Every well-prepared hostess should have a well-stocked wine cellar—but the seemingly infinite options can be paralyzing. So...start sipping! Lyle Fass, wine director for Crush Wine & Spirits, makes suggestions on how to get your cellar off the ground.
- Become a regular. Find a shop where you feel comfortable, and start buying by the case so you can try a variety of wines. Most retailers will put together mixed cases, and many even offer discounts on them. Ask for the salespeople's guidance. Once you form a relationship with the staff, they'll be full of suggestions every time you come in.
- Age wisely. If you plan on aging some wines, ask the salesperson which ones will actually improve over time—most bottles are best opened within a year of their release (not necessarily the year in which the grapes were harvested). One exception is champagne—almost all vintage champagnes age beautifully.
- Pick some sure things. There's no need to get obsessed with buying only the "right" years—while some are certainly better than others overall, good winemakers will turn out a good product in any year. A few guidelines can get you started, though: Consider vintages of 1995 and 2000 in Bordeaux; 1997 in Piedmont and Tuscany; 2001 and 2002 in California.
- Maintain a little variety. The goal is to stock your cellar with wines you love. If your tastes are rather narrow, however, include a few other options for the benefit of guests. For example, even if you drink only reds, keep a few whites in your collection. And always have a couple of bottles of champagne on hand for impromptu celebrations.
- Provide a stable home. Ideally, wine is stored at 54 degrees and 70 percent humidity. Realistically, as long as you avoid wide fluctuations in temperature, your collection will be fine in any kitchen cabinet. Most basements are also a good bet—as long as the wines aren't stored near the dryer or water heater. Always store bottles you plan to keep for more than six months on their sides so their corks don't dry out.