Food & Drink May 5, 2009

Collecting The Grape

How to build the perfect wine collection

Tired of your wine collection consisting of a mishmash of bottles bought on sale and stored in the box you carted them home in?

Discouraged that when you scan the wine you have on hand, you realize you bought them because they have labels with cute animals? Intimidated by the many wines out there and your lack of knowledge about them?

Relax a little—in fact, relax with a glass of wine. While the wine world is tremendous and often very complicated, there is plenty of advice on the subject of assembling a wine collection you can maintain, grow and enjoy.

In some ways, the art, the joy, the fun in building a wine collection can be viewed as a course of study. Think of your freshman biology class—there’s the lecture class and then lab. But I’m confident you’ll find the lab classes on wine more entertaining.

Getting started

“The first thing you have to consider is your budget,” says Mac McCarthy, owner of Frenchman’s Gulch Winery. While there are many ways to store wine and countless opinions on selecting wine, before you even take a sip or store a box you have to ask yourself: How much money can I afford to spend on this splendid venture? (Not how much money do you WANT to spend!)

Right now, a $15 (or less) bottle of wine for dinner at home may suit you just fine, but that may change as your collection and palate expands, McCarthy cautions. Your standard for a so-called every night wine could jump from $10 to $30, or more. You’re probably buying wine for the week or the month, no more than a case at a time, if that. But collecting means more buying, more money.

You may purchase two cases of one wine—some to drink this year, others to save in your storage unit. And as you drink your wine, you will be replacing it. All that equals $$$.
Collecting wine is like any guilty pleasure, the cost can easily get out of control. So, sit down and come up with a budget for establishing, maintaining and growing your wine collection.

You likely will have moments when you stray, but stick with it for the most part and you won’t be selling wine on the corner to pay your tab.

Where to put it?

A major piece of the expense can be storage.

I don’t recommend going all out as a beginning collector and building a wine cellar. Try a more modest approach, both in terms of scale and money.

There is plenty of advice out there on how to store wine but there seem to be three absolutes: keep your wine in a consistent cool temperature; keep wine away from direct sunlight; lay each bottle on its side so the wine touches the cork.

“A dark cool place is best for them,” says Guy Stout, a master sommelier and certified wine educator based in Houston, Texas. “And keep wines lying on their side to keep the cork moist.”

You can buy a temperature-controlled storage unit, they come in various sizes, including ones that can hold some 200 bottles. But a dark closet or cabinet also can work.

“In my house, I have a wine cellar that is off-limits unless we’re having a super special event,” says Stout. “Then I have two racks (in his dining room)—one that holds 12 bottles and one that holds eight bottles. That’s the grab it and drink it pile.’’

Another option is an off-site wine storage unit.

StoragePlus in Hailey has wine storage lockers for rent. Each 5-foot-by-5-foot unit has a temperature maintained at 55 degrees.

“We mainly have a lot of deliveries (to individual units). You can have it (wine) delivered directly here,” and the staff there will store it in your locker, says Mary Adams, StoragePlus’ manager. She says she currently has five people with wine storage units, which rent for $130 a month. >>>



Wine lab 101

Now we’re getting to the really fun part.

McCarthy of Frenchman’s Gulch believes the most important aspect of collecting is determining your wine style.

“You have to try a lot of different wines to find out what you like,” he said.

So simple, so true. And McCarthy has a great idea for exploring the wine world.

“Buy a bottle of wine and share it with a friend,” he says, so you can split the amount and the cost. It’s what we often do anyway, but you can do this with a little more purpose and forethought. A Malbec tonight, that California cab on Friday.

“I like the idea of having a different bottle of wine every night. You split it with a person, that’s $10 per person per night,” McCarthy says. “It’s fun, finding what you like.”

Building a wine collection takes time and experience. And the only way to really know what’s out there is to study and experiment.

Do your homework; you won’t make the best purchases otherwise.

Read about wine. There are magazines, books, newspaper columns and websites devoted to wine that have a wealth of information. Read the ratings and tasting notes on specific wines. And get the basics down as well—how wine is made, how to taste, etc.

Talk to your wine merchant about a wine you are interested in buying. But you have to know a little about the wine to ask the right questions. Questions about a champagne don’t apply to those you would have about a Sauvignon Blanc, for example.

You can also buy direct at a vineyard such as Frenchman’s Gulch, which has a tasting room at the base of Bald Mountain in Ketchum off Warm Springs Road. The Sun Valley Wine Company in Ketchum has a broad range of wines for sale and you buy wine by the glass at the store. It offers a wine club that, among other things, gives patrons the opportunity to buy choice wines at a discount from the retail price. Through the wine club, you can learn about wines and building a wine collection. CIRO Market and Wine Merchants in Ketchum and di

Vine in Hailey offer weekly wine picks and can also provide guidance.


McCarthy and others say patience is necessary when it comes to collecting.

“One of the hardest parts is to have the discipline to keep your mitts off it,” McCarthy says.

There is wine to drink now, and wine that should be aged. Know the difference (by asking) and drink accordingly. Your collection should have room for both.

If you’re going to age wine, that means not drinking it—a hard temptation to resist!

But if a wine needs to age a couple of years to reach its peak potential, there’s nothing you can do to rush that timeline.

“It all comes down to discipline and how quickly you want to get your cellar going,” McCarthy says.

He recommends that when you find a wine you really like, buy two cases of it. You will want to try it once a year to determine how it’s aging. But there is a risk in aging wine. “The spoilage potential is huge,” McCarthy says. Even if wine is stored correctly, there is still a chance it will go bad—so be prepared.

Your collection should include everyday wine, wine for the weekends and special wines for special occasions. (Remember that scene in the wine movie Sideways where Paul Giamatti drinks that VERY special bottle of wine at the fast-food restaurant!?)

Start your wine collection with the major varietals. For whites, that’s Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Reds are Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Also buy dry rose wines, dessert wines and sparkling wine and work on finding a Chateau you adore.

You could start your collection with all U.S. wines, if you like. Eventually your collection should include a blend of New Age wines from countries like Australia and Chile and Old World wine from Europe.

It’s perfectly fine to stay with a classic wine collection, but I urge you to branch out a bit—you’re a collector now.

But buy, drink and store what you like. In the end, it’s what you enjoy drinking now and later that will make this a memorable journey.


Laura Tolley has spent most of her career covering politics and news for several Texas newspapers. Though still a novice in the wine world, she keeps forging ahead, one glass at a time.  


Please add any Wine advice you might have in our comment section below!



This article appears in the Spring 2009 Issue of Sun Valley Magazine.