Starting Your Own Wine Cellar

By Natalie Lariccia

It starts as a hobby of sorts – buying a bottle for now and a bottle for later. Or perhaps, as you start learning more about wine, you purchase a few varieties and are waiting for the right moment or the right meal.

Maybe you joined a wine club or two, or you can’t pass up the great deal on a case, and now you want to make sure your wine is properly stored and showcased.

No matter where you are with your wine-collecting journey, there are a few things to keep in mind when starting your own wine cellar.

Brian Fry, owner of Barrell33, a wine shop, bar and bistro-style restaurant in Howland Township just outside Warren, Ohio, points to books such as The Wine Bible by Karen MacNeil and Windows on the World Complete Wine Course by Kevin Zraly as a great place to start learning about wines and varieties. Fry — a Level 1 Sommelier of the Court of Master Sommeliers, Americas — recommends forming a plan on how much you want to spend on your collection, how long you are planning to age the bottles and how many bottles you want to stock in your cellar.

“If you’re planning on aging wine a long time, and have a high per-bottle cost and lots of bottles, then it probably makes sense to make a major investment in your storage system,” Fry says.

The next step is to determine the right space in your home, says Brett Norris, a wine cellar-design consultant with Wine Cellar Innovations, a Cincinnati-based wine-cellar manufacturing company.

“You want a cool, consistent temperature, in a more humid environment,” Norris says. “Wine ages best in cave-like environment. A temperature around 55 degrees allows the wine to age at the proper pace … and achieve its peak taste and flavor over time.”

In addition, storing the wine in a higher-humidity environment — approximately 75 percent humidity — also helps to keep the cork moist and the wine from oxidizing, Norris says. A basement is often the best place to start, since it is naturally cooler and darker. Excessive light over time can affect a wine’s flavor and cause it to age prematurely.

It’s also important to determine how large of a cellar you want to create, says Rob Myers, president of Wine Cellar Technologies of Chagrin Falls. Myers recommends multiplying the bottles you drink in a year by 10. For example, if you drink a bottle a week, you will want to have enough space to store about 520 bottles.

Once you have decided on the location and how many bottles you want to store, consider if you want an active (with refrigeration equipment) or passive (without refrigeration equipment) storage space.

Cellaring with or without refrigeration depends on your long-term storage plan. Norris says he typically tells customers if they plan to store their wine for five years or more, they may want to consider a refrigerated cellar.

If space is an issue, or if you have a smaller collection, wine refrigerators can be helpful. If floor space is tight, wall-mounted wine racks can be a great way to show off and store wines.

Norris suggests using dry-erase bottle tags to label bottles. These reusable tags provide flexibility as your collection changes. He also suggests arranging your collection by variety or regions.

And what varietals should you add to your collection? It depends on personal taste and how long you want to store your bottles. If you have a taste for Bordeaux, Champagne, Rioja, Brunello, Barolo, or big Cabernet Sauvignons from Napa, you may want to consider cellaring, since these wines are considered collectible and age well, Fry says.

Myers says although it’s fun to accumulate bottles, he always urges his customers to not get too immersed in the minutiae of wine storage.

“You have to drink it to enjoy it,” Myers says. “In a perfect world, you are drinking your best and last bottle on your last day on earth. You can’t take it with you.”

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