You're no wine collector, you say? What about that half-case of Zin you carted home after a weekend in Sonoma? Or your recent stock-up sweep down the wine aisle at Trader Joe's?
Most wine drinkers have more bottles tucked away than they realize. If you think you have about four cases all told, it's probably six. A few minutes of organizing and a smidgen of attention going forward can turn those bottles into a working cellar, wine wall ― whatever ― that you can go to after work on a Friday and say, "Hmm, what do I feel like tonight?"
THE CELLAR, IN 6 EASY STEPS
1. Start a record
Keeping track of the wine you have is the biggest priority, according to Jason Alexander, a VP at Vintrust, a San Francisco-based company that manages people's collections. Record the vitals of each bottle in a flexible format like a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet. Vintrust has cellar-managing software on its website that you can use for free, or consider the IntelliScanner Wine Collector 250 (from $199; 800/550-5470), a portable scanner and software program.
2. Take stock
To figure out what kind of collection you have, separate your bottles into tiers as you record them: wines that you think will get better if you hold onto them; wines to dip into for special occasions; and wines you'd be comfortable popping open on any weeknight.
3. Set up your storage
There's a world of inexpensive wine racks out there (check some out at International Wine Accessories), but wooden crates will do as well. Just store the bottles on their sides, so the wine is in contact with the cork. Strict temperature control isn't even critical, for the most part (except for exceptionally delicate or long-lived, investment-intended wines). In general, though, what you want is stability; a constant 65° is better than 55° to 75° swings. And the darker the corner or closet, the better.
4. Organize your bottles
Either set them up in the tiers above (wines on the left for everyday, on the right for special occasions, etc.), or group them any way you want ― by wine region, variety, how you'll probably drink them (crisp whites for the pool). Alexander has even organized wine cellars by color of neck foil. Just make sure their categories and locations are part of the bottle record so you can find them.
5. Add a few special-purpose bottles
Make sure you're supplied for the occasions and kinds of foods that call for wine in your life (suggestions below).
6. Drink up and keep up
Pull out your record and choose a bottle ― or just pull out a bottle and pour. But transfer the entry soon after to a "Wines I've Drunk" file. And don't buy just a replacement for that one, but a few more to replace the replacement. After all, you're a bona fide wine collector now.
WINES FOR ANY COLLECTION
Dinner party go-to's
• Brander "Uno Mas" 2006 Grenache Blanc/Sauvignon Blanc (Santa Ynez Valley; $22). The classic racy lime and grapefruit of Sauvignon Blanc are softened just a tad with the orange-peel aromas of Grenache Blanc.
• Stoller Pinot Noir 2004 (Dundee Hills; $40). Dense and woodsy, with deep red berry and cherry flavors and hints of rose petals.
Discovery to share
• Amavi Les Collines Vineyard Syrah 2005 (Walla Walla Valley; $32). Blueberries and bacon, sweet pipe tobacco, and intriguing floral notes.
• Roederer "L'Ermitage" Brut 2000 (Anderson Valley; $48). Soft peach, zesty lime, and elegant bubbles.
Serious Cab for aging
• Corison Cabernet Sauvignon 2004 (Napa Valley; $70). Layers of cherries, cassis, cocoa, spice, and silky tannins, with a moderate alcohol level.