How to Select the Right Wines for Your Wine Cellar

by | 9 May, 2019 | Innovations In Wine Cellar Design | 0 comments

Summit Wine Cellars designed the wine displays for The Wine Connection in Pound Ridge, N.Y., which is a great source of fine wines to simply enjoy, and wines for collectors to put in their wine cellar.


Developing and nurturing a love of wine is a progression. In the discovery phase you work out personal preferences and explore different grape varieties, regions, and specific terroir. At some point, most of us are smitten by a specific wine, perhaps a red or white Burgundy, an older Bordeaux, a noble Italian gem, or an ebullient New World offering.

Then we start buying more of what we like, first a bottle or two for dinner—and before long cases. Our lists of preferred wines grow, the cases start to accumulate, and soon it’s time for a climate-controlled space in which to store the wine, or even better, a gorgeous wine cellar.

Summit Wine Cellars and owner/designer Fred Tregaskis are here to help, but proper storage and display of fine wines is only part of the wine collecting equation. You need a strategy for purchasing wines, a personally-tailored program, in order to build the right kind of cellar.

Not all are collections for the cellar follow the same guidelines. A Wine Spectator story on buying strategies breaks down four principal types of collections this way:

  • The Balanced Cellar involves a mixture of vintages, prices and drink windows;
  • the Instant-Gratification Cellar focuses exclusively on fine wines that are ready to drink right away;
  • the Tasting Cellar is constructed as a learning tool;
  • and the Investment Cellar focuses on profit potential.

All of those approaches have appeal, and each implies specific characteristics to guide the process of collecting. An Instant-Gratification Cellar can’t be too large or there’s a risk of wines pushing past their optimal drinking window—and you have to constantly replenish the cellar with “drink now” new vintages and/or seek out older wines at their peak, which can get expensive. Both the Tasting Cellar and Investment Cellar, meanwhile, will potentially have wines that might not be your favorites; in one case you’re trying them in order to learn more, and in the other case the wines are there because eventually they’ll have great value for a broker, private buyer, or buyer at auction.

Ben Wallace, the owner of the Cellaraiders, a fine and rare wine broker that sources and stocks older wines, offers cautionary warnings about two mistakes he sees people make when they start collecting wine for a wine cellar, and avoiding these mistakes:

  • Buying wines they have never tried based on critics reviews. How do you know you will like the wine and now you just bought a case of it, and if you have bought age-worthy stuff, are you prepared to cellar something for 10 years until it becomes mature only to find out you don’t like the wine? I tell people to buy a bottle of the same wine but off vintage—not a bad vintage but a vintage that is not particularly age worthy, so you can get an idea of what a developed wine from this property is all about. Then go out and buy a case of wine to lay down if you like the “off vintage” example.
  • Buying only the great vintages. So now all your wine needs 10-20 years of aging, what are you going to drink now, 3 years from now, 5 years from now? Stage your cellar, buy stuff for different drinking windows. Don’t buy just the “great” vintages.

In terms of other helpful advice, Wallace has these recommendations:

  • Go to wine tastings. Try everything, Rhone, Barolo, Petit Syrah, Mouvedere, see what floats your boat. If you can afford it, go to small sit-down tastings where for $200-$1000 you can try $1000-$10,000 worth of wine (if you bought a bottle of each, that is what it would cost you to try all the wines poured.) On this score, wait until your palate is good enough to discern nuances of complex wine.
  • Forget the bulls***—and other words. Yes, wine can smell like a “barnyard” and a “wet saddle blanket,” or like cedar and anise, but really are you going to buy on the basis of this?

One universal piece of advice for emerging and evolving collectors is to connect with a trusted wine broker or wine shop, and work with them in trying new wines and establishing a buying profile. As Wallace says in a Cellaraiders website post, echoing collectors’ wisdom, building a cellar collection doesn’t have to be expensive.

The Wine Spectator’s Top 100 of 2018 list, for example, is seasoned with cellar-worthy wines, such as #8, Le Vieux Donjon Châteauneuf-du-Pape, which will “age wonderfully.” At roughly $70 a bottle it’s a good buy among wines for the cellar. Château Branaire-Ducru, the red Bordeaux from St.-Julien, is an even better buy at $58 a bottle. Meanwhile, Food & Wine magazine’s most recent column on wine cellar classics presents 2013 Coudoulet de Beaucastel Rouge ($34) as a worthy alternative to a wine like Château de Beaucastel’s benchmark Châteauneuf-du-Pape, which costs more $100 a bottle.

If California Cabernet is your passion, Decanter magazine recently took a look at the best Napa Cabs, including top cellar-worthy wines. If you prefer a global view and favor smaller, less discovered estates, Kermit Lynch has an annual “Stock Your Cellar Sale.” A look back at the 2018 version gives a sense of the wines typically available.

Whatever you stock your cellar with, take the advice of Michael Fahey, a polymathic wine lover who has conducted European wine tours and helps clients on Nantucket and elsewhere manage collections. “If people buy wines they really love, check in on them,” he says, rather than simply waiting for the drinking prime predicted by a ratings publication. “If people read too much, it can be a negative in terms of their pleasure.” Open a bottle periodically “to see where it stands,” he says, and you’ll avoid the risk of missing the prime.

Another strong recommendation from Fahey: “Have an area in the wine cellar that’s a mix of great wines to try. Have a strategy where you get whimsical and have secret wines that cost very little.”



Summit Wine Cellars, LLC, (https://summit-cellars.com) offers one-stop expertise as a complete wine cellar contractor guiding both residential and commercial clients from concept and consultation through wine cellar design, fabrication and installation. Owner/designer Fred Tregaskis creates dramatic custom wine cellars for fine homes, restaurants, hotels and wineries throughout the world.

To learn more about Summit Wine Cellars, LLC, contact Summit Wine Cellars by email at info@summit-cellars.com, or by phone at 203-916-1664.



Leave a Reply


Sign up for Our Newsletter