Build a Wine Cellar Collection

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You’re embarking on building a wine cellar and purchasing wine for the space. It can be daunting, but not as difficult as you might think. First, you need a designated space to store your collection as it grows. “Building a wine cellar is critical to maintaining correct temperature/humidity and ensure proper storage of your investment,” explains Tom Flickinger of Flickinger Fine Wines, an online wine merchant based in Wilmette. “Storing wine in a basement closet just doesn’t cut it long term; it accelerates the aging of your wine. A cellar can also add to the value of your resale.”

One professional source to build a wine cellar is NEFF of Chicago, a world-renowned supplier of luxury cabinetry located in the Chicago Merchandise Mart. With the growing demand for wine cellars, these designs have become one of NEFF’s specialties. Owner Pat Borg says, “NEFF’s Wine Room system provides the ultimate presentation vehicle for wine, especially vintages. It’s available in finishes ranging from old world traditional to bold contemporary.”

To begin procuring your collection as you design a custom wine cellar, you need a roadmap with directions on which wines to buy and how to track the wines you lay down for aging.

“First you need to find a wine merchant,” says Mr. Flickinger. The 52-year-old veteran marketing professional is a long-time wine collector who launched his online shop seven years ago when he began buying and consigning wine collections. Depending where you are on what Mr. Flickinger calls the ‘wine curve’ (wine knowledge/buying sophistication level), a trusted advisor is crucial to help get you started and also advise you as your collection evolves. “I recommend starting with 5-10 cases from different regions – Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhone, Loire, Champagne, Italy Port, Germany, Alsace, South Africa, South America, U.S., et cetera,” says Mr. Flickinger. Taste wines spanning the globe, take notes and discover the regions/grape varieties you prefer.

It’s also important to keep track of what you buy as you build your collection. With multiple options available for tracking wine online (like www.RobertParker.com or www.CellarTracker.com) or by making a spreadsheet filled with details, there’s certainly a system to suit everyone. But ultimately Mr. Flickinger says, “The best software program is the one you keep up and use consistently.” If you keep your collection simple, you’re more likely to maintain it. So be honest with yourself about your time commitment to cellar maintenance.

The best practice for organizing your wine cellar is to have a separate section for everyday wines, as opposed to the gems you acquire for aging. It’s wise to keep this everyday section well stocked to avoid having family and friends inadvertently open your collectible wines. This can avert the dreadful day when that 1961 Chateau Latour goes missing.

Finding vintage wines when building your cellar collection can be tricky. This is where Mr. Flickinger’s collection comes into play. His inventory is close to 80 percent oCircular-Wine-Tower-Extract_Page_1_Image_0001_WEBlder vintages and 20 percent new release, the opposite of most wine retailers. As many collectors will tell you, buying vintage wine can be like rolling dice; you can’t always pick a winner and often, they haven’t been stored properly over the years of aging.

“Proper storage of your collection is essential not only for esthetics, but also for the protection of your wine investment,” says Mr. Borg. “All NEFF [building] materials are ideal for humidity levels associated with wine storage. Urea-formaldehyde-free finishes and California Air Resources Board-rated low emission materials minimize the generation of noxious fumes that can destroy a vintage, while LED lighting eliminates harmful UV rays and temperature fluctuations that may harm fine wines.”

While proper storage is high on Mr. Flickinger’s priority list, he also prides himself on having “every bottle thoroughly checked for its history and current condition before selling it,” offering good value, which can easily be verified though a quick comparison on www.wine-searcher.com.

Worth reiterating: It’s important to start thoughtfully and somewhat slowly, so set aside a budget for wine and stick to it. Don’t think quantity, but focus on the quality to value ratio. Mr. Flickinger suggests finding “wines that are wonderful examples of their region and appellation but also keep their value. Then, you can’t go wrong.”

If all of this still seems like an effort, keep in mind Mr. Flickinger’s top five points to know when stocking a wine cellar:

1. Don’t buy anything less than three bottles.
2. Be sure to maintain a tracking system.
3. Buy what you like and will drink.
4. Don’t be afraid to invest in the wines of Bordeaux and Burgundy.
5. Drink the wine!

So shop, save, sip and don’t forget — wine is for enjoying, not simply stocking away.

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About Laura Levy Shatkin

Laura Levy Shatkin served for 10 years as food and wine critic for the Chicago Reader. Later, she became an Emmy-nominated executive producer for Taste, a 30-minute food and wine show on NBC-5 Chicago, which later merged into www.WineTasteTV.com, where Ms. Levy is a partner/owner. Today, she teaches private wine classes and hosts wine parties for consumers and firms, and continues to tell the video stories of wine, girlfriends and wine travel on her TCW blog, Wine…ing Women.