We sat down with our CEO here at The Right Drop, Nigel Culshaw, to ask him all the things he wished he knew before building his own personal cellar. We went through all the best advice he has to offer from what to look out for, how to start your selection, building a drinking program and finding value in interesting places.
If you’re in the market to start building your cellar, or you’ve already started your collection and are looking for some tips you may have missed, this will be a great read. So buckle up and enjoy:
The Right Drop:
So, Nigel, let’s start with the first piece of advice you would give to any new wine collector?
Buy what you love. You've got to find your own palate; you have to find what you like. I could recommend 100 different bottles that will all be fantastic...for me. But when you pull them out of the cellar in 10 years time, you might not like them. So, it's really a case of getting to know what you like and building out your collection from there.
Try to understand what you like; whether that's a heavy red, a light red, a Chardonnay or a Riesling - understanding that will be a great help.
Then it’s a case of experimenting.
The Right Drop:
Would that be your second recommendation then? Experimentation?
Yes, exactly. Try a couple of different wines at different price points. Obviously, quality does improve with price but it's not always reflective of a significant change in quality. So, for example you might try some Chardonnays that are $20 apart in price. The $20 increase in price per bottle might not reflect any noticeable change in taste or quality from your perspective, or you might not like the more expensive wine. In a nutshell you might have saved $20 and still have a wine you want to keep and drink.
By and large, as long as the winemaker has paid attention to his winemaking, you can trust that basically the end product will be a quality wine and it should last. But make sure you explore, some winemakers prefer to make wines that are drink now, other winemakers are celebrated for their age worthy wines. Try a couple of different styles, make sure that's the style of that particular variety that you like.
Then experiment with putting them away for a couple of years, seeing how they drink, how they look. When you're buying wines, you're trying to identify ones you think will age well. Unless you got a super deal or know the winemaker well, don’t expect many wines priced under $25 to give you a lot of long term pleasure.
You've got to determine how long you actually want to keep the wines in the first place. For you, aging could be two years, but for other people aging could be 20 years. Wines take on different characters. You know, at a certain point in it’s life, red wine starts to lose a lot of its primary fruit. When it gets to about eight or nine years old it will begin to lose primary fruit and start moving into secondary and tertiary characters which is where the acid, the tannins in the wine and the alcohol actually sort of come into play as having an impact on the flavour of the wine.
Personally, I love wines that are under eight years old. Now I've had some magnificent wines that are over eight years old, and I've had some magnificent wines that are over 20 years old. But the common theme running between them is that they managed to retain their primary fruit.
The Right Drop:
That kind of sounds daunting, having to wait, test and learn. Is there any way you can get a better idea of what you will like after your wine has aged without the risk of wasting years waiting?
Totally. A great idea would be to head to the secondary auction markets. There are several reputable auction markets that will provide you the opportunity to buy aged vintages and actually try something when it is old.
It’s also part of the experiment. Your palate changes over time, so understanding what aged wines taste like (across all varieties for that matter not just the one you love) will help you plan out your cellar and not be stuck with bottles that haven’t moved in line with your palate. It is also a great opportunity to sample different vintages and discover if you notice any comparable differences. Say comparing an 8/10 vintage vs a 10/10 vintage, does your palate observe any noticeable difference?
Diving into wine should be about the adventure. If you're interested in wine you should be interested in all wines, and not just, I'm interested in wine because I love Shiraz. Your palate will change over time, trying and experimenting with everything will get you out in front of that change.
The Right Drop:
Ok, so we now have started to learn about our palate, tested some wines at auction and started to build our cellar. Do you make a plan to drink it or do you approach it more ad-hoc, like on special occasions?
Not so much ad-hoc, it's nice on occasion to pull something random out just to see how it looks but I am a huge advocate (and you will hear me talk about this a lot) of creating a drinking program, it's a must for any collector.
It may not be the most fun part of collecting but a well organised drinking program will help you get the best out of your cellar.
As an example, if you buy a single six pack, picking when the perfect time to drink that wine is as difficult as throwing bullseyes in darts with a blindfold. So you identify a date in the future that you want to start drinking that wine and then after that you want to aim to drink one bottle per year from that first bottle. This will help you learn how it ages and, most importantly, if you decide that a wine has reached its peak in your view then you can drink the rest of the remaining bottles in the pack…maximising your enjoyment. It will also inform an ideal drinking window for the more recent purchases of the same wine that you bought in the following years.
So as a guide, work out how often you want to drink. For example, if you plan to drink a bottle a week, then you should plan to have at least 8-9 cases in your cellar (as a buffer).
The first year, you won’t have any aged vintages, so don’t buy them all at once, spread it out. But very quickly you will start to have a decent collection in the next few years. The saving grace is that I always recommend you taste one within 10 days of buying. This will give you a baseline for what to expect from that wine - and an excuse to pop a cork.
As you build your cellar, you will also be learning what your palate responds to, meaning you can start to buy more of what you like and put it away for another day.
The Right Drop:
Ok, we have started to build a program and we are keeping track of our purchases, only buying what we like, with a little experimentation thrown in there. How do we get a rough idea of the drinking window of your collection?
This is the easy part. There are plenty of wine reviewers that will give you the information you are after and you’ll find winemakers are quite upfront about this sort of thing. It’s part of the art.
Once you have researched and determined your drinking windows, sit down and have some fun with your program, plan it all out and enjoy. Some people use tracking apps, personally I prefer to use a spreadsheet.
The Right Drop:
That’s perfect, Nigel. Some great tips there for anyone looking to build their own cellar. I think to finish it off I wouldn’t mind being a little cheeky and asking, what are your ‘must have’ bottles in your own personal cellar?
Ok, so this is quite personal to me, and I always encourage people to follow their own palate, but here goes:
Ten Minutes by Tractor: Estate Pinot Noir, I am a big fan of all of their wines.
Clonakilla: O'Riada Shiraz for short term cellaring and the Clonakilla Shiraz Viognier for longer term cellaring (at ten years the SV is a thing of beauty).
Nocturne – anything by Nocturne really, Julian Langworthy is a master but if you can get your hands on the SV Cabernet…this is a keeper.
Sailor Seeks Horse Pinot Noir, it’s a beautiful wine that ages well but in our house it tends to disappear quickly.