Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #3: Possession

This is the third month for the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge (#MWWC3) and as the winner of last month’s challenge, My Custard Pie had the “honor” of choosing this month’s theme: Possession.

wine-stain1-3After learning of the theme, I was a bit at a loss–had the theme been “Obsession” I could have easily written for days about my obsession with wine (this is primarily a wine blog after all). “Protection” (as in the way that I needed to protect wine in my cellar from the time when the basement flooded) or even “Depression” (what I feel when I think about all the time and money I have spent on my “Obessession”) would have been perhaps easier to tackle.

“Possession” proved to be far more elusive.

So I did what I usually do when I get a bit of writer’s block, I grab a corkscrew and my favorite glass, and I headed down into the basement to find some inspiration. As I was perusing my “cellar” to decide what bottle I would open to provide the necessary mental lubrication, it hit me:

I sure do possess a lot of wine.

Now that might certainly be obvious–most people who are passionate about wine enough to start a wine blog are going to own more than a few bottles, but there is more to it than that. The other night, I conducted a wine tasting for a group of ten people who  certainly liked wine, but did not really have an idea on how to go about starting to create their own wine “cellar.”  Wine can certainly be an intimidating subject: there seem to be so many rules (red wine with meat, serving temperatures, choice of stemware); there are a bunch of people out there (wine writers, critics, bloggers) telling you what you should buy; and there are so many wines from which to choose, it can be crippling just trying to select a wine for dinner that night, let alone trying to select some wines to hold onto for a while.

One of the people during the tasting expressed a desire to start a wine cellar of his own and wondered if I had any advice for him. My first thought was: “DON’T DO IT! Invest the money you would spend on wine instead–even opening a low interest money market account will enable you to retire early and live lavishly for years!”

I kept that thought to myself, since expressing that point of view at a paid wine tasting was likely poor form, not to mention certain to negate any future requests for me to conduct such tastings.

Instead, I gave him a few quick pointers:


Wine (and bikes) in my basement.

1. Keep track of your wine. Most people who just get started buying wine rarely have more than a couple dozen bottles and might not see the need to keep an inventory. Well, those bottles seem to multiply faster than even the most promiscuous rabbit. I use Cellar Tracker, which is a fantastic free online tool (there are some added benefits if you contribute to the site). There are certainly others (particularly those adapted for hand-held devices), but you really need to start keeping track as soon as possible.

2. Don’t worry so much about temperature control. I have ranted about this before, but it certainly bears repeating. Unless you are planning to hold onto bottles for a considerably long time (more than 10 years) or you are buying wine as an investment (a really bad idea according to Joe Roberts), I would not be overly concerned about buying an expensive temperature controlled storage unit. Keep the wine in the coolest part of the house where there will not be great fluctuations in temperature and you should be fine.

More of the same--no temperature control here!

More of the same–no temperature control here!

3. When you find something you like buy more than one bottle. I usually try and buy either 4 or 6 bottles of any given wine. (Why 4 or 6 and not 3 or 5? I am also a math geek and not real fond of prime numbers–yes, I have issues.) This enables me to try the wine at different times and see how it develops–a particularly fascinating aspect of wine.

4. Get over stupid purchases. Hey, it happens. You see a “great deal” and you buy a bunch without ever tasting it. When you eventually get some in the glass, you realize you made a horrible mistake. If the wine is bad (either corked or just plain awful) most retailers (both online and brick and mortar) will take it back (so don’t pour it down the drain!). If not, you will just need to get over your stupidity–anybody want my 5 bottles of Pink Truck (think a really sweet white zin)?

5. It’s corked: a shame, but not your fault. This one I still have trouble with myself: friends are over (or worse–you bring a bottle to their house) and your special bottle is corked.  You might feel as if it is your fault since you are a wine guy and you somehow should have known, but you can’t. It has happened to everyone, don’t worry about it.

6. Drink the wine that people bring over with them–either that night or the next time. A few years ago, I adopted the mantra: “You bring it, we drink it.” I used to graciously accept the bottles of wine people brought over and add them to my collection. I tried to eventually serve it the next time they would come over for dinner, but that became cumbersome. Now, unless they expressly indicate it is a gift for later consumption, I am going to pull the cork that night with them. What if it does not go well with the meal? So what? Life is too short. Besides, they likely want to taste it and might even want to know what I think about the wine–I did not say that all of my friends were all that bright. (Note: This rule does not apply for the “gag gift” of a box of Franzia, which no one really thinks is all that funny.)

7. Don’t wait for special occasions. I always say “better a day too soon than a day too late.” There will always be more great bottles of wine to drink so don’t get overly caught up in waiting for the “right” occasion. Open a special bottle because it is Tuesday. Or Thursday. In my mind, you don’t ever truly “possess” a wine until you drink it.

