit. Many collectors choose to have a mix of collectible and investible wines in their cellars, but this is not necessary. A collection should be a reflection of your personal preferences and goals.
Considerations before starting a collection
Building a wine collection requires investment – both into the wines themselves as well as the space for proper storage. Before beginning a buying spree, consider why you are collecting and how much you’re willing to spend on it. Are you collecting to have a ready stock of wines to enjoy over dinner? Or are you looking to amass trophy wines, potentially for resale? If you’re collecting for personal taste, it will be easier to find appealing wines at a range of different price points from varying regions. If you’re collecting high status wines, a greater investment will be needed to acquire the fine wines of renowned regions.
Strategies for buying wines
Most collectors find that their tastes change over time. There is a common saying that ‘all roads lead to Burgundy’ – many wine drinkers begin their journey with fruitier Napa-style Cabs, evolve to Old World Bordeaux, and finally discover the elegant finesse of Burgundy. Likewise, many collectors who consume primarily red or white eventually evolve a taste for other types.
To avoid having a cellar full of wines you may one day no longer enjoy, try not to buy too much of any one thing and stay open to trying new wines.
Caveat: This is less important if you’re buying investible wines, as you can always resell.
- Don’t over-index on a single region or producer
Wines intended for long-term ageing will evolve over time (in fact, whether wines ever ‘pass their prime’ or if they just change is a point of debate for another day). One of the pleasures of collecting is the opportunity to taste wines at different stages, as nothing highlights its vitality quite so vividly. To that end, buy at least three of anything you plan to keep for a decade or more and open bottles at multi-year intervals.
- Buy in multiples
One of the main purposes of wine collecting is to store wines in optimal conditions while they age. For new collectors, that can mean waiting 10–20 years to experience a beloved Barolo at its finest. When possible, search out back vintages to create a balanced collection with bottles that both your current and future self can enjoy.
- Seek out back vintages
Where to buy collectible wines
Physical retail wine stores are typically best for buying newer vintages, although some may occasionally sell back vintages.
Larger chain stores can be a good option if you know exactly what you’re looking for, but it’s worthwhile to find a small speciality store in your area. The smaller players often have very knowledgeable staff and even host events and tastings, providing a more personalized and impactful learning experience.
Most North American wineries have their own wine clubs or allocation lists. This is ideal for those who’ve found a favourite producer and want to build a repertoire of wines over time, especially ‘verticals’ (successive vintages of the same wine) or ‘horizontals’ (different wines of the same vintage). Such clubs usually offer the latest vintage every year, although some may also offer older library wines. The specifics will vary by winery, but often a club is open to join and secure early access or discounts. Allocation lists can be hard to join, as they are typically used to distribute limited stock of highly coveted wines to top clients year after year, as is the case with wines like Harlan or Screaming Eagle.
Auctions are the best place to acquire older, rarer bottles. The auction industry is large and complex, so it is wise to do some homework before venturing into this world (see our podcast below). Auctions are mainly conducted by large houses like Christie’s and Sotheby’s or by retailers with an auction or consignment arm (ie Berry Brothers and Rudd’s BBX). These days, many auctions take place online, and their structure may vary from timed auctions to ongoing consignment offers. As auctions typically sell wines from private collections, keep an eye on bottle condition and provenance, as there is always a risk that older bottles could have been stored improperly.
Recommended podcast: We spoke to the former Head of Wine for Christie’s, Charles Curtis MW, on everything you need to know to buy wines on auction yourself. Listen to the full podcast episode here.
New Bordeaux vintages are sold as futures every year (‘en primeur’ in French), meaning that consumers can buy wines while in barrel and receive delivery two years later. Typically, collectors can access futures via a wine store, but not every store has a futures program. If Bordeaux is of interest, find a store that does and build a relationship, as some reserve their allocations of limited top wines only for their best clients.
Our final word
The saying ‘the best time to invest was yesterday’ rings true for wine collecting. It is a long-term passion that rewards patience. Yet, the process of building a collection is as much fun as the end result of enjoying it.
InVintory is a wine cellar management app for wine collectors to easily track and find their bottles. This blog is the second in a series by COO Yule Georgieva on how to build and manage a wine collection.
Vinosity readers get 50% off their first year of InVintory Prestige - normally $99/year. Visually find any bottle in an instant, see your collection value, and access exciting partner benefits. Use code VINOSITY at invintory.com or download on the Apple App Store. Offer eligible for new subscribers only.