• Tim Atkin is an award-winning wine writer and Master of Wine with 35 years’ experience. He writes for a number of publications, including HarpersDecanterThe World of Fine WineGourmet Traveller Wine and The Drinks Business and is one of the Three Wine Men. Tim is a co-chairman of the International Wine Challenge, the world’s most rigorously judged blind tasting competition, and has won over 30 awards for his journalism and photography. So far, he don’t have a red nose to show for it…..

     

    The first and most important rule is to buy what you like to drink, unless you are buying solely for investment purposes. The most interesting cellars are the ones that reflect the personality and prejudices of the owner, rather than those of a given wine writer or wine merchant. For instance, you may decide to develop a collection of a certain property’s wine, or to follow a certain region of country.

    A good cellar should include wines for a variety of occasions, from a neighbour popping in for a quick drink to a smart dinner party. I try to have a selection of ready-to-drink wines close at hand, as well as wines that are maturing. Obviously, you want to stagger this: there’s no point in having a huge collection of wines that will all be ready to drink at the same time, especially if that moment is 20 years away.

     

    A friend of mine’s father has the right idea about wine. He labels every bottle in his cellar with one of three tags to direct his children towards certain wines: ‘You can drink this’, ‘I’d rather you didn’t drink this’ and ‘This is your inheritance.’ In the absence of a relative like that, how do you know when a wine is at its peak?The best way to find out is to pull the cork. That’s why I’d advise you to buy at least six bottles of a chosen wine, so that you can see how a wine develops (for better or worse) over time. It’s then a question of trial and error – and personal taste.

    Don’t be too much of an anorak about this, but keep a record of what you drink and when you drink it, possibly in a bespoke cellar book. One famous American collector has installed a $10,000 state-of-the-art computer system in his cellar. He attaches a bar code to every bottle he buys so that, at the touch of a button, he can find out where it is located underground. As he leaves the cellar, he scans the bottle and his collection is updated by the computer. You could achieve the same thing with a pen and notebook, although it might take you a bit longer to find a particular bottle if your wine room is as haphazard as mine.