My Favorite Glass

My Favorite Glass

8. Have a favorite glass. Just because.

9. Drink what you like. You want to have Sauvignon Blanc with steak? Cabernet Sauvignon with fluke? Go ahead! You’re not being graded here. There are reasons for some of those rules, but (cliché alert) “all rules were made to be….”

10. Develop your own strategy for building your cellar. I started with one region and branched out, others want to try as many regions and varieties as possible. Some buy wine based on the pretty label. Buy a book. Read blogs. Ask your local wine shop. Buy only from Wines Til Sold Out. Take an approach that works for you. There are no right answers.

Last, (no number here since that would make eleven and that is a prime number) remember to have fun and drink with friends and family–wine does a great job of helping to bring people together–be sure to use it that way.

About the drunken cyclist

I have been an occasional cycling tour guide in Europe for the past 20 years, visiting most of the wine regions of France. Through this "job" I developed a love for wine and the stories that often accompany the pulling of a cork. I live in Houston with my lovely wife and two wonderful sons.
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37 Responses to Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #3: Possession

  1. Number 7 is the most important part. By far! The wine IS the occasion!

    I am still on the fence about Number 6, but I totally see what you mean. Will reconsider my position on this…

    Nice take on handling one’s possession, Jeff.


    • Because Oliver likes # 7 and is on the fence about 6, he almost changed my mind about which is my favorite point. So I guess I’ll have to say, #9 is my favorite, because it gave me the courage to say, “I like # 6.”

      Here’s my reasoning, if those who brought the gift are Weinkenner, and I tell them what we’re having and their wine is uncomplimentary, they will tell me to save it for another occasion. If, however, they aren’t into wine connoisseurship, then they likely brought the wine they want to drink with me. I don’t want to risk disappointing or offending them, because as much as I love wine, friendship is even more important.


      • Tonight I had a Chardonnay with a burger since I know how much my wife loves the Melville Chard (and she had a really long day). I thought it was perfect since I knew she loved the bottle. Same thing when friends come over–I imagine that when we open it they are happy to contribute to the meal and that makes me happy!


    • I was on the fence on Number 6 for a while, but in the end, it is much less stressful to just pull the cork!


      • Yeah, that’s what I find so appealing about it. I guess my bigger issue is also not with a dinner party of 6 or 8, but when people bring a nice bottle of wine to a party of 20, 15 of whom don’t get wine but always want to try everything..I assume that rule would then not apply, unless I can convince the bringers to hide with me in the bathroom and drink the wine together there. Right?


      • Nothing wrong with drinking in the bathroom–all rooms in the house need love! I have been known to have secret signs for the wine lovers in the crowd: a double wink means “meet me in the bathroom.” Be careful only to give this sign to people that will a) not mistake it for another purpose and b) will not be seen by your spouse and be taken the wrong way leading you to spend the night sleeping in the bathroom….


  2. Possession captivates all of us. I like all of your points including the “favorite glass,” which I am sure we all have after some time. I am just deciding which you are more fervent about collecting the wines or the cycles. Enjoy and thank you for another delightful article.


  3. Excellent! But where was this post about 10 years ago and hundreds of $ spent on crappy wine… Oh yeah, # 4. I’m also terrible with #7 as well.

    Since you mention Franzia and the pictures show the bikes – there’s a rental house here in A2 that does Tour de Franzia every year. Participants wear cycling clothes and each try to down as many boxes of Franzia over the course of a weekend. At different times of the weekend, the leader dons the yellow jersey. The tradition keeps passing down despite people graduating and new tenants coming in. Thankfully, they haven’t asked me to join…


    • I’m also struggling with #2 as well. I’m finishing the basement and plans call for a wine cellar. Logic tells me I shouldn’t need much (if any) temp/humidity controls wine-wise. But there are expectations for a “legit” wine cellar to have that stuff. I could definitely add it later, but it’ll be easier and cheaper to do now.


    • Ten years of crappy wine? Takes you a bit of time to learn? That Tour de Franzia–absolutely crazy….


  4. Duff's Wines says:

    Like the post. Particularly like number 6. Why? Because I wish others followed that rule when I’ve brought a bottle to their house. I may print these off. Oh yeah, the temperature thing is right on. My ‘cellar’ is in my cellar and I’ve never had a bad bottle that I could chalk up to temperature or odours. Only to just plain flawed or corked.


    • Thanks for the support Duff! #6 to me is key–I took an unbelievable bottle of old (birth year) Burgundy to a friend’s house for his birthday and he was not going to open it! I was despondent until I guilted him into pulling the cork…. In my mind, the emphasis on “proper temperature” is one of the biggest farces going….


