Xpeditr’s Guide to Advanced Wine Collecting Part 1

1: Calculating Your Needs

Master Sommelier John Szabo presents a series of articles offering practical advice on building a wine cellar as a source of personal enjoyment and investment. One of six parts.

This is a wine cellar
Wine collectors should consider carefully how much wine they need.  (Courtesy CellArt)

Collecting wine can be both enjoyable and profitable. There are, of course, more sensible and thoughtful ways to go about it in order to maximize that pleasure and/or profit. It’s not just about buying more wine than you could reasonably consume over a few months — but that’s how it starts.

Over the next few posts I’ll share are the things to consider when the wine bug hits you, covering how to calculate how much wine you should buy, establishing a buying strategy, proper cellaring conditions to ensure optimal development, buying wine as an investment, home cellars vs. wine fridges vs. professional storage warehouses, and other helpful tips along the way.

Part One: Calculating Your Needs

First, and crucially, it’s important to consider how much wine you should be purchasing. I’m referring to the number of bottles more than the total value — that number is up to each individual collector. The biggest misstep I see collectors make is buying too much wine, some of which invariably slips past its best-before date before you get to it. It’s like having a fridge full of rotting vegetables. A shame for the wine, and money down the drain.

To give you some perspective on what you’re getting into, especially if you are planning to collect as an investment, consider a recent survey of 232 international collectors from 36 countries published by Liv-ex, a UK-based company that tracks fine wine data. According to this survey, the average collection of wine partly or entirely for investment purposes contains 2,631 bottles worth around $650,000 US.

Nearly half of those surveyed owned between 100 and 1,000 bottles, and more than a quarter owned from 1,000 to 5,000 bottles. A small percentage own over 10,000 bottles, while only 13 percent own fewer than 100 bottles. So, once you’re in, you’re statistically likely to own more than 100 bottles. And most likely to accumulate more than 1,000 bottles if you intend for your collection to be a genuine investment with risks spread over many “asset classes,” that is, different wines.

In terms of value, you can expect your collection to grow to be worth more than $150,000; or more than $1 million if you join the top third. Thus, the stakes are high, making a strategy critical to success.


>> Protect your collection: Xpeditr’s temperature controlled vehicles are designed for national and international shipping, ensuring your valuable collection is safe on its journey. 


Collecting for Pleasure
Assuming you are building a collection principally geared for enjoyment, what and how much you buy should logically depend on how much you consume, and what you like to drink. And again, over-buying is wasteful. I’d rather buy fewer cases of higher end wine instead of heaps of less expensive wine that probably won’t last as long. Remember: buying wine can be addictive.

Calculate Your Consumption
Start by roughly calculating the number of bottles consumed in your household in a year (I’m not your doctor, you can be honest). Start with the average number of bottles per week, and then pad that number to account for festive periods when consumption is higher, and consider annual parties, anniversaries, gifting and anything else that adds to that number. Don’t include wines you drink at restaurants or at a friend’s (unless you’re bringing the wine).


>> Inventory services: Xpeditr’s team includes professional sommeliers who can help you catalog your wine collection.

Style Considerations
Then, reflect on what styles of wine you tend to drink. Do you like to start a meal with champagne or sparkling wine? Do you go straight to red, or enjoy a glass of crisp white beforehand? How often do you really drink port or sweet wine?

Lastly, give some consideration to bottle formats. Most experts agree that magnums (1,500 ml) are the ideal size for long-term ageing. Formats larger than this will age even more slowly. These can be impressive sights; nothing says “festive” like pulling out a three- or six-liter bottle. The question is, how often do these festive occasions come around? I find that I have few opportunities to open big bottles. Even with large gatherings, I prefer to share more standard 750 ml bottles and serve guests smaller glasses of a greater number of wines over the course of an evening as opposed to two or three glasses of the same wine. Wine, for me, is all about discovery and diversity. But I know many collectors who swear by large format bottles and have no shortage of occasions to pull them out. How about you? Don’t forget you’ll have to allow for additional storage space for these in the cellar.

And a note on half (375 ml) bottles: These are great for dinners for two (or one), but wines in small bottles age more rapidly so are not suited to long-term cellaring.

These are some of the basic questions I ask my private clients before putting together a collecting strategy, tied naturally to the more specific types and origins of their preferred wines.

Here’s what a basic profile might look like:

Annual consumption: 150–200 bottles, mostly 750 ml
10% sparkling, mainly champagne
20% white, mostly old world, especially white Burgundy.
70% red, mainly French and Italian, Burgundy, Bordeaux, Rhône, Barolo, Brunello

Take a moment to create your personal profile.

Next Up…
Part 2: Formulating a Buying Strategy