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Starting a wine collection may sound daunting; however, many wine lovers already have begun collecting wine without fully realizing it, simply by putting a few bottles aside to enjoy in the months ahead. It would be easy to expand on that, except for one hazard: not all wines improve with age. 

I learned this the hard way. After trying wine in my 20s, I took a couple cases with me when moving from California to the Midwest. Like most wine novices, I assumed my bottles would improve with age, but several years later, they had become undrinkable.

Why do some wines improve with age by developing greater depth and integration, while other wines become worse? Two keys are the wine itself and how the wine is stored.

Wines for Collecting

Most wines are made for drinking within a year or two. When picking out wines to age longer, focus on their tannins and acidity.

Tannins are most apparent in such red wines as Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Petite Sirah. When tannins are strong, they seemingly coat the mouth. If you’ve accidentally bitten into a grape seed, you know what tannins taste like. 

Acidity is the sharpness that makes wines crisp and lively. It is readily evident in reds such as Chianti (Sangiovese), whites such as Sauvignon Blanc and good sparkling wines.

Although red wines are a safer bet for aging (thanks to their tannins), don’t ignore white wines, especially those from the Alsace region of France and the Collio region of Italy, and take special note of dessert wines such as Sauternes. Hint: half bottles are a godsend for beginning collectors.

Storage Conditions

The biggest enemies of wine are air, heat and light. Always store bottles on their side to keep corks moist. This prevents air from contacting the wine. 

As for heat and light, never store wine in a kitchen. Instead, use the coolest, darkest room available, ideally a place with little daily or seasonal temperature variation. 

Cellars can be ideal, but a cool closet or space below a stairwell can work, especially with added insulation.

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Getting Started

When beginning to collect wines, don’t purchase large numbers of expensive bottles. Instead, begin with a few mid-priced wines so mistakes aren’t overly costly. 

Staff at wine stores and wine bars can suggest wines for collecting and storing. But if you can identify tannins and acidity in wine, begin on your own with a few wines you’ve enjoyed. Buy three or four bottles of a wine and open one every year or so, noting whether you enjoy it more as it ages. Then expand as your interest, budget, space, storage conditions and patience allow. 

Here are two wines for starters:

Wedell 2009 Pinot Noir “Wavertree, San Luis Obispo County” ($25): This Pinot has a lot going for it, including attractive acidity and modest tannins, but cellaring has potential to improve its integration (and provide a wonderful bargain).

Gallo 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon “Signature Series, Napa Valley” ($40): I liked everything about this Cab, including the refreshing acidity, but thought it was a bit tannic. Cellaring should soften the tannins, making the wine even more enjoyable.

John Vankat’s Pine Wine appears every month and his Wine Pick of the Week is published every Wednesday. Unless otherwise noted, all wines can be ordered from local wine stores, although prices may vary. John can be reached at azpinewine@yahoo.com.

Wine Pick: Mazzoni 2011 Pinot Grigio “Toscana, Italy” ($20)

This offering from Tuscany is serious Pinot Grigio. It features stunningly beautiful, deep-gold color followed by bold flavors, fine balance and a prolonged finish. Pair with flavorful dishes such as poultry with a savory sauce. 

Ask your favorite store to order this wine for you. Prices may vary.

— John Vankat, Daily Sun wine writer

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