Winecollecting is seen as both a hobby and an investment among collectors. Rare vintage bottles from certain years and regions can sell for tens of thousands of pounds on the private markets.
The term wine is traditionally associated with the drink made from grapes, produced by fermenting fruit, but other fruits such as apples and berries can also be used.
Grape wine is made by fermenting crushed grapes and converting their sugars into alcohol using yeast. Different types of wine can be produced by using varying combinations of grapes and yeast, and these differences are the cause of regional wine variations.
The practice of winemaking is known as vinification and primarily takes place at vineyards, large plantations of grape-bearing vines grown specifically for wine production. The science, practice and study of vineyard production is known as viticulture.
Wine is produced in around 70 countries worldwide, although wine grapes grow almost exclusively between thirty and fifty degrees north or south of the equator.
The different growing conditions in each country (such as weather, soil composition and grape variety) mean wines from different countries can vary greatly in taste and quality. This quality is judged by the process of wine tasting, which has four different stages: the wine’s appearance, the aroma (known as ‘in glass’), the immediate taste (‘in mouth’) and the aftertaste (‘finish’).
A vintage wine is one made from grapes that were all, or primarily, grown and harvested in a single specified year. As certain years and crops produce better quality grapes than others (depending on the growing conditions), certain ‘vintages’ are viewed as a higher quality than others. This judgement is usually reflected in the wine’s value.
From a collector's perspective, investment wines are judged by several characteristics, including:
- a proven track record of holding well over time
- a drinking window plateau (the period for maturity and approachability) lasting several years
- a consensus amongst experts as to the quality of the wines
- rigorous production methods at every stage, including grape selection and appropriate barrel-aging.
Wines of an investment level can also be purchased directly from vineyards whilst still ageing in the barrel, a method known as buying ‘en primeur’.
Whilst the origins of the first wine production are unknown, with some experts arguing for the birth of its production in Georgia around 6000 B.C, much of what we know about early wine culture derives from the practices of the ancient Greeks.
6,500 year-old grape remnants have been discovered by archaeologists at sites in Greece, and it is mentioned as being used in a number of festivals and religious ceremonies.
It was also important to the ancient Egyptians, who were introduced to grape cultivation around 3000 B.C. Winemaking scenes have been discovered painted on tomb walls dating back to the Third Dynasty (2650–2575 BC), and a large royal winemaking industry sprung up in the Nile Delta.
The Roman Empire
The largest impact on modern wine culture was made by the Roman Empire, who developed the winemaking process into a fine art.
Almost all the major wine producing regions of Western Europe were established by the Romans, and they pioneered techniques for storage and bottling using barrels and glass bottles as well as developing purpose-built wine storage rooms with optimum temperatures.
As the empire expanded it spread the art of viticulture across Europe, and their belief that wine was a daily necessity of life promoted its widespread availability among all classes. It was used in celebrations, religious ceremonies and to treat medical ailments, and was an important part of Roman culture.
When the Western Roman Empire collapsed in around 500 A.D the practice of winemaking was continued by the Catholic Church, for whom wine was a vital part of traditional ceremonies.
The Benedictine monks became one of the largest producers of wine in France and Germany, and owned vineyards in the major grape-growing regions of Champagne, Burgundy, and Bordeaux.
16th and 17th centuries
Exploration, conquest and settlement brought wine to Mexico, Argentina and South Africa in the 1500s and 1600s.
Despite the many attempts during this period to plant European wine vines along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts of North America, none were successful due to the phylloxera louse, a native creature to North America. Although many native American varieties of grape had developed a resistance to the bug, the European varieties had not.
In 1863, a cutting of North American grapes was brought to a botanical garden in England bringing the louse with it.
It soon spread to Europe and over the next 20 years decimated the majority of Europe’s vineyards.
This destruction also led to the growth in popularity of whisky throughout the continent, as the French brandy industry was crippled by the bug.
The blight was eventually combated by the process of grafting European wine vine to American rootstocks, but the winemaking industry took years to recover. One benefit was that only the best grape varieties were re-cultivated.
In America vineyards survived and were cultivated by the religious missions.
In 1769, Franciscan missionary Father Junipero Serra planted the first California vineyard at Mission San Diego. Known as the ‘Father of California Wine’, Serra continued to establish eight more missions and vineyards until his death in 1784.
The American wine industry was severely diminished throughout the 19th century by prohibition laws, first at a state level, banning the production and sale of alcohol.
In 1920 the government passed a national prohibition law, and production began to dry up.
By the time of National Repeal, in 1933, the industry was in ruins and production had dropped 94% from 1919 to 1925.
American wine was generally considered inferior to European wines until the Paris Wine Tasting of 1976, a blind taste test organised by British wine merchant Steven Spurrier.
All 11 of the judges (10 of whom were French) preferred Californian wines to their French counterparts, in a competition the French were expected to win easily.
The victory created a boom in the popularity of Californian wine, doubling the production in the area and creating a busy tourism industry for the vineyards.
Main article: List of wine trade terms
The world’s most expensive wine
The most expensive bottle of wine ever sold at auction is the 1869 Châteaux Lafite-Rothschild.
Three bottles were sold at a Sotheby’s auction in October 2010, each with an estimated value of $5,000 - $8,000. All three bottles sold to an Asian collector at a final price of $232,692 per bottle.
The most expensive bottle of champagne ever sold at auction is a vintage Veuve Clicquot believed to be a vintage from the 1780s. The bottle was lost along with a collection of more than 140 others during a shipwreck in the Baltic Ocean between 1825 and 1830, and lay undiscovered until 2010. The dark and cool underwater conditions meant the champagne was perfectly preserved until it was found near the Åland islands, between Finland and Sweden.
It was sold on June 3, 2011 at an auction by Acker, Merrall & Condit for a World Record price of £26,700 to an anonymous online bidder from Singapore.
Other notable wines
Main article: List of notable wines
Notable wine collections and collectors
Main article: List of notable wine collections
Main article: List of notable wine collectors
Main article: List of wine merchants
Clubs and Societies
Main article: List of wine appreciation clubs and societies
Main article: List of wine merchants' associations
Main article: List of notable vineyards
Related Wikicollecting articles
Main article: Whisky
Main article: Paul Fraser Collectibles - Wine News Service
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