So you have gotten wine fever…now what?
For years I was “an every once in a while” wine drinker. Sure I liked wine, but I would just as well enjoy Vodka or beer to be quite honest. Then, like most of us that really enjoy wine and have a passion for it, I had a transformation. As the saying goes “There are 8 million stories in the naked city”, well here is my story.
My casual and somewhat erratic wine drinking became a “passion for the nectar of the gods” in September of 2003. My soon to be bride Margie and I journeyed to Paris, France on an adventure and to get married. I rented a tiny 352 sf. apartment in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower, and we spent that evening enjoying my favorite pastime; sitting on a corner Bistro Café sipping wine, talking, and people watching. The next day we packed a bag and drove to a small village by the name of Ducey, not far from Mont St. Michel off the coast of Normandy. There my beautiful wife Margie and I were married.
Yes, I have been accused of being a hopeless romantic at times. And it being both of our second marriages, we decided to spend the money on a dream trip instead of a big wedding that neither of us really wanted. Neither of us spoke more than a few words of French, and with a bad Texas accent I might add. We were excited and nervous about what we would discover when we arrived, but we were in love and were ready for an adventure. It could not have been more exciting and romantic. I rented an incredibly charming room on the river at an Inn that began life in the 15th century as a mill. We were married in a 17th Century Chateau by the Mayor, who happened to be the owner of the Inn. Afterward we had a beautiful dinner in town at Auberge de La Selune, at the time a 2-star Michelin restaurant. We were so happy and in love!
The next day we took toured Mont St. Michel, and then further up the Normandy Coast to visit the D-Day museums where Margie’s Father had survived in the 1944 invasion. Afterward we journeyed back to Paris and our tiny apartment where we explored the ‘City of Lights’, arguably the most beautiful city in the world. Not a bad way to start a marriage wouldn’t you agree?
What we discovered very quickly (ok the first day!) is that wine is three things in France;
2. Available everywhere.
3. Really, really good!
In fact, at the time a bottle of water at a corner bistro was about $8-$10 Euro, and a decent bottle of red wine was about $5-$8 Euro.
Huh…wine is cheaper than water? We quickly huddled together for a ‘family meeting’ and came up with a great game plan to save money…drink wine instead of water whenever we possible!
After an unbelievable week in Paris, we inevitably were forced to travel back home (oh dreaming to have been born an aristocrat…). We had managed somehow that week to keep from drinking 14 bottles of wine, so we carefully wrapped them up in our luggage and brought them back to Texas. But alas, we soon drank all of those and started looking for replacements. This is where I got the Wine Bug. The more I; studied, read, tasted, and enjoyed this incredible thing called wine, the more and more I realized I really didn’t know much at all.
Besides being an occasional hopeless romantic, my other vice is; when I get into anything that I really love I become somewhat obsessed. I read every article on wine, attended every class, cornered every expert I can find and pick their mind, and …research, research, research.
Luckily for all of us that love wine, I am sure you can attest the wine research can be extremely rewarding as you open bottle after bottle and enjoy the contents inside!
Since this enlightenment into the wine world my collection has grown and grown. I have learned a few things in the few years since I started collecting, and perhaps I can offer a few words of advice, that you may get some value from it. Especially if you are just getting started in this wide, wide world of wine and you are considering expanding your collection to more than the 2-3 bottles that you may currently keep on hand for dinner.
What ever you think your bottle count will eventually be, do yourself a favor now and double or even triple it! Allow for future growth. Your tastes and palate will evolve and change through the months and years and you should allow for the changes that will inevitably come.
Consider starting out with a simple 18-52 bottle wine refrigerator that you can find at your local home improvement store. You can also search the internet for great deals. These wine fridges are not expensive, and typically can be found in the range of $200-$800 depending on the size and quality. This is all you need to start. After the 52 bottle range, the price escalates quickly as you move into commercial models, but I would not consider a commercial model unless you plan on 200+ bottles or more collection.
Fun Fact: It is amazing how if you have an empty wine fridge, you will suddenly have the compulsion to stock it!
Bottom line is you will need to store the wine somewhere that is void of: Vibration, bright light, heat, and extreme temperature changes. If you simply do not have room for a wine fridge, then store them in a cool dark place like a seldom used closet or even under the bed. Never store wine on top of your home refrigerator! They vibrate and emit heat; both are very harmful to wine.
Bottles should be stored on the side, making sure to keep the corks moist. A dry cork can allow air to seep into the bottle and cause what is called “corkage”. This will cause the wine to age quickly and oxidize.
WHAT TO COLLECT?
What to keep in your cellar is a very personal issue, and every wine aficionado that I know has a slightly different idea of what the ‘perfect wine cellar’ would be. I would suggest starting with what you like and purchase a couple of extra bottles. Don’t get caught up with only buying 90+ point bottles that a so-called expert is hyping. Use your own judgment and drink what you like.
Question: What is a good bottle of wine?
Answer: A bottle of wine that you enjoy, no matter what the price.
My tastes vary from day to day, and sometimes I don’t know what I am going to pop a cork on until I go to the cellar and it jumps out at me. Other times the food or weather outside will dictate what to open. Most times however I just crave a Pinot Noir or a Cab! Wine and food can be incredible partners, and to truly enjoy this magic you will want to have a variety of different bottles on hand to mix and match to your particular tastes at the time.
If your goal is to have a workable cellar that you will nearly always have what you want or need on hand, I would highly suggest a game plan.
Here is a basic guideline I would start with:
6- Chardonnay; 3 oaked (Sonoma) and 3 un-oaked (Burgundy, Chablis).
4- Sauvignon Blanc; 2 New Zealand and 2 Napa or Sonoma.
4- Sparkling; 2 Champagne and 2 other such as Cava (Spain) or Prosecco (Italian).
2 –Riesling; 1 German and 1 Australian (Great with spicy food!).
2-4 Bordeaux, buy either “off” vintages (2006, ’08, ’11, ’12) and good producers, or lesser known producers in great vintages (2005, ’09, ’10).
2-4 Napa Cabernet Sauvignon. Nothing better with a steak!
6- Italian; 2 Chianti Classico (Sangiovese), 2 Tuscan (blends), 1 Montepulciano, and 1 Barolo, Barbaresco, or Amarone. These are great food wines!
6- Pinot Nior; 2 Burgundy (see Bordeaux guidelines), 2 Sonoma (Russian River or Sonoma Coast), 2 Willamette, Oregon.
4- Syrah (Shiraz); 2 Northern Rhone, 2 Australian.
4- Grenache/Syrah blends (GSM); 2 Southern Rhone (Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, Vacqueyras), 2 from Australia, or Garnacha from Spain.
Everyone will differ on the exact bottles and even varities, but I believe this is a great beginning wine collection. You can grow it from this point!
Remember; don’t believe you have to spend big bucks on each bottle. Search for the steals, and when you find one…tell others about it! If I learned one thing from this odyssey with wine over the years, it is that spending ridiculous amounts on a single bottle of wine is just not necessary.
Befriend the owner or manager at your local wine shop, and ask him for suggestions on great buys. Join a wine group that meets a couple of times per month. Go to wine tastings whenever you can. Most of all find out what kinds of wine you like best and fill your collection with things you and your friends like and ‘want to drink’, not what a so-called wine expert put a high score on.
I hope you enjoyed reading this jaunt down memory lane as much as I did, and you got something you can use in your own wine journey. Please let me know your thoughts in the comment section!
Happy hunting and Salud!