  5. Sally says:

    Yay! – I know that it’s not always possible to blog about everything, but it wouldn’t have been the same without a post from the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge creator. I love your points and also try to stick to point 6. How dreadful is it to be the donor and see it disappear into a cupboard? Wine should be a shared experience to be more than just a bottle of drink. Have a drunk a bottle alone? Yes. Do I remember those bottles or the ones I shared with friends? You know the answer 🙂 Cracking post


  6. labellebarrelthief says:

    Wow I really loved this post, it was so genuine and relaxed. These are few things I have been trying actually partake in, such as don’t wait for special occasions or you bring it we drink it. I really hate thought if you have a wine that was preserved perfectly and is still corked. Do you take it back and request a replacement? Because the winery it’s self has no way of knowing that you didn’t leave it in your car or opened it left it out and are now trying to scam them. What would you do in this situation?


    • Thanks thief–long time no see! Great to hear from you. Most wineries will trade it out for you–believe me, they want you to drink their wines at their best. Word of mouth is still one of the top reasons for increased sales….


  7. Number 6 is really important. It’s tempting when you have your own line-up for the evening to dismiss a guest’s bottle but I always ask them … “shall we pop this open tonight then?”. It just has to be asked and I can always tell by their response how keen they are for it to be opened that night, and it is the majority of the time. Oh, and I’ve had a guest bring his own line-up. Then it gets really tricky! (and is a confidence concern) 😉


  8. I love this post because you used the phrase, “mental lubrication”. I’m shamelessly stealing that, btw. Yep, #6 . . . I HATE it when I bring a fantastic bottle of wine to someone’s house and they plop it on the counter and open up a bottle of Chardonnay with a Little Penguin on it, instead. I’ve gone so far as to show up with an OPEN bottle of wine . . . how’s that for gauche and/or obnoxious? It works, though. You may just get to choose next month’s theme after this, Jeff! Salud!!


    • It is strange, I cook better, think more clearly, and feel more relaxed with a glass of wine in my hand. Ruh roh….

      I love the idea of showing up with the bottle open! That is classic! I always have a cork screw on me–and I am not afraid to use it!


  9. Thanks very much for this post! I am thinking of creating my own corner wine cellar in our basement. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed with technicalities. I am rather fond of #8 myself. ‘Possession’ makes me think of taking hold of a moment, this is easily done in the company of a robust red, paired with good friends. Cheers!


  10. PSsquared says:

    I like rule #8. Just because.


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  12. Nicolas says:

    I am saddened by number 6 (and we have had this debate before). I guess that a host like me should forcefully discourage guests from bringing wine.

    But I have had considerable success with your “cumbersome” solution: I currently mark the name of the giver on the label. Then I build another meal around that wine, if it is of interest, and invite the giver. Very few people take “we will share this, just not tonight” badly.

    And, when I am asked to bring a wine, I ask what it is to marry. If I can’t find out, I bring a case of 6, or even 12: a selection, from which I then offer appropriate bottles.

    One of a chef’s great pleasures is preparing a meal. Without selecting the wines, that work is only half done. And can easily be ruined. Fluke with cab? Not in my house. If it’s your thing, do it! But don’t impose it on me in my home, let alone inflict it on my guests. That is just mean.


    • I understand completely your point of view (and actually share it in the abstract, as you no doubt know). When it comes down to us (you eating here or vice versa), we also skirt this “rule” by divulging at least the primary meal ingredients when we invite the other over (thus avoiding an awkward implementation of Rule #6) or just bring champagne. I also have tried your “marking” method, but I am far too disorganized to plan that far ahead. I think you know that I would never dream of opening a cab with fluke, but I would certainly open the cab after the meal or even with the cheese (yes, even if we had an Epoisses or a Chaource [although you know I would have some champagne as well for the latter]). I also think there is a bit of cultural difference here at play (in France, your stance is perhaps the norm).

      It is just hard for me to ignore, particularly when the bottle they bring over is cold….


  13. binNotes© says:

    hey…what’s wrong with prime numbers..?…some great vintages end in those numbers! 🙂


    • You are exactly right–but as the years pass, the number of prime number vintages decreases! Right now, these are the ones that come into play: 1973 1979 1987 1993 1997 1999 2003 2011. The next one is 2017. thanks for pointing this out–I might have to purge my cellar!


  14. Stefano says:

    What a wonderful post!
    Apologies for not acknowledging this earlier, but I have been traveling for the last three weeks and fell so behind with the blogging thing…
    Anyway, in no particular order: love your cellar, really true to yourself – wine and bikes! Cool.
    I love and wholeheartedly agree (not that it really matters if I do or I don’t, but I do!) with you on all of your suggestions, but my top 3 are #1 (I developed my own customized Bento DB just for that reason! Crazy), 2 (so very true) and 7 (although with some bottles I still struggle with it…)
    Good luck with your entry! 🙂


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