Some 2018 Musings

In past years, I have tossed up a post to generate some discussion or replies centered around what I learned during the year within the space of wine. Seems to evolve for me year over year, the list longer or shorter in some years. Feeling reflective today so no better time to do this. If you’re moved to reply based on what I have written, or you want to post your own learning milestones from 2018, go for it.

  1. Champagne. I continue to fall further and further into the thrill of Champagne. My visit there this past May made it that much more meaningful, to see the area and meet so many people in the small houses, nearly all of them doing organic and/or bio farming and reaching hard to make such great juice. Vilmart, Marie-Courtin, Marguet, Gerbais, Vouette et Sorbee, Mousse…some smart and focused people. god, I love Champagne. I bought and drank more Champagne in 2018 than any other year of my life.

  2. Cellar space. I continue to find ways to live within my 600 bottle until, now going on 15 years of using it. Still making it work, refusing to find a reason to get another unit and instead live within my ‘cellar’s pants’.

  3. Still wine. Buying less now and have whittled my way down to a core of about 7-8 California producers that I buy from and that is it. Added nothing new to the list this year. Conversely, I am reaching my goal of 50% Still Wine / 50% Champagne for my cellar. 75/25 is the ratio now, more work to do in 2019 to get it closer to 50/50.

  4. High alcohol wines. Don’t miss them and continue to selectively buy just a smattering of anything above 13ish% ABV anymore. It’s why Champagne fits so nicely into my drinking preferences now.

  5. Blind tasting. We regularly do this format now when the gang gets together. It’s humbling, it teaches me something every time, forcing me to listen to my instinct and think for myself. I regularly get things wrong, but my assessments of wine when not drank blind have become more attuned because I focus on the component parts and sensory pieces better because of the blind tasting work.

That’s my year.

Nice to see people can be introspective and listen to their tastes and how those develop over time. Congratulations on finding your new happy spot.

Interesting reading some of the bolded topics and how that subject inspired a thought in my mind.

Champagne would be all sparkling wine, to include domestic, Cava and Cremants.

Cellar space…I should have followed our wedding plan when we rented a space that fit the amount of people we wanted to invite…cellar has room to fill with 10x what i have and I really don’t want to do that.

Higher alcohol wines, I really just focus on balance when drinking wines, but the haze that follows a higher alcohol wine is something I don’t enjoy.

Blind tastings, I just avoid after years of doing court, tasting groups and selling wine for a living, when I’m enjoying wines, I want to know what we are having, but I am just as intent on it and many times will set aside a wine and go open something else, only to have the wine the next night.

50/50 still wine vs Champagne? That seems like a lot of Champagne even for a serious Champagne drinker.

Love this post… will think on it some and come back…

Thoughtful post.

  1. Your stuff: (a) Champagne: I’ve similarly experienced a pull toward sparkling wine, in my case more generally than just Champagne. Good U.S. sparkling, Cremant, Franciacorta, etc. We are starting to drink it more and more as a wine with food rather than just a “before” kind of thing. I think that is in line with a lot of what I’ve heard around the wine world; (b) Cellar Space: Me too. I have about the amount of bottle that I can fit. A few years ago I was considering expanding, and now I’m glad I didn’t; (c) Still wine: Nope. Like I said, we love sparkling, but I’m shooting to got from 98/2 still to sparkling toward 90/10 or something like that. Nothing like 50/50. That’s extraordinary, and great for you if that’s what you want to drink most of the time; (d) High Alcohol: I’m omnivorous, or omnibiberous, if that’s a word (except Malbec and Pinotage). A good 15.7% Zin here and there can hit the spot just fine. So can a 11.5% Muscadet; (e) Blind Tasting: I don’t do this often, and would love to do it more.

  2. My other stuff: For me, this year has all been about old world. I started the year 90/10 U.S./everything else. Now its 75/25 in the cellar. I want to get to 40/60 (or something like that; the exact numbers don’t matter). Like I said, I’m pretty omnivorous with wine, and don’t plan to ever set aside totally the Cali Cabs, Cali old vine Zin and field blends, great new world Pinot, etc. But I definitely have more lean to old world these days. In particular, I’ve fallen in love with Nebbiolo.

