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Beppi Crosariol

15 golden rules of wine collecting Add to ...

It's cellaring season. I can smell the pungent waft of white vinegar from my window. Canadians are pickling, saucing, jamming and chutneying. Some are making wine, too.

And while strictly speaking there's no cellaring season for those of us who buy our cabernets and merlots ready-made and punitively taxed, this is the time of year when stockpiling instincts tend to go into high gear. Liquor stores also ramp up their big-red offerings, making it a good time to hunt for bottles to lay down.

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If you've just begun keeping a stash or are considering embarking on that journey, it's good to bear a few hazards in mind. Candid collectors, when they're done boasting about prized trophies, will admit they've committed boners in their buying along the way. I've got my own regrets, which I'm sharing here as part of this wine-cellar confessional. I'm also including tips from bona fide experts: Peter D. Meltzer, New York-based author of Keys to the Cellar: Strategies and Secrets of Wine Collecting, and Tony Aspler, Toronto-based author of Tony Aspler's Cellar Book. Check out their books for extensive information on which styles of wine tend to age gracefully and which don't.

1. Resist hoarding

Don't break the bank today by feverishly scooping up every available bottle of something you've read about or tasted believing it to be the last smart buy on Earth. There'll always be more wine.

2. Don't limit yourself to single-bottle purchases

Previous point notwithstanding, consider buying at least two or three wines of the same kind. When you crack open the first and it delivers bliss, the pleasure will be sweeter knowing you've got more in the basement. Besides, the first will serve as a barometer of how the wine is aging.

3. Make room

If you're building a cellar, think of the capacity, then double it, Mr. Aspler advises. "You'll find that you fill the cellar quickly and wish you had more space."

4. To thine own tastes be true

Buy wines that reflect your lifestyle, not some critic's scorecard, Mr. Meltzer says. "Try to project the occasions at which your wines will be poured. Extrapolate from your present drinking patterns. Ask yourself how often you entertain, the wines you serve and a typical menu. Break down your purchases accordingly."

Tyrell's Wines Vat 1 Hunter Semillon.

5. Mix it up

"It's possible to have a cellar full of wine yet nothing to drink," Mr. Meltzer warns. Ideally, you should have a mix of both young wines that need further aging and mature examples that you can consume in the interim.

6. Segregate

"Mark a rack in your cellar for your wife for her book-club nights and your son's rugby party," Mr. Aspler says. "Otherwise you'll find your first growths missing," he adds, referring to the top tier of red Bordeaux that cost well into the three digits. Ditto your husband, same-sex partner or daughter, depending on your domestic situation.

7. Be prepared for inevitable letdowns

Trophy hunters never want to admit it, but even the best blue-chip labels can underdeliver 10 or 20 years down the road, either because of poor storage conditions, inherent flaws in the wine or a defective cork. Get set to shed a few tears over the coming years - and always have a backup bottle to crack open.

8. Take regular inventory

Wines can get long in the tooth faster than you anticipate. Make sure you stay on top of your stash.

Mr. Meltzer says one solution is to store wines that are close to maturity in a separate bin or rack for easy access.

9. Wine is for drinking, not idol worship

Don't treat your gems like museum pieces. Mentally expense your wines at the moment of purchase, Mr. Meltzer says.

That way you won't put off opening a precious old bottle until it's too late, waiting for that special occasion that somehow never seems special enough for the wine.

10. Think white

You will inevitably buy too much red wine and not enough age-worthy white, such as German riesling, Australian semillon or fine white Burgundy.

But they can take on glorious nuances and deliver just as much complexity and nirvana as reds - and don't require red meat to make them sing.

11. Beware the shoe closet and furnace room

Store your wines at a constant temperature of 13 C (55 F).

12. Remember the sideways rule

Save your limited horizontal shelving for traditional bottles sealed under cork, which must be kept moist. Screw-cap wines, some of which are good enough to age, can be stored standing up, Mr. Aspler notes.

13. Buy some big bottles

Nothing says fun or conveys generosity at a dinner party like a 1.5-litre magnum or three-litre double-magnum. I wish I had bought more.

14. Beware of older vintages purchased at auction

"Try to determine their provenance and how they were stored," Mr. Meltzer says. "The level of the wine in the bottle, also known as 'ullage,' is the barometer of a bottle's condition. Top or upper-shoulder levels are not uncommon for 30-year-old wines but are unusual for a 10- or 20-year-old vintage, where levels should still be into or close to the bottle's neck.

15. Forget not the fizz

"Always keep Champagne on hand," Mr. Aspler advises, especially vintage-dated bubblies, which can improve nicely with five to 15 years in the cellar. "You'll never know when you'll need to celebrate or commiserate."

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