It’s A Slippery Slope Into Necrophilia

(Originally published February 2007)

Foolish mistakes fit Hanes like a glove. Especially when they involve money. This fact has been driven home once more in recent months as he has made an effort to restrict his wine purchases by drinking wine already happily housed in his personal collection. Let the below serve as a cautionary tale to any and all wine collectors. Unless you’re mega-rich, then you can stop reading.

Over the past 7-8 years Hanes has amassed a wine collection of over 1,500 bottles of wine. These represent all kinds of wines, from all sorts of grapes, and from wine regions spanning the globe. As would be expected, though, the percentages of any given holdings have changed as Hanes’s taste in wine has changed. For example, when Hanes was just an innocent pup he became quite enamored with buying highly sought after, small production Californian wines. Fast forward years into the future and, although he now rarely buys these wines today, the ones he did buy are now “due” and ready to consume. These and many others from France, Spain, Australia, etc. Time to drink up!

OK, sounds easy on the surface. Just drink, Hanes. And Hanes does. About a bottle a day. Can’t fault him for trying! The thing is, he also drinks all kinds of new release wines too. Both out of insatiable inquisitiveness about the new as well as necessity. How do you know which wines you want to put in the cellar if you don’t try them first? Then, of course, there is The Hanes Wine Review and the desire to review as many current release wines as possible for inclusion therein. Before it appears that Hanes is whining about having too much wine - a problem many wish they had - let’s make it clear that there is recognition that it’s an enviable problem. It’s not like Hanes is whining about living in a cardboard box. That’s next.

So, there’s these 1,500 bottles of wine. On the wall. Which is about 125 cases of wine. Hanes’s locker at the storage facility where he keeps his wine has three levels to it. A few months ago he went through two of the three levels, methodically pulling out bottles deemed ready to drink and consolidating the remaining bottles to ensure maximal space utilization. The result of this process was about six cases of wine set aside for immediate drinking. Just grab one of the cases and bring it home and start chugging.

However, since performing this task Hanes has only brought three of those cases home. And there’s about a case of these bottles still sitting in Hanes’s fridge, trigger cocked back and ready to fire. Hell, Hanes had to throw out all his ketchup, mustard, milk and eggs because there was no room in the fridge with all the wine in there. Just kidding. Only threw out the mustard. The upshot here being the wine is not getting drunken fast enough. And this with yet one level of the storage locker needing the cull “drink now” bottles treatment. Compounding the problem is that which each passing month or year, more bottles become due. The process is ongoing, no rest for the weary. Which underscores the real point Hanes wants to make here.

For a wine geek slash wine aficionado, what is the “correct” amount of bottles to have in one’s collection? Hanes didn’t mean to acquire 1,500 bottles, it just kinda happened. It was them other guys, they did it. The assumption is that it’s one person or maybe a couple who consume the collected wine. Other assumptions may include the following. That current releases are purchased regularly, because they are less expensive “everyday drinkers” or are wines one wants to try to gauge ageability. Or just because. That the person or couple doesn’t drink every day (flawed assumption, Hanes knows). There may be parties or special occasions during which more bottles than usual may be consumed. Some diversity among the wines collected needs to be maintained for the sake of anticipating changing tastes or differing tastes in future houseguests, etc.

Different wines mature at different rates. So one cannot easily predict when the varied bottles one owns will hit their sweet spot for drinking. Californian Cabernet, German Riesling, red Bordeaux, white Burgundy, or Australian Shiraz will all mature at very different rates, both within their categories and when compared as categories. A veritable bazillion factors play roles here. As a result, the smart collector has to leave a lot of wiggle room in the drinking schedule for random spikes in the number of perfectly aged wines one should be drinking. Valleys can always be filled in with additional purchases!

While naturally up for debate and interpretation, wines one age to improve gustatory quality should require a minimum of 2-3 years of aging and anywhere from 15-20 years maximum. Sure, there will be wines like certain Zinfandels which taste better after only 8-12 months more of bottle age or certain Loire Chenin Blanc wines or sturdy Bordeaux which can last and/or improve for decades. But these are general exceptions to wine collecting and as outliers should be treated as such. Most people don’t lay down a bottle to drink in 10 months nor do they lay one down to drink in 40 years. But god bless those who do.

So, this is a wine collection full of wines that will come due anywhere from three to 15 years after acquisition. Let’s just say that. Going back to our assumptions, we are not going to be pulling a bottle every night to drink nor drink per se every evening. But let’s be aggressive and say a bottle is opened 300 nights out of the year. Of these 300 bottles, we’re assuming that most consumed will be relatively inexpensive everyday drinkers. If we open four bottles from the cellar a month that would be 48/year. If we start with a baseline of an 1,000 bottle collection, that would take almost 21 years to consume, assuming the collecting process stops and no new bottles are added over time.

21 years is more than 15 years. Even Hanes knows that. Hence, if the wines needing the most age need to be consumed at the latest 15 years after acquisition the lesson is one needs a smaller collection, 1,000 bottles are too many. And this is with building a lot of leeway into the model by assuming an equal amount of 3 year agers, 5 year agers, 8 year agers, 10 year agers, etc. We also recognize that in some select years of consuming one’s collection five bottles might get pulled a month rather than four, all stops pulled out to avoid necrophilia and catch the wines in their fullest glory. We are nothing if not flexible.

Hanes owns some wines among his 1,500 bottles which could last 15 years beyond their acquisition date. However, most will have to be consumed sooner. Our strawmodel collector has too many bottles at 1,000. Hanes is in better shape than this model because he drinks more, but worse shape because he owns more. To drink all his wine within 15 years of today Hanes would have to pull, plug and play 100 bottles a year. Which is realistically still under the true amount needed be consumed and thus avoid necrophilia while paying for the honor of storing over the hill bottles.

Another way of putting this is that he currently needs to be drinking around a case of wine per month from his collection. Which, as was underscored at the outset, he is not doing. For those thinking it, no, he isn’t going to sell much of it. Hanes has considered doing some “thinning” of his collection but (a) he bought the wine to drink it and (b) it’s murky whether or not he could even recoup the purchase price, never mind the accumulated years of storage fees associated with any given bottle. Some bottles might get sold but not more than a case or two’s worth of wine, a minor fraction of the total. Drink or be damned!

The alternative, then, is to consume more older wine and buy less new wine. Both of which are happening. Albeit with the expected lapses. Don’t tell anyone, but Hanes isn’t perfect. It’s a quandary without a clear direction forward. At least not when you consider the alcoholic daze sure to ensue from trying to drink down the wine collection while all the bottles are in their prime! So, don’t be like Hanes. Don’t let the thrill of the chase or natural acquisitiveness or mere stupidity cause you to buy more wine than you need. Even now, having intellectually grasped the direness of the situation, Hanes wants to buy more wine, can’t imagine missing out on this or that bottle and the glories sure to be in its future years down the road. They say that there’s always another vintage coming and that skipping this or that particular wine today only leaves room in a year or two for some shiny new alternative choice. But, damn it, who asked them?

The final stage is to maintain a zen-like tranquility and no longer be saddened by the reduction of collection activities. After all, Hanes wouldn’t have the time to actually drink these additional wines anyway, so what’s the point? Mere collector’s mania? Leave that for the rubes. Hanes isn’t getting any younger so there’s no sense in buying wines that will peak in 20 years anyway. Time to stay within a realistic collecting framework and slim down. Now, if Hanes could only so easily slim down the growing rubber tire around his waist…