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Five Steps Beginners Guide to Wine Collecting

With the 2014 grape harvest season behind us, we look at how to collect wine, and share a few tips for wine amateurs.

With the 2014 grape harvest season behind us, we look at how to collect wine, and share a few tips for wine amateurs.

1. Buy en primeur

If you're buying wine as an investment and willing to resell at some stage, concentrate on the big names, as, due to their quality and rarity, this will be what collectors are looking for. Bordeaux is probably still the area that commands most interest for collectors, as vintages are well recorded and the top names are universally recognised, such as the famous 'First Growths' of Châteaux Lafite, Latour, Margaux, Mouton-Rothschild and Haut Brion, Château Cheval Blanc (St Emilion), Château Petrus (Pomerol) and Château d'Yquem (Sauternes). But for those wishing to spend less or perhaps wishing to combine drinking with investing (on the drink one, sell one principal) there is a well-established pecking order for Châteaux below the top flight wines.

One of the best ways to acquire wines for your new 'cellar' is to buy en primeur, which means purchasing wines of each new vintage when first offered by wine merchants before they have even been bottled by the Châteaux. Stick to the large and well known merchants offering this service, as you are investing your money perhaps a year or so before the wines are bottled and shipped. You pay just for the wine at this stage, with the cost of transport, duty and taxes to be paid later. Established merchants with long experience of this process will be very expert at assessing wines whilst still in the cask and will be happy to provide detailed and informative notes, both as to the quality of the vintage and each individual wine, as well as an indication of when each might reach maturity. You will find this most useful for planning when to drink or sell on. Wines bought this way could include quite modest bottles for general drinking through to the very top investment grade wines, but all will benefit from some years of cellaring, though do be careful not to keep the more modest wines too long. Once you have got into the habit of yearly buying en primeur your cellar will eventually have wines at every range of maturity, with young wines being added while mature wines become ready for drinking or selling. If storing the wines yourself make sure the conditions are ideal or else, for a modest annual fee, your wine merchant should be able to offer professional storage.

Buying en primeur has a long established history for French wines, particularly from Bordeaux, Burgundy and Rhône but specialist merchants can provide this service for some wines from other countries. Specialist auction houses and merchants will be a useful source of mature wines to fill the gaps as your cellar starts to grow and can also be an excellent source of tutored tastings to enhance your knowledge and understanding of wines and give you a chance to experience just how fabulous they can be when mature.

2. Check the vintage

A wine's vintage refers to the year in which a particular wine's grapes were harvested. However, it is important to note that some vintages are better than others. This is because wine can be dramatically different from year to year depending on a variety of factors such as weather conditions and harvesting time. It is wise to check out the vintage charts available from the sources below which can give you a good idea of the quality of a specific vintage before purchasing a wine.

- Robert Parker through the publication The Wine Advocate, established in 1978.

- La Revue du Vin de France - A monthly French wine publication dating back to 1927.

- Gault & Millau - An Influential French guide to wines and hotels in France.

3. Store your wine with extreme care

You need to be extremely careful when storing your wine as, not only can the quality of storage affect the value of your wine but improper storage could result in your wine being ruined. This is also an important factor when looking to resell your wine as potential buyers will often ask about your storage conditions and some auction houses will even refuse wines with an uncertain storage history.

The perfect conditions for storing wine are as follows:

- a constant temperature of between 10-14 degrees,

- a slightly damp atmosphere,

- a healthy environment with no mould,

- a dark room which is protected from light,

- a room that is not subject to vibration.

4. Find out the value of your wine

Whether you are buying or selling wine, en primeur or on the secondary market, you need to get an idea of what the fair price to buy or sell is. There will be a number of reasons why certain wines command higher prices than others and these will principally relate to the vineyard name and the vintage, though provenance and storage history can be vitally important. There are several online databases for wine prices (WinePrices, Wine-searcher, etc.). You may also call upon the services of an independent valuation company such as ours which will advise on a prospective purchase or sale. If you are willing to re-sell, you can always contact the major auction houses for a valuation. They will get back to you if your wine doesn't fall below their threshold. Remember to keep all your purchase invoices in a safe place. There are many fakes on the secondary market, and any paperwork confirming the provenance of your wine will be greatly valued when re-selling.

5. Buy and sell at auction

When both buying and selling wine there are a number of factors to look out for to ensure you are making the most out of your investment.

These are as follows:

- Casing: wines coming with their original wooden case are the most desirable.

- Label: labels, capsules and corks have to be in mint condition (condition of label is paramount, but if the provenance is impeccable then soiled labels will probably not detract greatly from the wines' value).

- Wine level: this should be into the bottle's neck. Older wines (25 + years) may well have levels slightly below this. If looking for investment grade wines avoid these, but for drinking these can be well worth looking at if the provenance is good.