Cellaring is an old tradition in Europe and is becoming more popular in the states, but to what degree is this really essential to the everyday wine drinker?
Here are a few facts to consider when gauging the significance and relevance of the expenses involved in building a wine cellar.
About 95 percent of the wine produced is ready to be consumed right off the shelf and thus needs no further aging, beyond which, most wine is consumed within 24 hours of purchase. If these habits represent your wine drinking, then don’t worry about the old cellar. Find a cold and dark place in your house where you can store your wine for the month or so and hope that it is a place where the temperature doesn’t fluctuate too significantly.
It is, however, a great source of pride, study, and hobby for the enthusiast to build, maintain, catalogue, and, of course, drink from one’s cellar. So if you are looking into getting into the world of cellaring, here are a few basics to keep in mind.
The first and most important thing is the conditions under which you store your wine: the ideal and the more economical.
Ideally, you want the temperature of the cellar to be at a perfectly steady 52 degrees. The higher the temperature of the storage, the faster a wine will age, but the most important factor is keeping the temperature consistent.
Any temperature between 40 and 65 degrees will suffice for most styles of wine and a consistent temperature of 60 degrees is kinder on the wine than when the temperature fluctuates a lot.
Light is also a major factor in quality aging. The ultraviolet end of the light spectrum can be very damaging to a wine. That is why bottles are colored the way they are, be extra careful of wines that have blue or clear bottles as they are more susceptible to light damage. That is why Chateau D’Yquem is wrapped in tissue paper and Cristal is wrapped in yellow cellophane.
If you are buying a wine that you intend to cellar from a wine store, ask the shopkeeper for a bottle that is still in its original box as these wines have not seen too much light. You will also want to make sure that the humidity stays between 60 and 70 percent; otherwise the corks may dry out, releasing the seal and causing the wine to oxidize.
There are a plethora of products on the market that regulate temperature and humidity for all shapes and sizes of cellars, and if you are storing a lot of wine, I would recommend speaking to a cellar consultant to help you put it all together.
Another factor in one’s wine cellar is the aesthetic design. Cellars in the U.S. typically go in one of two directions. First is the mock-European cellar that is largely wood and "rustic" looking. Usually adorned with an old and tattered tasting table and an empty barrel to create the image of history and age, these cellars are designed to replicate the European cellars that are age-old and have dirt floors and cobwebs.
The other style is often more modern looking and utilitarian. They accomodate the style of the McMansion culture by fitting halfway between traditional and modern.
If I had my way, I would build cellars as an ultra-modern homage to the beauty of wine. They would be filled with an eclectic multinational selection presented in a clean, sharp atmosphere that forced the onlooker to focus his attention on the wines rather than the accoutrement of age or conformity. Each section would come equipped with bookshelves for applicable literature and journals for tasting notes.
Wine collecting is a lifelong hobby that can be incredibly enjoyable and at times somewhat obsessive.
If you are just starting, I recommend that you start small and buy wines by the case. It is a great pleasure to watch a wine develop over the years by drinking one bottle every year or so and finding the wine’s developmental sweet spot.
Remember, you don’t have to spend tens of thousands of dollars on your cellar to have a great one. A great cellar is full of wines whose flavors recall times of your life and act as photo album of your history that you would love to pass on to your children and share with your friends. So cellar well and happy hunting.
Zev Rovine is the sommelier and resident cheese monger at the Spotted Frog Bookstore Cafe and Wine Bar where he teaches weekly wine classes. His wine education comes from the American Sommelier Association in N.Y.C. and he tries his very best not to spill the Pinot on the bestseller section. If you have any wine queries or comments he is easily contacted via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
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