By Gary Twining
For those who have dreamed of owning a wine cellar but have considered it impractical and out of reach, I have great news for you: it is well within your means and, realistically, makes a lot of sense!
Fine wines are not released at their peak. The producers and distribution chain can’t afford to keep them around until the bottles are at their ultimate drinkability, and most consumers could not afford the increased price when the wine is fully mature. Establishing a cellar enables you to mature wine to your tastes, along with other advantages.
You can save money. Purchasing wine at its first and least expensive release, buying on sale and taking advantage of quantity discounts accomplish this. Having storage room ensures you can stash specific releases that sell out quickly. The cellar will save you last-minute trips for unexpected visitors and you will have wine on hand when you host a party. Your cellar will control storage conditions and product quality. All of these reasons are ample justification to start thinking about establishing your cellar right away.
A wine cellar does not have to be a true basement, though many of us have space under the house that can be used for wine storage. Your “cellar” can be a closet away from the outside wall, a small cubby that is seldom disturbed or a rack in a cupboard. This being said, avoid crawl spaces and locations on the outer wall of the dwelling, as their temperature often fluctuates widely and quickly, which can damage the wine.
What conditions should you create for your wines? First is a stable temperature range between 55 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit (this can slowly fluctuate over a long period, as with the change of seasons that occurs in most basements). Aging is a chemical reaction, and cold slows maturation while heat speeds it up. The goal is to be within that ideal range so the wine matures at a reasonable rate for drinkability and complexity without burning off its flavor.
Second, try to avoid direct sunlight on the bottles or the storage area. Sunlight translates into heat and will cause temperature fluctuations in the bottles, which can push corks and damage the wine through heat and oxidation by breaking the bottle’s seal.
Many wine bottles still use natural cork closures. Lay these bottles perfectly horizontal with their labels upright (which will ensure any sediment is directly opposite the label). Laying the bottles on their sides will keep the corks wet and expanded (cork swells when wet) to prevent oxidation, and 60- to 70-percent humidity in the room will prevent the cork from losing its seal at the open end of the bottle. Bottles with plastic corks and screw caps can be stored upright.
Finally, letting the wine sit undisturbed will enable it to mature gently, and an odor-free environment will prevent transferring “off” characters to the wine.
Which wines should you buy for your cellar? Any styles, types and origins that please your tastes! You could specialize, for example, by laying away California Cabernets or Cabernet-based wines from around the world. Some collectors focus on a region, such as Bordeaux or Burgundy. My suggestion is to start with your tastes. Then purchase for your most frequent visitors’ tastes and select wines to pair with an aperitif, white wine, red wine and dessert courses for a formal meal.
Your wine cellar can be as limited or expansive as you wish, limited only by your budget and storage area. Simply remember you will have to rotate and drink your collection before you run out of room.