How Much Wine Is Enough?

(Originally published January/February 2005)

How much is enough?

This is the question Hanes has pondered of late as he reaches the point of having 120 cases of wine in his personal wine collection. That's over 1,400 bottles. For some folks that amount may appear quaintly small. For others, ridiculously large. For Goldilocks, just right. But we're not talking about Goldilocks, we're concerned about Hanes. As well we should be.

Hanes is in his late 30's and should have a reasonable life expectancy ahead of him. Unless his liver throws in the towel first. Although he hasn't been to the gym in months, he's in pretty good shape. Stress and a steady diet of energy bars keep him thin enough. There's no reason he shouldn't be able to consume all those bottles of wine in due time. At the standard single-serving rate of one bottle per day his collection could last him almost a full four years worth of drinking. That ain't bad!

But when will all the wine collecting stop? Again, how much is enough? There's practical questions, of course. At some point in everyone's lives it stops making sense to buy young wines which require 20 years of aging. Unless you really think the grandkids will enjoy them. And tastes and diets change. Early in life one may love a good steak and as a result collect a lot of Cabernets. Then you get all healthy and shit later on and there's nothing you eat which pairs well with all those now matured wines. Or you can just decide that Cabernets no longer fascinate you, now it's all about Aglianico. Who knows?

For Hanes, the real issues aren't practical. (Outside of the practicalities of his financial irresponsibilities when it comes to wine purchasing.) It's more personal. Why does he own so much wine? Is it due to a true love of the flavors of aged wine? As experiments? Because chicks dig it? To entertain high powered clients? For ego gratification? Because of some other undiagnosed psychological malady?

The truth is probably a mixture of these and more. At the rate which Hanes drinks young, current release wines for The Hanes Wine Review he probably could drink well every night without storing a single bottle to age. While he does love a well aged wine's flavors, given the needs of the review, Hanes sometimes struggles to drink bottles from his cellar in a timely manner while they are at peak (yeah, poor Hanes). This makes him question the size of his cellar even more. And it makes him a hypocrite since he adds at least an additional case per month to his collection. Hell, even now he is planning purchasing strategies for the coming week!

Hanes always entertains visions of throwing fabulous dinner parties where carefully aged and selected wines from his cellar highlight an evening of great food and witty conversation. Yet, most of the wines he has pulled from his cellar have been imbibed under circumstances quite far from this idealized vision. This may have something to do with the fact that Hanes eats dinner off of folding card tables he inherited from his grandparents. Or it may prove unlikely since while all his friends were eating and laughing, he'd be huddled off alone in a corner scribbling tasting notes. Be all this as it may, what's the point of all this wine if it isn't bringing a level of satisfaction and pleasure commensurate to the effort of storing it for years and years?

This question appears to point towards ego being the root of wine collecting evil. If so, then there will never be enough. Ego doesn't always abate with age, one may argue it intensifies. Although Hanes already has forgotten many of the wines he possesses in his collection (“When did this get bought?!) he is addicted and can't stop acquiring more wines. But, hey, how can this be surprising? After all, he refers to himself in the third person!

This naturally raises the larger question of the motivations of other wine collectors. There are wines Hanes owns which when purchased were meant to be opened on only the most special occasions. Now, he'd casually pop them open because it was a Tuesday. Hopefully, other wine collectors have maintained some shred of decency and perspective regarding their most treasured bottles. That said, and as alluded to earlier, there are those whose wine collections make Hanes's collection pale in comparison. Are they equally ego-driven? Or do they own an actual dining room table?

Weighty questions, all. No matter the answers, though, all current or potential wine collectors must confront the question of how much is enough. Let Hanes's sad predicament of insatiable addiction and greed serve as a cautionary tale, lest you too end up in such dire straits.

May the fates have mercy on Hanes's credit rating.