Frank, this is a great topicI’ve got a few thoughts and I’ll post them as they come…

Champagne - I’m envious that you’ve gotten to a space where 25% of your cellar is Champagne. Each year I keep saying I want/need to drink more bubbles but it’s still somewhere between 12-15% of my consumption and maybe only 4% of my cellar. I don’t know that I could get to 50/50 of the wines I like…but I do think it would be interesting to have more and drink more of a range. This year I learned that not all Champagnes are meant to age long-term (02 Dom Ruinart) bottles I had were showing signs of advancement that was troubling to me and reminded me that Brad Baker said he didn’t think they were going to have a long life. So hopefully you find a balance in this plan of yours to age them as you like and also get to find new and exciting producers. Soutiran was a producer I fell in love with 8ish years ago that has become difficult to find their rose…that I loved. Hopefully we can all learn from your journey as well. If you ever wanted to try to link up, I’m out in Palm Springs every couple of years hopefully we can link up sometime.

Cellar Space - Good for you. I still struggle with this but hope to get there in another year or two at most. I don’t drink often and that can present a challenge as there are wines I really want to age (Barolo & Barbaresco) that need space and time. I think I’ll be able to back off considerably once the 2016 Piedmont wines hit…but that means I need space and I’m still trying to figure out where that’s going to come from.

Still Wine - Less reds, more whites & sparklers. Easier said than done…but still working on it.

High Alcohol Wines - For me this exclusively means Sine Qua Non (I don’t count ports, sherry, or other fortified wines). I really, really like these wines. They are unique and not the style of wine I want often. Yet they are often great gifts and always seem to be a crowd pleaser.

Blind Tasting - I miss this…so much. It’s so hard to find a group of folks that are interested in this up this way. For me it is the best way to really train the palate and learn. Yet, I think the last time I tasted a wine blind was probably 1-2 years ago.

Thanks for posting this and sharing. This has been both fun and engaging.

25% of 50 cases of wine (600 bottles) is still only 12 cases of champagne. Richard Gold, author of How and Why to Build a Wine Cellar, had this thought: take the age you like wine times the number of bottles you drink yearly. It provides a rough guide. For example, I like older wine, say average of 20 years old. I open 150 bottles a year. So I “need” 20 x 150 or 3000 bottle cellar capacity laddered in age like bonds. So your 600 bottle restraint is admirable but it won’t let you see a champagne over its 20 or 30 year life. And it won’t let you buy several bottles of several vintages of your favorites.

Conclusion: Frank needs a much bigger cellar.

  1. Blind tasting. We regularly do this format now when the gang gets together. It’s humbling, it teaches me something every time, forcing me to listen to my instinct and think for myself. I regularly get things wrong, but my assessments of wine when not drank blind have become more attuned because I focus on the component parts and sensory pieces better because of the blind tasting work.

Frank agree on many of your points but like this the best. I drink with a guy who always has the wine of the night but when we have done blind tastings it changes that game quickly. Plus I find to be a little harder on wines when tasting them blind.


Reading your post I keep coming to the thought that this is the path that most folks follow. Like you, I too started out with a cellar (my first 50 bottles) that was almost all California, Oregon, Washington and 1 lonely bottle of Bordeaux. As time passes and there’s more to taste (3,000 different varietals in Italy alone) the shift happens and sometimes it’s fast. So if you’re falling in love with Nebbiolo those bottles are going to need some time sideways…keep trying all you can, tasting as often as possible, and I’d also suggest that you start branching out to explore older Rioja, as there are some gems right now at very reasonable prices. I’ve had some from the 50’s that were still youthful and seemed like they had years ahead of them. Thanks for sharing your post…

Glad the post moved some of you to reply. Surprising though that only a handful of people wanted to comment thus far. The community is better here when people get engaged. Post a reply.

