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Harvey Norman presents: starting a wine collection

Every wine lover will tell you there comes a time when you go from being someone who just ‘drinks wine’ to someone who ‘collects wine’. It’s that moment when you pull out a bottle from your freshly opened case and instead of reaching for the corkscrew, you decide that you’ll put this bottle away for another day. Sometimes that day is just a few months in the future. Sometimes, it’s a few years. Pretty soon, one bottle stored away under the bed is joined by another, and then another, and before long, you’ve got a whole case stored. Yep, you’ve become a wine collector.

Memorable moments

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Most wine lovers can recall the exact time, place and wine that started their collection. For Hunter Valley Living Legend winemaker, Phil Ryan it was the day he started his illustrious career with McWilliam’s Wines.   

“It was 1965 and it was the first day as a trainee chemist in the lab at the McWilliam’s head office in Pyrmont,” says Phil. “The laboratory had its own private cellar and my boss Bruce Tyson said that tasting wines every day is part of quality control in analysing wines. So at lunchtime he opened up a bottle. I remember one day we tried a 1953 Florence Riesling, which was actually a Semillon, made by the legendary Maurice O’Shea. 

“O’Shea had left notes with Bruce about the wine and he had written that he thought it was the greatest wine he’d ever made. And I would have to agree. The wine was in beautiful condition. O’Shea died in ’56, so it was obvious that the ’53 had stayed inked in his mind. It impressed me so much, and it went pretty well with the cheese sandwich I’d packed for lunch!”

“I started collecting wines from that point,” declares Phil. “McWilliam’s gave a discount to staff. I remember I could buy a bottle of the 1958 Mount Pleasant Hermitage for 10 shillings.”

Phil went on to have a stellar career with McWilliam’s, overseeing 34 vintages at Mount Pleasant. He’s since moved on to his own label, Ryan’s Reserve, and to a role as co-Chairman of the Wine Selectors Tasting Panel.With over 50 years in the industry, he’s amassed a remarkable collection of about 3000 wines, kept in his underground cellar in his home in the Hunter Valley. His most cherished bottle? An old O’Shea and a wine Phil made that won the world’s best single vineyard white wine in London.

“The oldest wine I have is probably a 1943 O’Shea Rhine Riesling, while I also have a soft spot for the 2005 McWilliam’s Lovedale Semillon.”

Not a great start

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Award-winning chef and restaurateur Sean Connolly recalls the first time he ‘put a bottle down’ – it was a birth date wine, from an esteemed producer and a varietal that ages well. 

“About 25 years ago a friend gave me a bottle of 1967 Jacob’s Creek Cabernet Sauviginon,” recalls Sean. “It was the year of my birthday and just a nice thought, so I stored it so it would age.”

However, the first wine in Sean’s collection didn’t end up being a good news story.  

“I schlepped that wine around Sydney with me in my younger years from rental home to rental until we settled in Randwick 10 years later, and I never really stored it as well as I should have.

“I pulled it out on my 40th birthday to share with my father and unfortunately it had gone too far. The look on my dad’s face as he struggled to put a positive spin on something that he was obviously having trouble digesting was priceless.”

While Sean isn’t at the level of Phil Ryan with the size of his collection, he does have some amazing wines smuggled away for special occasions. And in perfect cellaring conditions, so he’s more confident the next treasured bottle he opens will be a story of joy. 

“I got a Vintec wine cabinet about eight years ago, and I absolutely love it,” says Sean. “If only hindsight was foresight.”

Starting a collection

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It should be noted that you don’t have to buy an expensive bottle of wine to start your collection. But if stored correctly, that treasured bottle can not only develop delicious aged characteristics, but also gain in value. It is fair to say Phil’s 1958 Mount Pleasant Hermitage would be worth significantly more these days than the 10 shillings he paid for it.

So what wines should you collect?

A good place to start is remembering the varietals that age well, and knowing how long they can be stored. For white wines, there are really three main varietals, Riesling and Semillon, which can be enjoyed now or stored for 10 to 15 years; and Chardonnay, particularly if it’s had some oak treatment, which will develop beautifully over five to 10 years.

While acidity is the key factor for whites to age, in red wines it is primarily about tannins.

Lighter bodied reds such as Pinot Noir and Grenache only enjoy five years careful cellaring. Medium-bodied reds such as Merlot, Sangiovese and Tempranillo age for about five to 10 years, while full-bodied reds can age gracefully longer, Shiraz 20 years or more, while Cabernet can age up to 25 years and beyond.

Producers and vintage 

As the wine lover becomes a more astute appreciator of wine, certain producers start to stand out as those worthwhile collecting.

Wine Ark, who offers premium storage of wines at their state-of-the-art facility in Sydney, curates a list of the most collected wines stored in their cellars. The latest list, released in 2016, shows that Australia’s most collected wine is the Penfold’s Bin 389 Cabernet Shiraz, just ahead of the iconic Penfold’s Grange. This may come as a surprise to many given the legendary status of Grange, but when you consider that 389 is a fraction of the price of its more recognised stablemate, but with equal age-ability, it makes perfect sense. 

Other producers on this list include big names such as Wynns Coonawarra, Henschke, Cullen, Torbreck, Petaluma, Tyrrell’s, Peter Lehmann, d’Arenberg, Seppelt and Brokenwood, along with cult wineries like Giaconda, Grosset, Clonakilla, and Lake’s Folly. 

Most of the wines are red or red blends such as Cabernet and Shiraz, with a good sprinkling of Riesling, Semillon and Chardonnay among the white wines. 
One other factor you should consider when collecting wines is vintage. 

Every wine region endures good and bad vintages due to inconsistent weather conditions. Knowing what wine regions have enjoyed a good vintage can help narrow down whether a wine can age well and whether it is likely to increase in value. 

A quick look online at Australia’s Wine Vintage Chart shows that 2014 was a 10 out of 10 year for red wine in the Hunter Valley, while it was only a 7 out 10 for reds from the Barossa. In 2015 it was 9 out of 10 for the Barossa reds, but only 5 out 10 for reds in the Hunter. Knowing a great vintage is so important.

Clare Valley in South Australia, where the vast majority of highly collectable Riesling comes from, enjoyed a cracking 10 out of 10 vintage in 2012, while it was also a perfect vintage for red wines from West Australia’s Margaret River region.

so, you’re a collector   

If you have had that memorable moment where you’ve gone from drinker to collector, then you’ll need to ensure your wines are cellared correctly so you can enjoy them in the future.

Of course, there are four main things to consider when storing wine; maintaining your wines at a temperature between 12-14ºC, having a constant humidity around 65-70%, having little or no light, and no vibration. 

The ideal way to do this at home is with your own wine cabinet. You could go for an attractive under bench cabinet for your kitchen, perfect for serving and cellaring, or even a 190-bottle capacity dual zone cabinet for storing both reds and whites in pristine condition. 

Today’s wine cabinets also come with a host of features to make your wine collecting easy, including double-glazed doors with anti-UV glass, LED internal lighting and digital temperature displays.  

Are you ready to start your collection?

Harvey Norman are the trusted experts in wine storage. They have a huge range of wine cabinets and friendly educated staff to help find the best model to suit your needs. For details visit hn.com.au/brands/vintec

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