Many people who enjoy wine will have at some time or another have thought about starting a wine collection or ‘having a wine cellar’ as its more commonly referred to. The thought of pulling a bottle from an older vintage no longer available in the shops or a never-heard-of-before wine you managed to pick up on a visit to Greece or Portugal and sharing with friends over a convivial dinner is something most wine lovers fantasise about.
Perhaps your idea of a wine collection is a rack of twelve bottles in the kitchen, or perhaps you prefer to view wine as a potential investment. After all, if you had bought a bottle of Chateau Lafite 1982 you would have paid just over £30 per bottle at the time, but it is now approaching £5000 – a massive increase, making property or investing in shares look paltry.
Realistically, few have the disposable income to gamble on wine, but if you do, then
professional advice and storage (now available here through Gibraltar Vault) are essential. For the rest of us, a little bit of planning and taking the trouble to search out suitable wines for a modest collection should prove a highly enjoyable experience. Having mature wines which have gained in complexity and interest can be very satisfying – something I can personally vouch for.
It is something most wine lovers fantasise about.
Gibraltar’s weather, ideal for lounging on the beach in summer, is disastrous for storing wines. Heat kills wine which should ideally never go above 16°C. That’s not to say that keeping a few bottles under the stairs for consuming in the short term is not feasible, but for the longer term some sort of cooler or wine storage cabinet is essential. At home I would go for an electric wine cabinet where individual bottles can be kept at 16°C or below but ready should you need to open a bottle at short notice.
Wine cabinets come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. My preferred option would be a cabinet with a capacity of around 100 to 200 bottles but should you require more then I would advise to combine this with professional storage of full cases as building your own cellar is not only expensive, but will require all year-round cooling and humidity control even if underground. A 200 bottle Liebherr wine cabinet will set you back just over 1000 euros, though they regularly come on the second-hand market in Spain for around 600 euros or less. Perhaps not cheap but should last for years as unlike a fridge, they have no motor or moving parts. Wine cabinets also keep bottles in the dark with no vibrations – essential to long term wine storage.
Assuming you have decided on a 100 to 200 bottles cabinet, what wines should you now go for? Clearly this is a personal choice, but assuming mature wines is what we are after, the bulk of wines should be those with ageing potential which will improve year by year. You may also want wines for the medium term and certainly a few bottles for immediate consumption.
Gibraltar’s weather is disastrous for storing wines.
You may also want wines from different countries; perhaps iconic examples such as Chateau Musar from Lebanon, which afford exceptional value for money and will last and improve for decades. Take your time stocking up your cellar, look out for bargains which seem to appear regularly at our local wine merchants and do your homework by consulting sites like Cellar Tracker which is free and have millions of wines and wine ratings by regular wine lovers.
So as an example, here is my wish list for a 100 to 200 bottle wine collection:
This is a must. It’s one of the great wines of the world affording exceptional value for money and are very longed-lived. I have tasted many examples from the 40s, 50s and 60s still fresh and vibrant.
Tondonia Reserva Red (Classic Rioja) – Current Vintage on sale is 2004, around £23, a bargain for a 15-year-old wine! Keep for a decade or more.
Tondonia Reserva White – The best white wine in Spain but an acquired taste due to its oxidative nature. Current vintage on sale 2000 around £23.
Tondonia Gravonia White – Around £13. As far removed from supermarket Sauvignon Blanc as its possible to get.
Cune – Another classical Rioja winemaker. All the Cune range are worthy of collecting, they offer astounding value for money. I would be looking at their Reservas (around £14). Gran Reservas (around £16) and their Imperials both Reservas and Gran Reservas (£22 to £42).
All these wines should improve with age.
I have found that Priorato red wines age extremely well. After a few years the wines transform into something rather special. Well worth waiting for. Can be pricey. I would aim to have half a dozen bottles, at least, for the long term. I wish I had bought more. Do your homework before you buy.
It’s really worthwhile ageing champagne. After a few years the wine will acquire extremely attractive notes of ripe apples and show a richness and complexity which is just not there when young. Mature champagne is fashionable and expensive but not if you mature your own.
Both Vintage and non-vintage will improve with age. Widely available here. Try Bollinger, Lanson, Laurent Perrier, Krug (expensive!), Ruinart and many others. All will taste better after a few years in your cellar. Don’t bother with Moet & Chandon which relies more on image than quality and certainly keep away from Spanish Cava or Proseccos. They are fine for casual drinking but not for a cellar.
Ribera del Duero
Not a region I admire hugely. Wines tend to be jammy, ultimately simple and lacking in interest. Judging by some friends of mine it seems more difficult to give up than tobacco but those that do never look back. Some good examples do exist like the venerable Vega Sicilia or their second wine Valbuena. Go for it if you can afford it and want to impress guests.
French Reds and Whites
A must in any good cellar. France still produces the best wine in the world. Their red Bordeaux’s, unapproachable when young, can turn into very special wines given time. Top Bordeaux is expensive but ‘lesser’ wines can still be almost as good. Gibraltar is not the best place to buy Bordeaux but The Cellar in Irish Town are trying hard to get us to go ‘French’. Pay them a visit, then do your homework, then buy! Frances age-worthy whites can be exceptional but the choice locally is exceedingly limited.
Red Burgundy is now so expensive few people can afford to drink fine examples. In my wine group we all have good stashes of Burgundy-bought when it was affordable, proving it makes sense to start a cellar as soon as you can! If you can’t get hold of Burgundy, mature Rioja is almost identical except for its distinctive vanilla notes from Rioja’s American oak barrels.
Germany is still hounded by its disastrous wine laws designed to confuse the consumer, hard to understand labels, and industrial quantities of cheap sugary wines. Nevertheless, top notch Rieslings can challenge France’s best at a fraction of the price. Few white wines have the ageing potential of German Rieslings which will last decades. Note the interplay of sweetness and acidity. Heavenly! These wines are the Desert Island wines of many wine experts. Soon to be discovered by millionaires I am told. Do your homework and buy, buy, buy!
No cellar would be complete without a few bottles of vintage port. The wines geek’s sweet wine par excellence. Vintage port one of the cheapest and easiest ports to produce is the most expensive with consumers expected to age the wine in bottle! Nevertheless, it’s a must. Vintage Port is widely available in Gibraltar but will not be at its best for 20 years more. Drink Late Bottled Vintage Port whilst you wait!