Expert strategies for buying and stocking wine.
The most important item in a wine cellar is the cellar itself. Few people already possess a suitable cold space (56° F is ideal), like a root cellar. Anyone else can start by investing in a temperature-controlled cabinet, says Serena Sutcliffe, international head of Sotheby's wine department in London (100-bottle cabinets start at around $1,000).
A fun way to stock that cabinet is to attend wine auctions. Wine Spectator and Decanter magazines list upcoming ones. To sample several prospective bottles at once, invite friends over for a tasting. "You'll find out more about your palate and what you like," Sutcliffe says.
Stephanie Frederick, an instructor at the Sommelier Society of America, suggests reading magazines and websites (she likes jancisrobinson.com) to learn which wines need aging (only 5 percent do) and for how long (vintage ports need 20 years). And, she says, avoid the trap of hesitating to open a prized possession: "As my husband says, 'Look, it's a bottle of wine―you're not supposed to worship it at the altar.'"