How to Start a Wine Collection, By the World's #1 Wine Expert
The world's best sommelier, Arvid Rosengren advises how to best appreciate the fruits of your labor.
If your idea of a wine expert is whichever one of your friends tends to scan a menu without a furrowed brow, allow us to introduce you to Arvid Rosengren. Named the World's Best Sommelier in April 2016, the Swedish native is officially the smartest man on the planet when it comes to mankind's oldest beverage (and perhaps today's most intimidating). The wine director of Charlie Bird restaurant in New York City, Rosengren runs the consulting company King Street Sommeliers, which advises top-flight collectors on the best bottles to add to their cellars. If you're considering starting a serious collection — and why not; there are few more satisfying fruits of one's labor — we secured his advice below:
How to get started
- Seriously consider why you're starting a collection. Is it to be able to drink mature wine, as an investment or to set future generations up with a wine cellar? This will dictate what kind of wine to buy. If you're buying to drink in the short term, maybe Bordeaux en primeur isn't for you, since you won't have access to the wines for a few years, and even then, they won't be in a mature stage for another 10 to 20.
- If you're buying mature wine, be careful to do research into provenance and price history. It might be wise to employ the help of someone with those kinds of insights.
- If you're doing it for investment's sake, don't! At least not without employing some professional help. As a consumer you likely do not have the knowledge or the market access to even be able to source the kinds of wines that are seen as commodities.
- Make sure storage facilities are in order, either professional or have a cold, fairly humid cellar built in your house.
- Diversify and explore your palate! I see cellars that are too one-dimensional all the time, and when I take on private clients the first step is almost always to purge their cellars of all the junk they thought they liked at one point but now can't stand.
Five bottles to start with
Here are some blue-chip wines that are, despite the price tags, usually safe buys; ageworthy (not released unless the quality is there in a certain vintage), sought after without being too rare and inaccessible — and goddamn delicious.
Krug Vintage (Champagne, France)
Luxurious and impressive in youth, broad and luscious with age. Always a safe bet and a very ageworthy champagne.
Egon Müller Scharzhofberger Riesling (Mosel, Germany)
Wine aristocracy. Fantastic, ageworthy Rieslings, in a range of sweetness levels, the lighter are easier to access young, the really sweet Eisweins and TBAs last over a lifetime, and cost thereafter)
J.L Chave, Hermitage (Rhône, France)
Another "royal" wine family (proven track record since 1481!), and the producers of the greatest Syrah-based wines in the world.
Domaine Dujac Gevrey Chambertin 1er Cru "Malconsorts" (Burgundy, France)
One of the best and most sought-after domains in Burgundy. Their 1er Cru Malconsorts is a standout wine, just below the level of their Grands Crus.
Giacomo Conterno Barolo Riserva "Monfortino" (Piemonte, Italy)
Primus inter pares in Barolo. Prepare to lay this down for a while and let it blossom out slowly into one of the most beautiful wine experiences possible.
Three essential accessories
- Invest in short-term storage (let's say a 50- to 100-bottle wine refrigerator with a diverse selection of drinkable wine) and a long-term storage (a cellar or professional storage).
- Good glasses are imperative but you don't need 10 different types. I love the Zalto range (go for the Universal and the Bordeaux — that covers 95% of all wines), Gabriel Glas has many proponents, as do the top lines from Riedel and Spiegelau.
- The Coravin Wine Access accessory lets you taste wines without pulling the cork, and it holds the wine relatively fresh in the short term (there have been mixed experiences here, but it's likely to depend more on the health of the cork). It's a good tool to explore your palate and the state of your aging wine, especially if you're in a smaller household and don't want to open a fancy bottle or two every day just for yourself.