Keep your wine collection cool
Ideally, site a wine storage area underground to remove light and reduce temperature variation. Aim for 10-13C (50-55F). If storing above ground, insulate the walls and ceilings and consider installing air-conditioning. Air humidity should also be controlled as dry air can lead to wine evaporation, while excess humidity can encourage unwanted micro-organisms and rust forming on equipment. A 70-80 per cent hygrometer reading is best.
The cellar should be free from draught and away from central heating. Install a maximum/minimum temperature gauge and take regular readings. Keep the area clean and free from vinegar, fuel oil or other odours.
A good rack for your wine collection
Apart from screw-tops, store bottles horizontally so that the wine keeps the cork expanded and stops oxidation. Top quality stock often comes in wooden cases, which are fine for storage, but cardboard boxes rapidly succumb to damp. Therefore buy some wine bins, which are surprisingly economical on space. Opt for wood and metal bins as withdrawing bottles from plastic ones tends to cause everything to shake. As a tip, go for double depth so that the same wine can be placed behind each other. Affix card or plastic tags to capsules to name countries or regions.
Consider a rack for larger-size bottles. Wine in a magnum (equivalent to two 75cl standard bottles) not only looks impressive but also ages more slowly – and hence develops more character – as there is less oxidation inside the glass.
If no part of the home is suitable, consider an opening under the driveway. No planning permission is required and installation takes five to eight days (Spiral Cellars 0845 2412768).
If you prefer storing away from home, buy ‘under bond’. This means both excise duty and VAT are avoided until the wine is cleared by HM Revenue and Customs, which can be years after first going into storage. Whilst there is a significant cash-flow saving, the tax rates charged are those on the day of withdrawing from bond. Place such wines in an independent Customs-approved bonded warehouse (lists available from HMRC). Do not store with a merchant. There have been far too many stories of theft or stock being misplaced to risk the latter. Insure at full replacement value, not the price originally paid!
What to buy for your wine collection?
A few white wines benefit from cellaring: dessert (such as Sauternes), often for up to 15 years but can then start to dry out, and stylish Chardonnay, notably white Burgundy like Meursault and Puligny-Montrachet. Some like Champagne with additional ageing. Over five or more years, a lovely nuttiness can develop.
Fortified wines (wine to which spirit has been added) can really benefit from being stored, notably crusted and vintage Port. Typically keep these for at least 10 and 15 years respectively from bottling. One tip is to find single estate Port, which amazingly is often one-third to half the price of the vintage blend. Top examples are Dow’s Bomfim, Graham’s Malvedos and Taylor’s Vargellas. Churchill’s Gricha is a fine newcomer.
Red wines usually form the major part of a cellar on account of their tannins (obtained mainly from grape skins but partially from wood). Over years, these naturally-present chemical compounds break down to create wines with real style and complexity.
Even a lowly rated red can often benefit from 18 months-plus ageing, which no merchant can give on price grounds. Look for great-value reds from such vines as Carmenere (Chile), Malbec (Argentina), Pinotage (South Africa) and Tannat (Uruguay).
Portugal represents the most outstanding quality and value in the northern hemisphere. Try some of the lovely Douro reds with their silky, dark fruits, most of which benefit from four-plus years cellaring. Tesco’s Finest Douro 2010 (£7.49), Crasto 2009 (Majestic £9.99) and Niepoort’s Vertente 2008 (Tanners £18.80) all match game well.
For party red, southern Italian wine benefits from three to four years ageing. Look for the black cherry fruits of Torre del Falco from Puglia (Waitrose £7.99) and damson depth of Aglianico del Vulture (whose curious name comes from a local mountain).
For spice and depth, Syrah (often called Shiraz in Australia) is the vine. It benefits from cellaring for five to six years or more. Look for a trio of northern Rhone: Cornas, Hermitage and St Joseph. Meanwhile, South Australia’s Barossa Valley is exciting for wines such as Peter Lehmann Shiraz and St Hallett Old Block.
