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Collector's Additions 

You're expanding your palate preferences and enjoying more diverse wines. Friends are popping over for a quick visit and you don't have any wine to serve. You're beginning to plan certain wines to serve at special dinners. You wish you'd bought more bottles of that really good wine you had last weekend.

If any of these situations match your current experiences, it might be time to think about starting your own wine cellar, or, at the very least, a collection.

Wine collecting is a happy activity for many, a passion for some and a complete mystery to millions. Collecting wine is not all that difficult. All you have to do is buy more than you drink. Very soon, you end up with a stash of wine.

Just like collections of art, stamps, coins or cars, wine appreciates with age. Not all wines go up in value, but all wines mature and change. Wine is a living thing, and as with all living things, ourselves included, wine changes character. Sometimes for the better. Sometimes not. And sometimes it gets too old and becomes salad dressing.

Getting involved with collecting wine gives us happiness on a number of fronts. First of all, we are the proud owners of a valuable asset, one that we can tell our friends about and talk about endlessly with other collectors. We have purchased the right to bore many and enlighten some.

Secondly, collecting wine allows you to enjoy one of life's greatest delights, under conditions that you create. You determine what you want to collect, how long you want to keep it and when is the optimum moment to pull the cork.

Another pleasure that is often overlooked is that we actually own a piece of history. A bottle of wine represents time. You can actually hold a year in your hands. You can watch it evolve long after Dec. 31 has passed. The wine from the year it was made is a cumulative reflection of conditions in a particular place at a particular time.

That year can represent an important milestone in your life that was unfolding as the wine was being converted from fruit into a magical beverage. A wine from the year of your birth, from your marriage year, from a birth year of your child or from a year when your life changed significantly can be stored and opened at an appropriate moment. A cause for celebration, indeed.

Okay, now that we agree that wine collecting can be rewarding, time to begin.

Let's start with storage conditions. White wines, in general, do not last as long as red wines, and they are more sensitive to temperature, light and movement. That does not mean that collecting white wines is not a desirable pursuit. Many white wines become more interesting wines than reds over a shorter period of time.

Storage temperature is a key component of collecting wines, and aging wines should be maintained somewhere in the mid-50 degree range. For Champagnes and sparkling wines, a lower temperature is better. For red wines, a slightly higher one is okay.

There are those who jump into wine collecting with great gusto, purchasing temperature-controlled wine storage units that disguise themselves as elaborate pieces of furniture. Those are quite good and do the job nicely. However, you can start with a smaller unit and upgrade as your needs grow. The Wine Enthusiast Web site (www.wineenthusiast.com) has a variety of units for different needs.

To begin, wines placed in cool, dark, humid, quiet areas will do well. That means that under the bed or in a bathroom closet could be suitable locations. The point is to keep the wines still (no vibrations) and at a constant temperature, even if it is not optimum.

Warmer storage does not necessarily mean the wine will spoil. It means the wines will age quicker, so if you think you have a wine that will mature in eight years, you might want to check on it after five.

Now, what to collect? There is one simple rule: Collect what you like. That's the joy of wine collecting. If you like white wines from Albania, gather them.

All wines have the potential to age somewhat. Generally speaking, the more expensive the wine the longer the aging potential. Winemakers today have the ability to produce wines that are ready from the time they are released. They are already aged somewhat at the winery.

Still, that does not mean the wines will not benefit from more time in the bottle. You can reap the benefits of assisting a wine in reaching its optimum drinking condition and find additional enjoyment when that wine is in your glass and shared with others.

Go deep. When you begin gathering your favorites, think about purchasing a quantity of each wine, like six bottles or a case. It is fun to try the wines along the way and see how they are doing. One bottle does not give you that experience.

You also want to stagger your collection. Put away some wines that will age within three to five years, and other wines that will reach perfection in five to 10 years.

Don't neglect buying wines made to drink now. Keep a good number of everyday drinking wines around (one or two mixed cases), so you'll be ready for that spontaneous get-together without having to tap into your stellar cellar. Many a collection has disappeared from the watchful eyes of an impatient collector. For all of those reasons, speak with a friendly and reputable wine merchant. Read reviews, go online, talk to friends, but above all, trust your own palate. Gaining and sharing knowledge is part of the fun.

Make progress. You can start your collecting venture on as little as $250. Start out with a mixture of age-worthy, slightly higher end wines. Put them away. As these wines are resting, gather other wines. When the time is right, try them.

Enjoy wine collecting. It's a thrill to be the caretaker of your own personally chosen wines. There are no rules, except yours. And there are great rewards from enjoying a wine that has reached its highest level of quality on your watch.

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