Why Collect Wine?
One of the best reasons to collect wine (I’ll save the best for last) is because if you don’t, someone else will. Which is to say – and on the assumption that every bottle of wine good enough to collect will eventually be sold – there is a finite number of any particular bottle of wine, and if you don’t buy it, that same someone else will.
So now you own that bottle of wine. But owning is not collecting. Few bottles of wine are – or should be – collected, because they should be drunk quickly and, one hopes, rewardingly. Most wines are not meant to be kept around until their labels are obscured by dust.
It has become a cliché that most wines are meant to be drunk young, for their fruit and their youthful charm. But the rest – and there are plenty of these – may be collected.
Collecting is accumulating. Most of us accumulate things. T-shirts. Handbags. Books (or we used to, pre-Kindleization). Corkscrews. But few things we collect are as intransigent as bottles of wine and few change for the better as do the wine in those bottles.
The essence of wine collecting is the holding of something precious for the purpose of experiencing it when it is more precious. Precious here doesn’t mean more valuable in a monetary sense, though there are people who collect wine in order to sell it, or at least some of it, in the future. Precious here means better, more delectable, more valuable as an experience (not as an investment).
One of the great compensations of being a wine collector is the knowledge that as you grow older, so does your wine. And even if you are not improving (in strength, health, mobility, mental acuity), your wine is.
It lies below you (in your cellar, I mean), mocking time, which is a virtually impossible thing for aging people to do. The aging process may make weaklings of us all, but for collectible wine it is a boon and a blessing.
Collected, aging wines are, for the collector, his or her unimpeded future, an improvement in the quotidian slog and a memory of both the wine’s youth and the collector’s (for you will always have acquired it when you were younger than you are when you drink it).
Yes, drink it. Collecting a wine without eventually drinking it is like falling in love without ever expressing that love. There is little more pathetic than the image and idea, never mind reality, of a person who enjoys a great bottle of wine while alone.
Which brings us, finally, to that aforementioned best reason to collect wine. And that is to give it away. Not to one’s heirs, though it is common enough among wine collectors to say that a wine they’ve bought today will not be ready to drink until they are long gone and so they hope their kids will appreciate it.
To give your wine away is to share something you’ve treasured and — in the very act of having kept it — collected and nurtured. You gather to you someone, or many someones, and you open what you hope it a good, a great bottle, of wine. You pour it into the glasses around you. You smell it, taste it, smile at it, you gaze into its color. And you then gaze at the people with you, who, if you are lucky and have been wise in having bought this wine long ago and collected it until this moment, gaze back at you with pleasure.
First published February 2015