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(Kevin Van Paassen/Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)
(Kevin Van Paassen/Kevin Van Paassen/The Globe and Mail)

Beppi Crosariol's Decanter

How to stock a starter cellar Add to ...

You'll probably become one sooner or later. You may be one without knowing it.

Wine collectors often come by the position accidentally. You start taking in more bottles than you consume in a week and, suddenly, you find yourself at Ikea loading up the hatchback with GORM bottle racks.

When most of us imagine a wine cellar, we picture a large room with floor-to-ceiling racks filled with hundreds of bottles. But cellars can be much more modest than that. A self-described "wine novice," Darren Trost in Scarborough, Ont., recently installed one of those convenient, under-counter 20-bottle wine fridges as part of a kitchen renovation and wrote asking me for suggestions on stocking it.

A fun mental exercise, I thought, and a relevant question for many condo dwellers just starting out in the collecting game.

What's the ideal mix for a contemporary micro-cellar?

The more I pondered the question, the more challenging it seemed. Wine collecting is a lot like interior decorating, or writing: relatively easy if you've got all the room in the world, tougher when space is tight.

It's critical to recognize that a cellar, even a micro-cellar, has a dual function. It should be a place to store wine for current consumption - analogous to a food pantry - as well as for short- and long-term cellaring.

I have my own cellaring biases, among them vintage champagne, white Burgundy and Rhone Valley reds - versatile, elegant wines that embrace a smorgasbord of foods. They drink nicely soon after release and often can pay huge dividends in terms of flavour complexity with five to 10 years in the cellar.

White Burgundies can develop honeyed richness, notes of roasted nuts and a mouth-tickling tang. From the Rhone Valley, consider a red from the great 2007 harvest from such districts as Gigondas, Vacqueyras and Châteauneuf-du-Pape, such as the superb, but hard-to-find Domaine La Garrigue Vacqueyras 2007 ($22.95).

For the same reasons but to a lesser degree, I'm also a fan of Tuscan reds, dry to off-dry German and Alsatian rieslings and quality red Burgundy, which are always made from pinot noir. Among Tuscan reds, consider a great-value red that would be a welcome sight at most dinner parties, Altesino Rosso 2007 ($19.95 in Ontario, $22.99 in B.C.).

And I have what many might consider idiosyncratic preferences, such as Australian semillon, which develops a honey-like richness and electric tang with five to 15 years in the cellar, and Chilean cabernet sauvignon, the poor man's Bordeaux alternative for a steak or roast-beef or lamb main course. (Brown bag an old Chilean cab and some of your guests may mistake it for a much more expensive Bordeaux.)

The great thing about Chilean cabs is that they are acquiring a good track record of age-worthiness but have not yet broken into the auction market in a significant way, so prices remain very down to earth. I've tasted 10-year-old examples of the widely available and inexpensive Santa Rita Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon that were delicious. Current price: $14.99 in British Columbia and $13.95 in Ontario.

If the budget permits, I'd also suggest splurging on a couple of relatively under-priced blue-chip Bordeaux, such as Lynch Bages (a $139 fifth growth deserving of second-growth status) and Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste (also an age-worthy fifth growth that merits an upgrade). These wines can age beautifully for two decades or more under cool, moist cellar conditions.

I also put out calls to two cellar experts for general advice and a few more specific suggestions. Peter D. Meltzer has been a long-time New York-based wine critic and auction correspondent for Wine Spectator magazine and is author of the very good book Keys to the Cellar: Strategies and Secrets of Wine Collecting (Wiley).

Warren Porter is president of Iron Gate Private Wine Management, a Toronto-based service that stores wine for collectors in a special temperature-controlled facility. There's nothing like learning from the mistakes of rich people, and that's what these guys have had the benefit of doing.

For a micro-cellar, Mr. Meltzer suggests buying wines across three different price points. He calls this the "good, better, best" approach. "There's no point in stocking up on collectibles that you'll hesitate to uncork," he says. For example, a "good" wine might be $14 malbec from Argentina to drink over the next year or two. Example: Alamos Malbec 2008 ($13.95 in Ontario; $14.99 in B.C.).

A "better" selection would be Ornellaia Le Volte 2007 ($27.95 in Ontario; $33.99 in B.C.). It's a so-called "baby" supertuscan red blend of sangiovese, cabernet sauvignon and merlot from the makers of $200-a-bottle cabernet Ornellaia. The good 2007 Le Volte is drinkable now and would likely keep well for two to four years.

From the "best" category, Mr. Meltzer suggests Vieux Donjon Châteauneuf du Pape 2007 ($59.95 in B.C. and Ontario), a quality southern Rhône red blend from a good producer and a great harvest year, which would pay major rewards (and impress dinner guests) in 10 to 15 years.

No cellar, not even a micro-cellar, is complete without champagne. From the selections available at Vintages stores in Ontario, Mr. Meltzer suggests the excellent yet not widely appreciated Comte Audoin de Dampierre Grand Cuvée Brut ($43.80).

And Mr. Porter stressed a point that is underappreciated by novices and showoff collectors alike: Don't overlook whites. "I have a client with 10,000 bottles and I'll bet you he's got 20 bottles of white," Mr. Porter says. "Make sure you have enough really good white."

Many foods pair better with white wines and many of your dinner guests will prefer to drink white. Plus, as novices in particular may not be aware, certain styles of white wine age magnificently. Among them: the aforementioned white Burgundy, Loire valley chenin blancs such as Vouvray, Alsatian, German and Canadian riesling, and Hunter Valley Semillon from Australia. These wines sometimes yield complex layers on a par with the finest reds, though they tend to be something of an acquired taste.

"As they say, the more you drink wine the more you drink white," Mr. Porter says.

10 smart buys for the modern micro-collector

Drink now through 2013 (all prices Ontario)

Comte Audoin de Dampierre Grand Cuvée Brut (Champagne, white) $43.80

Alamos Malbec 2008 (Argentina, red), $13.95

Château Pey La Tour 2008 (Bordeaux, red), 13.95

Altesino Rosso 2007 (Tuscany, red), about $19.95

Ornellaia Le Volte 2007 (Tuscany, red) $27.95

Drink in 5 to 10 years

Cave Spring CSV Riesling 2007 (Niagara, white), $29.95

Frédéric Magnien Meursault Coeur de Roches 2006 (Burgundy, white), $49.95

Vieux Donjon Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2007, $59.95

Domaine La Garrigue Vacqueyras 2007 (Rhone, red), $22.95

Château Lynch Bages 2005 (Bordeaux, red), $139

Sources: Beppi Crosariol, Peter D. Meltzer

Big rules for small collectors

Get to know what you like by tasting, tasting, tasting

Many novices will insist that, while they may not know much about wine, they know what they like. That's like a jazz fan settling for Kenny G without ever having heard John Coltrane. "If I had one wine to drink for the rest of my life, it would be old white Burgundy," says Warren Porter, president of Iron Gate Private Wine Management, a Toronto-based wine-storage service. "But I only learned this after many years in the business." His advice: Join a wine-tasting club, such as Toronto Vintners Club (torontovintners.org), where you can taste a variety of older vintages at regular monthly gatherings.

Know which wines are built for laying down

Most wines are like cars, destined to depreciate soon after you take them home. This includes the vast majority of reds. Safe, age-worthy bets include higher priced ($30 and up) bottles of the following: red Bordeaux, California cabernet sauvignon, Rhône Valley reds, Burgundy (red and white), Australian shiraz and cabernet, German and Alsatian riesling, Sauternes and vintage port. Very few wines costing less than $20 are meant for aging beyond two or three years.

Beppi Crosariol

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