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In vino veritas

Everyone knows the token adage of the wine glass—your worldview depends on whether you view the glass as half-full or half-empty. Serious wine enthusiasts, however, do not care—they simply want to know what is in it.

Global wine auction sales totaled almost $480 million in 2018, up 26% from the year prior.1 That number suggests there could be some highly coveted juice in that half-full glass the person next to you is drinking.

Like other coveted commodities, increased prices for priced bottles of Burgundy, Bordeaux, Super-Tuscans, and blue-chip Californian bottles are a result of the limited supply and increased demand. The scarce supply is due to both the small acreage of highly coveted vineyards and volatile weather, which can affect harvest yields. Recent wildfires in Napa and Sonoma have affected not only vineyards, but also wineries where library wines were stored.

Wine collecting can be at once a playful and educational endeavor. Collectors delight in considering region and vintage, and discovering new producers and regions.  From the acquisition of a new bottle to the care of wine collections large or small, there is much for the thoughtful collector to consider.

 

Wine and the philosophy of time

 

What makes wine different from other collectibles passions, such as art and jewelry, is its limited lifespan. Wine is meant to be consumed, yet time is also what allows the alchemy of wine to transpire.

Jordan Mackay, co-author of The Sommelier’s Atlas of Taste and Secrets of the Sommeliers, notes, “A bottle of good Premier Cru Burgundy might taste great today, but in eight or ten years it could be hauntingly beautiful. And if you ever even find an opportunity to purchase such a wine when it’s mature, you’re going to pay a pretty penny for it.”

Jordan pinpoints the dual importance of the element of time for wine enthusiasts. First, one needs to wait until a particular vintage is at its prime drinking period to enjoy and appreciate it most. Second, buying an extraordinary wine at peak drinkability means paying peak prices. So it behooves the oenophile with a predilection for single vintage Champagne (for example) to buy young, and…wait. Thus, a collection is born.

It makes fiscal and investment sense to buy a wine you like when it is younger and more affordable. In addition to older wines, many auction houses and specialty wine shops also include younger vintages that still need a few more decades to mature, and that you just might have your eye on for your cellar.

 

Educate your palate

 

There is no shortage of opinion in the world about the “best wines,” so how can you focus?

Edouard Bourgeois, Wine Director of Pressoir.wine, advises, “Buy what YOU like, rather than simply hunting for the highest scoring wines. When you discover a new wine you enjoy, snap a picture of the label, and ask your trusted local wine store, sommelier or consultant for help. Developing and discovering your palate is very important because both the quality of wine and an individual’s pleasure in tasting it are very subjective.”

Passionate oenophiles also enjoy the social aspect of wine connoisseurship: attending tastings, developing relationships with vintners and other collectors, and connecting with somms at their favorite restaurants and wine bars.

You can challenge your mental, memory and olfactory sensibilities—as well as preconceived notions of your taste preferences—by participating in a blind tasting, a wine world equivalent of a favorite parlor game.

“Many of us—even professionals—have certain expectations or preconceived opinions when we drink wines with certain labels,” Edouard admits. “Therefore, blind tastings are an important experience for focusing your senses. They force us to be honest and pay attention. For example, in a recent blind tasting of Rhone wines I participated in, I was surprised to discover that I gave my two highest scores to producers I don’t usually drink. It was an eye-opening experience.”

 

Cellar focus and protection

 

With an astute sense of your personal taste, you now are ready to start your wine collecting adventure. Jordan shares three pieces of advice from his own experience:

  • Focus in regions you love
  • Buy wines meant for aging. Cellar space is precious; use it wisely!
  • Buy in quantity (6-12 bottles)

He explains: “Rather than buying a few bottles of all different wines, it’s best to focus on the major regions you love. Being focused in your buying—whether it’s wines from Barbaresco, Champagne, or Madeira—helps/encourages your favorite retailers to seek out and save for you the kinds of hard-to-get wines that make your collection personal and expressive. Also, part of the joy of a cellar is tracking the evolution of wines over time. With only 2-3 bottles of a particular wine, you’ll likely run out before you get to enjoy it at its prime.”

So, how do you protect all of these cases of fragile lovely fermented grape juice that you may incubate for the next decade? There are three cardinal rules to create an environment suitable for storing wine:

  • Maintain a steady temperature, ideally at 55 degree Fahrenheit (12 °C)
  • Choose a dark, odor-free environment
  • Keep humidity stable, ideally around 70%

Your refrigerator, for instance, is not a good location for long-term wine storage. Despite being cold, it has very low humidity, which puts the cork at risk for drying out.

Another important way to protect your liquid investments is to insure them properly. The case of Yellow Tail Shiraz you have for the neighborhood BBQ is easily replaced at a modest price—but what about the case of 2015 Echezeux you bought to commemorate your child’s birth year and hope to drink together in twenty one years? That is a special investment worth protecting.

Most people opt to insure their wine collection with blanket coverage at an amount approximate to the average value of their cellar. In addition to a total limit for the collection, it also considers a limit for any individual bottle. Imagine you have a collection worth $100,000 at your home cellar, and your most expensive bottle is $8,000. You might select a blanket limit of $100,000 with a maximum per-bottle value of $10,000. This means that in the event of a covered loss, such as a flooded cellar, the insurance policy would pay the market price to replace each affected bottle, up to $10,000 per bottle—ensuring that the toast at your child’s future birthday celebration can remain just as festive. With that kind of peace of mind, your neighbor’s glass—and your own—just might start looking even more than half-full.

Katja Zigerlig is Vice President, Art, Wine + Collectibles Advisory at Berkley One (a Berkley Company).

To learn more about Berkley One’s collectibles coverage for wine, visit us here.

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