Doc W, I’ll share that this year I considered dumping all of my still wine and starting over with Champagne. I backed off that because I do enjoy many of the producers I buy and keep and I came to my senses. But, 50/50 is doable, and I’m not much a fan of old wines regardless of style or composition so aging things is not something in my own formula. I don’t bang on those who age their stuff, as I see the joy these older wines bring when they drink them.

I’ve spent the last few years preparing my “retirement cellar,” buying recent vintage reds (bdx, burgs, and barolo/barb) to age over the next 20 years. I drew a line under those purchases a little less than a year ago. I don’t plan to buy any more red wines in this category. That means I will have no 15 or 16 bdx; they have been very hard to resist.

Beyond that, I have been buying a lot of half bottles for nights when I am drinking alone, none more recent than 2014. It has been very hard to find with any age on them, and hard to find at a decent price, but where I can, I stock up. To the extent I succumb to more recent vintages, it will solely be for 375s.

I’ve also been buying already-mature red wines and moderately aged (early 2000s) burgundies to cellar because I was thin on them.

And champagne. Like Frank, we’ve been drinking and buying a lot more champagne, and a lot more rosé champagne in particular. I find that when going out to eat, a bottle of champagne is more likely to do the trick with everything on the table than any red, and (tying in a prior thread) the risk of a flawed bottle is much lower. So I currently have full champagne racks and cases of champagne for which I have no rack space and I am kinda ok with that.

My cellar is currently stuffed to the gills, but given that this should be the high-water mark in terms of inventory, I am ok with that too.

I’ve been successful with my self-imposed buying limits over the last year. I have passed up many, many offers I historically would have jumped at – good prices on wines I love. But I have come to realize I don’t have to buy every good deal on good wine I see. I have wine. Lots of it. Just because it is a good deal doesn’t obligate me to jump. Retailers will continue to exist, and offers will continue to roll in, and if the cellar starts to thin out, I can always remedy that in the future.

Not going to add to your musings, Frank, because those are yours. But add in some of my own.

I find nebbiolo can go with so much different kinds of food and I love its nuance. I don’t care for the alcohol it produces (usually 14+), but it doesn’t tend to stick out as much as in some other wines for some reason.
French wines are okay and can be great, but I always want to come home to Italy.
Wines will always be on sale somewhere and sometime - you don’t need to buy everything, but when you find a deal you should buy it. Especially with Burgundy.
Moments to share wine are few and far between if you live in the hinterlands. Cherish the times you and your friends can come and raise a glass together.
Madeira can be drunk year round.

Looking back on 2018…

  • Continue to rebalance from new world to old world. Currently at 40% old world, but want to bump that up to 60% or even 70% in the coming years.
  • Agree with buying more champagne and that it goes with most everything. Would love to have 100+ bottles of sparkling in our collection, but have a ways to go.
  • Continue to look for Bdx gems in 14, 15, and 16. Riesling in Germany. BdM and Barolo in Italy.
  • On a little Chinon Blanc kick. Picked up some extra bottles of Huet, but want more…great drinking now and cellaring for years to come.
  • Interested in trying more interesting whites. Rhones, Bdx Blanc, etc. For my taste, the best whites can often outshine the best reds.
  • I want more Cru Beaujolais.
  • Finally went to my first offline in Dallas Friday night. Can’t believe I haven’t done this before…need to engage more in my local wine community.

With regards to Champagne, i love it and do wish i had more but does it have enough variety to be 50% of a cellar ? Drinking it every week just seems like it might get a touch repetitive

Very interesting piece from Frankie.

Some of my thoughts on Frank’s topics:

  • Sparkling wine - I have been drinking more of this, but from California ( … I know). The Under the Wire '14 Brosseau (Chardonnay) is particularly fine - Frank I have one earmarked for you to try. And Rhys is scheduled to introduce their new sparkler next year. Can’t ever see sparklers commanding half of my cellar, but maybe 10% or so.

  • Cellar space - I’m 100% sold on a limit of about 600 bottles and am headed in that direction. Slowly. (about 680 now).

  • Still wine - I buy from a number (many) of producers. I love the variety, but will be cutting back on the bottles from each.

