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Starting a wine cellar

Cellaring Wine

Why cellar wine?

The truth is, if you spend a bit of time now, you can gain the rewards at a later date, being able to drink better wines in the future. They’ll also come at a fraction of the cost you’d pay for mature wines. Cellaring is all about buying wine whilst it’s young so you can drink it at its peak.

Anyone who enjoys wine will benefit from having their own wine cellar. They needn't be the preserve of the very wealthy or the 'wine snob' and starting one doesn't have to be expensive or difficult. Whether you’re a novice or a master, there are several good reasons for cellaring wine.

It's all about change
Wine changes as it ages. Some wines, like top Bordeaux or Barolo, need time in the cellar to soften their tannins and develop the complexity they are known for. Others may drink well from day one, but will change as they age in the cellar, becoming more complex and interesting. Having a few bottles of each wine put aside in your cellar allows you to follow this evolution, discovering new flavours and aromas each time you open a bottle. Buying wine on release and cellaring it yourself means you'll be able to enjoy the unique qualities of mature wine without having to pay a premium for old vintages, and you know exactly where your wine is coming from and how well it has been looked after.

Additionally, having even a small collection of wine means you'll always have a suitable bottle on hand whatever the situation, eliminating the need for those last minute dashes to the wine store.

Starting your own cellar will seriously add to your knowledge, appreciation and enjoyment of wine.

 

What wines to cellar

Not all wine will benefit from cellaring. Most wines made today are intended to be drunk young, while their abundant fruity flavours show best. While these wines taste great in their first year or two after bottling, with cellaring, they may simply lose their fruit, without gaining much else. Also, an inferior or poorly made young wine will most likely age into an inferior or poorly made old wine, so you need the right stuff to start out with.

While it may seem a daunting task deciding which wines merit cellaring and which don't, there some simple guidelines. Wine requires a few instrumental components in order to age well; fruit, acidity and tannin (in reds) are the most important and a wine needs enough of these, and enough concentration, to go the distance.

Varieties which are usually good performers in the cellar include Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, Syrah, Pinot Noir, Nebbiolo, Riesling, Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay. Varieties which are usually best when young include Gamay, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc. For regions, the surest bets for cellar-worthy wines are Bordeaux, Burgundy and the Rhone Valley in France, Barolo/Barbaresco and the fine wines of Tuscany in Italy and the top wines of Australia, Germany and Spain.

Try to cellar a broad range of different wines - after all, one of the pleasures of having your own cellar is always having a suitable bottle of wine to open, whatever the food, weather or occasion.

 

Where and how to cellar wine

Unfortunately, most modern houses do not come complete with underground caves perfectly suited to the long-term storage and aging of wine. This does not however, mean that your own cellar is out of reach. A cellar can be anything from a few bottles tucked into a cupboard in a cool and dark corner of the house to a large custom-built, temperature-controlled space. Or, you could consider a free standing wine storage unit which will keep anything from 24 to 500 or more bottles in perfect cellaring conditions. There are just a few simple things to consider when starting a cellar.

1. Temperature

This is probably the most important factor of all. Wine should be stored at a constant, low temperature. Around 12-13 degrees celcius is ideal though a degree or two either side shouldn't have too much of an impact as long as it is constant. Rapid temperature fluctuations cause the wine to expand as it warms then contract as it cools. As most corks do not provide a completely perfect seal, this expansion can cause wine to seep out through the cork and as the wine contracts, air is drawn back into the bottle. The result is spoiled wine, smelling and tasting 'cooked' or oxidised. Seasonal variations from winter to summer aren't such a problem as the change is too gradual to affect the wine but temperature changes over the course of a day or week need to be avoided, so pick the part of your house with the coolest, steadiest temperature.

2. Humidity

Moderately high humidity is best for long-term cellaring as it helps to stop corks from drying out and losing their seal. Too high and the wine labels may be damaged by mould and mildew though this won't affect the wine inside the bottle and is not such a problem if the wine is for your personal consumption.

3. Storage
Again, to maintain a good seal, wines topped with a cork should be stored on their side, so that the wine is in constant contact with the cork, keeping it moist and elastic. Wines sealed with a screw cap can be stored either on their side or upright.

4. Light

Constant exposure to light can damage wine so wine should be stored in the dark or at the very least out of any direct light.

5. Vibration

Though the scientific evidence is vague, the general consensus is that vibration is not good for wine as it ages so try not to place your wine near any sources of vibration or to disturb the wine in your cellar too often.

 

Cellaring Top Tips

Top Tip #1  -  Buy more than one or two bottles
• Buying six or twelve bottles of each wine and trying one every so often means you can follow it as it changes over time and perhaps discover a point at which the wine is ideal for your tastes. Retailers usually give discounts for case purchases so buying this way can work out cheaper in the long run too.

Top Tip #2  -  Plan your cellar
• Keep track of the wines you are actually opening and enjoying regularly and purchase wines for your cellar accordingly, but don't get too specialised. Make sure there is a good balance of reds, whites, sparkling, dessert wines, wines that are ready to drink and ones needing more age. Even if you drink mostly one or two varieties, it is still a good idea to have a range of other wines available.

Top Tip #3  -  Budget for something bigger than you think you'll need
• If you are building a cellar or buying a wine storage unit, always budget for something bigger than you think you'll need. Cellars have a sneaky habit of very easily outgrowing their space.

Top Tip #4  -  Don't save your wine forever
• It's much better to drink a wine a bit too young and find it still has more potential than to drink one too old and find it disappointingly past its prime.

Top Tip #5  -  Open them on the early side
• A cellaring recommendation on a wine label usually assumes perfect cellaring conditions, so if your cellar is less than perfect it is usually better to open them on the early side.

Top Tip #6  -  Taste new wines
• Take every opportunity to taste new wines.

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