Tim Atkin | Master of Wine

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6th Dec 2015

How to build a great wine cellar

by Ron Washam

 

You don’t need a lot of money to create a great wine cellar. Any more than you need teeth to recite Shakespeare. Or fingers to go bowling. They just help you to not look and sound stupid doing it. You can begin a wine cellar with very little money, just as you can be a toothless Portia and say, “Nuh qualinee ah mernee ih nah strainuh.” It’s ultimately your humiliation. What do I care if you have a boring, worthless wine cellar? I know a fingerless guy who goes bowling every Tuesday, and has the stubs to prove it.

I own what is widely regarded as the greatest collection of wines in the world. I showed my in-ventory to Christie’s and they valued it at the GNP of Turkey. The country, not the poultry. The GNP of turkey is always down, enough to fill thousands of comforters. In my cellar I have sealed cases of every vintage of every First Growth going back to 1870. I drank all the ’69’s. The Haut-Brion had Brett, while the Latour had Toby. I don’t know who had Archie, but it was probably Lafite. In my cellar I also have multiple vintages of Jayer in large formats—methuselahs, nebu-chadnezzars, and the extremely rare Larrys (large formats are named for ancient Kings). I have cases of every vintage of Grange, with and without the Hermitage. I have cases of Hermitage with and without the Grange. I have cases of halitosis with and without breath mints. I could go on.

So I know what I’m talking about. And I’m here to give you advice on how to create and curate you own world-class wine cellar. But only if you have money. If you aren’t wealthy, don’t waste my time. Wine cellars are for the rich. They’re not for middle class wine enthusiasts. Sure, if you’re financially secure and want to save a few bottles, a few cases, and pretend you have a great wine cellar, don’t let me stop you. Buy a parrot and a ferret and pretend you own a zoo, for all I care. Yes, many wine publications will urge you start your own wine cellar filled with wines that you like from years that have some meaning for you. Isn’t that sweet? Buy a little wine fridge and pretend you’re a wine connoisseur, a tiny little Diet Bill Koch. That’s not what we’re talking about here.

First of all, you need a really large and temperature-controlled place to keep your wine. Mine is in an abandoned prison. I keep the Port in solitary confinement because it’s the most fortified. You’ll want a large space that holds your vast collection and looks cool in various wine publica-tions. It needs to have something dramatic about it, a feature that will impress the poor schmucks who read wine publications. Perhaps the wooden wine racks are made from severely endangered Madagascar baobab trees. Maybe have your cellar designed by a famous archi-tect — Gehry, Koolhaas or Ikea. Employ curvaceous women in cat suits to retrieve wines as you need them. Or, perhaps, fluffy little tabbies in woman suits would be more striking. Be creative. The only reason to have a great wine cellar is to be able to flaunt it in front of the masses. Money buys quirky. The mentally ill get it for free.

The real fun in creating a great wine cellar is acquiring the wines. The first thing to remember is that it doesn’t matter if you like the wines you’re collecting. You’re never going to drink them. You’re going to buy enough great, valuable wines to last you a hundred lifetimes, and you’ve only got this one. Or, with your karma, your next lifetime is going to be as Yoko Ono, a dung Beatle. Drinking wines you’ve spent so much money on is nuts. In reality, they’re not worth what you’re paying for them, and it’s discouraging to experience that by drinking them. You’re buying them to show them off, like you do African orphans. So you don’t need to attend elaborate wine tastings to see what you like to drink. What a waste of time that is. You don’t need to know any-thing about wine to have a great wine cellar! I know dozens of people with amazing wine collec-tions, though none nearly as comprehensive and valuable as mine, and not one of them knows the first thing about wine. They know the labels. But just because you know the lineup of every team in Major League Baseball doesn’t mean you know how to play shortstop. You don’t have to. You can buy those people! This is so obvious. Don’t bother to understand wine, strive to possess as much of it as you can.

The fastest way to build a wine cellar is to buy wines at auction. Unless you have nothing but time on your hands, don’t bother to check into the provenance of the wines you’re bidding on. Yes, there are countless fake wines in auctions these days, but that isn’t important. If the auc-tion houses don’t care, why should you? In fact, often the fraudulent wines look better than the genuine bottles, and, when it comes to wine cellars, appearance trumps authenticity. This is true of most things that cost money, like breasts and politicians. It is estimated, for example, that 80% of the fake bottles of 1949 Cheval Blanc on the market are better looking than the real bottles, though no one is sure which ones are the real bottles. Probably not the ones with the bar codes. Just fill your cellar with famous names and stop worrying about whether the wines are “real” or not. You’ve spent your life lying about your accomplishments, having fake wines in your cellar suits you.

But, you might ask, how will I know which are the great wines to stock my cellar, fraudulent or not? You don’t need to know. You can, instead, go out and buy yourself your very own Master Sommelier. They’re cheaper than a Tesla these days, and come equipped with the same air bags. Yes, some people are discouraged by how much work a Master Sommelier is to keep, how often they soil the furniture and hump the legs of wealthy guests, but those are behaviors that any sommelier trainer can alter. Or get a bitch. Whatever suits your lifestyle. Once you own a Master Sommelier (I wouldn’t recommend buying a Master of Wine, most of those available are rather old and broken-down, and the newer ones have exhaust problems), he can quickly and readily obtain the suitable wines for your wine cellar. It’s what they’re trained to do. They’re part of the retriever family, you can tell by their silky coats.

Money, a place to put it, and a faithful guide MS, and you can build a wine cellar of which every-one will be jealous. Everyone but me. Mine will always be better.

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