THE COLLECTORS : The Art of Not Collecting Wine


A spacious cellar full of noble bottles is a fine object of contemplation. Unfortunately, it is not entirely practical, nor, as I began to discover a generation ago, entirely satisfying. Possessiveness is one thing, enjoyment of wine another. Having reached the much-desired point of being able to open an old bottle of, say, Chateau Mouton Rothschild whenever the spirit moved, I was surprised to realize that it didn’t move all that often. Increasingly the hand reaching for the old Mouton would dart off and seize a stripling Zinfandel or sprightly Beaujolais.

Grand dinners with imposing processions of great wines are splendid in their way, but, like coronations, lose their force if too frequently repeated.

Three basic factors have changed drastically since I began to collect a cellar. First, wines are enormously more costly, especially the famous. Second, wines are made to be drinkable early; they neither need nor can they profit from long aging. Third, interest rates are much higher; when I began collecting wine, my mortgage was 4 1/2%. Wines that I bought for less than $20 a case were Chateau Calon-Segur 1945, Chateau Lynch-Bages 1949, and BV Private Reserve Cabernet 1951. They were not special bargains. The cellar book shows hundreds of similar wines. It made good sense to buy such wines, drink them freely and to keep a few bottles for 20 or 30 years to see what would happen.


The other day I opened my last bottle of Martin Ray La Montana Cabernet, non-vintage, but bottled in 1946. It was very feeble, but still true to the fine vineyard from which it came and of good color. I might have been a little upset if it had cost $50 a bottle, but I paid $16 a dozen. It was fun to try out all sorts of things at small risk. During the ‘50s I put down various Ficklin Ports, both vintage and non-vintage, and watched them move gracefully into their 30s. The 1951 Touriga, though quite brown and heavily crusted, is sweet and clean and still displays the remarkable personality of that grape.

No one can usefully advise on building a cellar, any more than choosing a spouse. One has to consult his own tastes and interests, then take the plunge.