For dinner parties where beef or pork are main courses, Tuscany and Umbria are apt. Keep for up to a decade. Look for Chianti Classico (like Querciabella) but also some of the so-called ‘super Tuscans’, which use Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot with local Sangiovese grapes: Sassicaia and Tignanello. You are not likely to be disappointed.
Bordeaux is still a mecca for quality and, well made, keeps for eight-20 years depending on the vintage and quality of wine. For value, look for ‘fourth’ and ‘five growth’ Clarets (according to the 1855 classification), like Beychevelle, Lynch-Bages and Talbot. Pessac (formerly called Graves) is worth seeking – like Haut-Bailly – to accompany lamb.
The French districts of Bergerac, Cahors and Madiran still yield rich, opulent reds that benefit from at least five years’ cellaring.
A wine collection as an investment
One idea that may well appeal is to buy more wine than you are likely to need and sell the balance. Unless the wine is more than 50 years old, there is no Capital Gains Tax liability.
Only a small number of wines – mostly Clarets – consistently appear at auction. The Decanter Bordeaux Liv-ex index (akin to the FTSE 100) recorded 161.1 points in May 2012 from a 100 start in August 2007.
In 10 years Chateau Lafite 1982 has moved from £3,960 to £24,800, Haut-Brion 1989 from £3,520 to £9,600, and Palmer 1995 from £440 to £1,200 (all per 12 bottles excluding VAT).
Taking the Pomerol district of Bordeaux, Le Pin 1989 has jumped from £3,960 to £24,200, whilst Petrus 1982 has risen from £15,000 to £41,400. Neighbouring St Emilion also has its stars, such as Cheval-Blanc whose 1983 has moved from £1,870 to £3,690 and 1990 from £3,600 to £7,050. In Sauternes, d’Yquem 1988 has moved from £1,815 to £3,200 and 1990 from £1,430 to £2,840.
Such famous properties are sought-after globally and when a cracking vintage comes along, prices can go sky high. It means putting out considerable money initially but these are some of the wines that will rise markedly in price.
Not many Burgundies appreciate auction-wise, apart from the elusive Domaine de la Romanee-Conti. Vintage Port is largely confined to Fonseca and Taylor, followed by Dow, Graham and Warre, but does not demonstrate the level of appreciation shown by top Claret. Occasionally there are flurries of other interest, such as Araujo Eisele, Caymus Special Selection, Opus One and Screaming Eagle from California.
Often these high-value wines are offered en primeur, which means the opening price whilst still in barrel. This might indeed be the cheapest price but take great care as there have been many instances of non-supply.
If considering any wine for later re-sale, store in original packaging. Regular auctions are held by Bonhams, Christie’s and Sotheby’s with occasional ones at Morphets of Harrogate and McTear’s of Glasgow.
The experts who will help you start your fine wine collection
Rather like having a trusted solicitor and personal banker, a good merchant can be a confidential and helpful route into wine. They can introduce new wines and regions, probably invite you to tastings and let you be the first to receive opening prices.
Merchants to consider are:
Tanners of Shrewsbury (01743 234455)
Armit (020 7908 0600)
Berry Bros & Rudd (0800 2802440)
Corney & Barrow (020 7265 2400)
Justerini & Brooks (020 7484 6400)
Lea & Sandeman (020 7244 0522).
More eclectic ranges are available from:
Adnams of Southwold (01502 727200)
Raeburn Fine Wines in Edinburgh (0131 343 1159).
Once some knowledge has been acquired, there are interesting wines to be found at the IEC Wine Society (01438 740222 but lifetime membership costs £40) and Waitrose, which will deliver nationally (0800 188881).
For top quality, go to a wine specialist such as:
Wilkinson Vintners (020 7616 0404)
Farr Vintners (020 7821 2000)
Bordeaux Index (020 7269 0700)
Richard Kihl (01728 454455)
Avoid so-called wine investment firms. They are usually unregulated and lack properly qualified staff. Liquidator Abbott Fielding estimates that investors have lost £100 million in scams over the last four years.