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For as little as US$5,000, you can become a wine collector with Instant Cellars from Sotheby's

New York

DREAMING of being a wine collector with a killer cellar but don't know how to turn your fantasy into reality? You're in luck.

In June, Sotheby's began offering "instant cellars" in New York and Hong Kong. Click on your iPhone or computer, and within 24 hours, one of four wine collections curated by Sotheby's experts arrives at your home.

Cost: US$5,000 to US$25,000.

The idea is part of the international auction house's goal to be a full-service, integrated wine business, explained Jamie Ritchie, Sotheby's worldwide head of wine.

First came its retail store and online wine business in Manhattan, opened in 2010 in a space right off the auction house's lobby. Four years later, Sotheby's added one in Hong Kong.

"The obvious next step was the collection management and advisory service we launched in June," said Mr Ritchie. "We put in the time, and the clients do the enjoyable part."

In tandem with those services, the retail shop unveiled instant cellars.

"We realised there was a need," said Julia Gilbert, vice-president and senior wine advisor.

Of course, before you make your purchase, you need to figure out where you're going to store your instant stash and how to keep track of the 50 to 168 bottles. They need a cool, humid environment, ideally at 13 deg C with 75 per cent humidity.

Sotheby's is already on the case, working on a storage facility partnership, and since buying an instant cellar includes a consultation with a member of the advisory team, you can ask about the best temperature-controlled units.

So how do these instant cellars stack up? Are they worth it?

Mostly yes. People usually start collecting by squirreling away a random bottle or case at a time and end up with a hodgepodge.

Sotheby's four cellar options in New York (two in Hong Kong) are starter collections with different goals, from exploring and learning to investment. 

The wines are mostly ready-to-drink classic Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Champagne from excellent vintages.

"They provide a range of styles, regions and price points, and are suitable for a variety of occasions," said Ms Gilbert.

People usually advise budding collectors to buy wines they like and tailor their collecting to how they entertain. Newbies may not have the tasting experience to answer those questions - or know whether a label or vintage is a good value. So there's a comfort factor in an expert selection and provenance for where the bottles are sourced.

And the cellar advisory service means you have a way to expand the collection as you learn - an advisor will even help you buy at auction.

For complete newbies, the US$5,000 introductory cellar is ideal. It offers two bottles each of 25 wines costing about US$115 a bottle and an interesting spread of names, not just the most obvious ones. Among the Bordeaux are a 2006 La Conseillante, a 1995 Chateau Haut-Bailly, and a 2005 Chateau Langoa-Barton. The surprise is a 2013 Ulysses, a superb new California cabernet made by Pomerol star Christian Moueix.

But my pick for the best value cellar is the US$10,000 intermediate option, with 72 bottles at an average cost of US$150. It includes 36 labels, some duplicates of those in first level. The plus here is more whites (stellar ones) as well as higher-quality Burgundies.

Highlights: a 2008 Roederer Brut Champagne, a gorgeous 2014 Bonneau du Martray Corton-Charlemagne, and the great 2005 Vieux Chateau Certan, now worth US$250 a bottle. The surprise? The brilliant 2013 G Mascarello Barolo Monprivato.

The third level, billed as the enjoyment cellar, costs US$25,000, with 168 bottles, three each of 56 wines. The selection of white Burgundies is like a self-guided seminar on the region's styles, while the reds include 13 excellent Bordeaux from vintages ranging from 2000 to 2010.

The US$25,000 cellar comes with 90 bottles, six each of 15 carefully-chosen red Bordeaux and Burgundies from top vintages, priced at about US$300 per bottle. The recently re-released 2009 Forts de Latour, for example, has been rising in price for the past six months.

Sotheby's recognises we're in a new fast-moving, instant-gratification world, even for wine. So if you want the one-click buying option, its Instant Cellars are the instant gratification. (Cue clinking glasses.) BLOOMBERG

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