  • High alcohol wines - well, I am fond of Zinfandel. Most are in the 14.5% range. Tasted a beauty from Arnot-Roberts ('17 Kirschenmann) recently that was under 14%. Really cut, energetic and focused.

  • Blind tasting - great fun and educational, do doubt.

One additional point on white wines - I’m primarily a red drinker, but have been enjoying more whites recently (Chard, SB, Carricante, Gewurtz, Riesling). I’ve had some great examples of each. Will be steering purchases a bit more in this direction.

A few thoughts…

  1. Champagne. Moving more in that direction. My wife likes having splits in the house, in case someone wants to have a glass before red wine. We do not have too many 750’s of champagne but are moving to increase that percentage.

  2. Cellar space. +/- 600 bottles and holding. No plans to increase.

  3. Still wine. Continue to buy, and more focused on Old World than New World, especially Italy and Bordeaux. We are at about 55/45 New World/Old World and would like to flip that percentage, especially with Italian wines.

  4. High alcohol wines. I love Zinfandel and continue to buy it. I also enjoy Switchback Ridge Merlot and Petite, Carlisle, Turley, etc. Cutting back but not cutting out.

  5. Blind tasting. The great equalizer. We do not do that enough. Maybe 10-12 times a year but I would like to increase that.

Great thought-provoking topic, Frank! Thanks for posting this.


Your own thoughts largely parallel mine, except that I jumped on far too many “deals” and have too much wine for my own consumption patterns.

I am newer to the game than most, with 5 or 6 years, but I’m starting to figure out/settle into certain preferences.

  1. Champagne and sparkling continue to be a favorite, and as such I continue to pursue it.

  2. Restrained Pinot from California and now, finally, I have been getting into Burgundy a bit. I was scared of it for a long time, but once I realized my mailing list pinots were $50 or more… why not dip a toe into village burgundy?

  3. Similar thoughts with Syrah. Northern Rhône is pretty exciting to me. Austrian and German rieslings round out the wines that I have settled on for now.

  4. Friends… my friends are largely in two camps. They either love overblown and overripe Cali wines, or are obsessed with drinking aged wines (because they took a certification where the teacher said this was what was good). So I have neither of these, and enjoy neither of them (ok, older wines that should be aged are one thing, but I don’t have the money for them).

So at least I’m kind of figuring out what is worth buying for me.

Thanks to Frank for starting us up on a 2018 retrospective. Here in the Bay Area it’s been a bittersweet year: Really missing a couple of landmark wine shops that disappeared (Beltramos, and Wine Club in Santa Clara). But the new Flatiron is a nice addition, though not as convenient for us in the south Bay.

My wine focus hasn’t changed much. As much as I love Champagne, I haven’t increased my buying or consumption on that front, I still prefer to drink still wine most evenings. For me, there is just too much diversity of flavor, variety, and style across still to convert more than a few percent of my drinking to Champagne. But I can certainly understand anyone who might do that.

Two things seem to be the biggest factor in driving my purchases: age and price. at 60+ I can’t justify buying a lot of wine that will need 15-20 years or more to reach it’s optimal drinking window. And the increasing prices and decreasing availability of many of my favorites (Burgundy and Rhone in particular) have caused an additional slowdown in those areas.

The best thing about this year has been an influx of new and interesting winos into the offline scene. We’re lucky to be able to gather often for dinners and events, and share wines with each other. And that’s more valuable and rewarding than any wine purchase [cheers.gif]

Like you Frank my taste and interests continue to evolve. In 2018 I’ve significantly increased my purchase of white wines, mostly from France and swan dived into the magnificent world of Champagne. Similarly I’m also moving away from high alcohol wines and seek wines in the 13ish percent. Lastly, I’ve put a lot of energy into researching Northern Rhone reds and have made some nice acquisitions in 2018.

It’s all about the journey! champagne.gif [cheers.gif]

I think champagne is ~15% of my cellar and will probably stay in that range. Cellar is about 2/3 old world 1/3 new world which is about where I’d like it. Cellar space not so much… right now at about 2k bottles or so, I am building a new cellar soon so I figure I’ll plan it to hold about 50% more than I need which should be just enough, shooting for ~5k capacity.