Starting a Serious Wine Collection? Be Sure To Know the Risks - 27 East

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Starting a Serious Wine Collection? Be Sure To Know the Risks

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One’s wine collection is often a reflection of their personality. JOSEPH FINORA

One’s wine collection is often a reflection of their personality. JOSEPH FINORA

Joseph Finora on Apr 26, 2023

People like to collect all sorts of things. Whatever it is, it is usually something they like and may have for a long time. Wine can be a good investment for well-connected and experienced collectors who pay careful attention to the markets and agricultural conditions, but generally speaking, wine investing is a very tricky area where many are often misled and disappointed.

There are a large number of factors, perhaps too many, for one to achieve a positive outcome. For the rest of us, collecting wine should be for complementing and enhancing meals. Enjoying wine with friends and family should be the priority — forget any profit motive. Collect wines you like to drink. Here’s why:

“I’ve helped several customers fill cellars over the years,” says Paul DeVerna, proprietor of Hamptons Wine Shoppe in Westhampton Beach. “Each has slightly different goals and timelines. Some buy for investment. Others focus on wines from years that were special to them, such as the year of a child’s birth or wedding anniversary.”

Only a small amount of wine is classified as investment grade. To be an investment-grade wine, it needs to have come from a proven producer and be well received by recognized critics, earning a “score” of 95+ points. A proven producer has a track record of making wines that improve in the cellar. This can be hard to achieve as wine can and does change after bottling. Proper shipping, handling and storage are necessary to protect this most liquid investment.

“For those interested in investment my recommendation is to focus on blue chip wines from top vintages from Bordeaux, Burgundy, Italy and California,” says DeVerna, with a focus on “producers who have a track record for wines that can appreciate in value over time.”

To collect what you like, you may need to be alert to supply and demand factors for your favorite wines. This includes looking at the absolute case production in a given vintage as well as where the wine is in its lifecycle. If a wine is close to its “peak drinking period,” it’s time to drink up (or sell if you can) as it won’t get any better and demand is likely to fall. In short, a wine held too long will begin to fade as will its value.

Wine-Buying Risks

If you’re willing to swallow the risks and buy wine with the idea of selling it in the future, as with any investment, you will likely need a good agent who may be difficult to find and will require a commission or service fee.

Paying more than is necessary for a given wine is a risk. Do you aspire to be a serious collector? A buyer and seller or négociant in this byzantine world full of connections, money and fraud? Is the primary objective mainly drinking pleasure? Does “serious” imply very expensive bottles from vintages that have scored high in the media or just a collection of wine you personally enjoy?

When buying more expensive and highly rated wines from mature vintages, the risk of buying fakes increases as does the risk of buying wine that has been damaged through improper handling and storage. What may appear to be the same wine on the label may be very different inside the bottle. Even one day of heat exposure can permanently ruin a wine. As a result, safety assurances from reputable dealers may create large, but worthwhile, price differences for the same wine.

Buying more in absolute quantity than one can realistically consume (unless your objective is to build a collection) is something most collectors are prone to do although there may be a strong secondary market for selling excess later. A good agent can help here.

If personal consumption is the main reason for assembling the collection, another risk would be too much concentration in any particular region, varietal or single producer. There is an enormous range of tasting experiences available to the collector — why limit it?

What about storage? Good wine needs to be kept in a place with moderate temperatures, away from light and temperature fluctuations. Note that many top producers will not ship wine in the warmer months. If a truck is stuck in traffic on a blistering day or cases are left in a hot storage area it is very likely that wine will change for the worse.

Temperature Fluctuation — the Enemy of Wine

Temperature consistency is the most important aspect of wine storage. While most reds comfortably “rest” at 55 to 57 degrees Fahrenheit, 60 degrees will generally work providing the temperature stays at that level. Should you have a week or two where the temperature rises to 70 degrees or higher it may impact the wine’s future taste. If you’re storing wines that are consumed young, this may not be as big a problem. Temperature fluctuations can create small degradations which can become noticeable over time.

Proper racking and a cooling unit can also minimize breakage. Basic residential cooling units start at about $800, less than half the cost of a case of Dom Pérignon champagne. Bear in mind, contractors often install commercial-grade refrigeration units for residential use. Such units can create problems in residential cellars.

As they say when collecting art: Be sure to like what you’re buying as it may be on your wall for a long time. A similar thing can be said about wine collecting. Since it may be in your cellar for some time, make sure it’s something you’ll like having there.

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