How to Build a Home Wine Collection

A couple of months ago, we did a post on How to Stock a Home Bar in Two Parts. We laid out an easy blueprint of follow for stocking an impressive bar on any budget, and steered clear of the shortcomings in most bar-stocking advice. One thing we mentioned then, that most writers on the subject neglect, is that wine does not belong on the bar. It belongs on the wine rack, separate from the bar.

Looking at an empty wine rack waiting to be filled can be an intimidating thing. We’ve found that when stocking the bar, the basic process is to stock one of each staple and then add and upgrade over time. A wine collection requires a bit of a different strategy though. For one thing, there’s just too much wine out there. A bar can be fairly comprehensive, but without a sizable cellar you can’t even begin to sample all of the wine in the world at once. Another key difference is that wine disappears much, much faster than liquor once it’s opened. That bottle of Cognac might last you a few years with nip here and a taste there… but a bottle of wine is gone the same day it’s opened.

A visual approximation of the wine cellar at the Chophouse.

In stocking the bar, we recommended that you first decide how many bottles your bar will encompass and pursue your buying strategy accordingly. The same holds true with wine. Our own rack is a Sloane model from Crate and Barrel, which is designed with storage for 15 bottles. We usually keep about 3 bottles on top as well, so we’re going to use 18 bottles in this example. 18 Bottles gives a little more variety, and represents 1 1/2 cases of wine.

Of 18 storage slots, we keep three of them filled with specialty wines. We like to keep on hand a bottle of Sake, a bottle of tawny port, and a bottle of Champagne. You never know when a dinner guest might drop by with sushi… and stay for mimosas in the morning. It’s best to be prepared.

Of the remaining 15 slots, we recommend dividing those up into threes. If you’re sharing wine with guests, you’ll need more than one bottle to ensure that there’s enough for everyone to be drinking the same thing. If you’re drinking alone and find a bottle you like, it’s better to have two more on hold than to have to go back to the store and find it again. With our decided preference for red wines over white, we elect to dedicate 9 of those slots to reds, and only 6 to whites. You may be the opposite, or may drink one or the other exclusively, in which case you’d adjust your ratio accordingly.

There are 12 bottles in a case of wine. We recommend buying wine by the half case or splitting a case in half. Most wine shops will give you a discount of 10-20% for buying 12 or more bottles, and some will give a smaller discount for buying six. Buying six of a variety at a time may not be ideal for your weekly paycheck, but it has the distinct advantage of allowing you to have your cake and eat it too. By drinking 3 bottles and keeping the other three, you’ll slowly be able to fill your rack with a selection of wines that’s big enough to provide variety, but small enough that you can be intimately familiar with each label. For the novice, continuing to buy and drink in this manner will allow you think and talk intelligently about a few wines right away, and over the course of time will enable you to actually learn quite a bit about grape varieties and growing regions, in a way that drinking one bottle or glass at a time never could.