Your first wine cellar:
A wine cellar needn’t be an elaborate affair – it can be as simple or as grand as you want it to be; it could be a 12-bottle pine rack in the corner of your living room, a 60-bottle metal rack in your pantry or a specialised cherry storage facility that holds 3000+ bottles in a refurnished basement. Whatever form your wine storage takes, there are nevertheless some (rather strict) guidelines you should follow.
The first principle for starting a wine cellar is to ensure temperature control. Ideally wine should be stored at 55 Fahrenheit. Temperatures lower than this will cause the wine to fall into a dormant state. For instance, storing wine in the refrigerator at near-freezing temperature will numb the wine, making it taste completely flat as opposed to fruity and lively. Higher temperatures will accelerate the wine’s ageing at the expense of the complexity that comes with slow development and at 75 Fahrenheit and above the wine will actively bake.
Naturally, very few of us have the funds or initiative to construct an insulated room with a built-in air conditioner and dedicate it to wine storage. Perfect temperature regulation is not simply not attainable for the vast majority us, and it isn’t strictly necessary; the important thing is to keep temperature vacillations to a bare minimum. Consider that in the summer the temperature may soar to the mid-80s during the day and at night fall to the mid-60s – this kind of excessive temperature variation will cause the wine to expand and contract in the bottle, drawing air in through the cork and thus causing oxidisation.
Should you be fortunate enough to have a basement you immediately have a great place for a cellar. Temperatures below ground are relegated by the ground surrounding the basement walls, creating ideal (and constant) cellaring temperatures. If you live in an apartment then things become trickier. You could, of course, make sure your apartment is cooler than usual, even during the scorching summer months, but this is fairly inconvenient (not to mention uncomfortable and expensive!). It would be far more prudent to invest in a dedicated wine cabinet which will keep your wine at ideal temperature and humidity.
Humidity control is another important concern: Damp air keeps wine corks from drying out, which forces the cork to stay expanded and ensures a firm seal. Laying a bottle on its side will also ensure the cork remains moist on the inside, which keeps the cork swollen. Ideally, humidity should be at about 55 to 85 per cent. If you’re concerned about humidity you can install a hygrometer to measure your cellar’s humidity level. You can always install a humidifier if your cellar is dry, but if humidity goes above 90 per cent mould will start to grow on the corks and in doing so will tarnish the wine.
Next, take into account that wine is very light-sensitive. It is very important that you keep your wine in a dark place until it’s time to pop the cork.
Vibration is also a very keen danger – wine must rest without distraction or constant rumblings in the surrounding environment. Any motors or heaters, or a nearby train or tram line, will have a detrimental impact on the wine.
Greatly overlooked is the risk posed by off smells, which can permeate the corks of your wine, and from there the wine itself. Do not under any circumstances store paint, thinner or other chemicals near your wine.
Finally, as your cellar grows it is a good idea to keep things orderly. Plastic tabs containing the wine’s name and vintage can be placed around the bottle’s neck to help you determine which wine is in front of you without having to pull the bottle off the rack.
- Start off small, with fifty to a hundred bottles at most. Include two cases of twelve bottles each of wine for ageing and a case of your favourite drinking wine, red or white.
- Cater for other tastes as well. Indulge in one or two wines you particularly enjoy, and mix in bottles of other varietals and regions to suit the palates of others.
- Remember to taste what you buy – it may seem painfully obvious, but relying on high ratings from wine critics or friends isn’t a good idea when making a large investment.
- Stock up on wines when they’re young, and therefore much cheaper. Talk to somebody from a reputable wine merchant and get suggestions on which particular wines would benefit most from ageing. Bordaeux, Brunello and Barolo usually require ten years of ageing and can be purchased (relatively) cheaply in their infancy. Some whites, such as grand cru and premier cru white Burgundy, high-quality white Bordeaux, German Riesling, Sauternes and Gewurztraminer, can benefit from ageing as well.
- Don’t buy more than one case of a wine if it’s a new vintage or blend with no proven track record – there will be no way of knowing with any accuracy how long it will keep.
- Keep track of the wines in your possession by making a database of your inventory; give each wine a location number and listing, and include the wine’s name, vintage, producer, appellation, vineyard name, region, country, type (red, white, rose’, sparkling and so forth), quantity owned, price paid per bottle, value (latest estimated worth), and size of bottle (half-bottle, magnum and so on).
- REMEMBER – Keep the temperature of your wine closet, refrigerator or cellar between 10 and 18 Celsius for reds and 7 to 15 Celsius for whites (ideally). Most of all, keep the temperature constant.
An alternative to storing wine at home is to make use of off-site storage. There are many professional warehouses across the country where private customers can safely store their wines.
Such warehouses are ideal for those wines that are many years from being ready to drink. Customers have the option of either setting up their own account, or instead they can ask their merchant to store it for them. Generally it is better to store in a merchant’s own reserves; this usually means a cheaper annual rate, as they get a volume discount.
Off-site storage has two key advantages – 1) your wine is fully insured, and 2) you can keep the wine ‘in bond’. The government allows you to defer paying duty and VAT on wine, provided you store it in a licensed bonded winehouse. Naturally, the treasury will expect payment when you release the wine.