Cellar Notes

The joy of discovery — Bringing home a case of your favorite wine. Now where to put it — in the linen closet? That rack over the stove? The cobwebbed corner of the basement? Designing proper storage for the long-term can be crucial to the life of the liquid asset in the bottle. There are several elements that ensure your investment will reach maturity in the condition it was meant -- temperature, humidity, light, and vibration. Think of those dark, damp, cold underground cellars in Europe, conditions which no reasonable person would consider living under, but perfect for the long, slow aging of fine wines. While most American homes are lacking in these "amenities", these conditions can be created artificially.

Finding just the right resting place for those special bottles does require a little hunting, planning and forethought. First, locate an area that keeps a fairly consistent year-round temperature, optimal is 55°. A slow gradual seasonal change varying as high as 70° or as low as 40° is acceptable, as long as it is not a daily fluctuation. Stay away from any heat source. Insulate the space, if necessary, to keep that temperature continuum. This space should be dark, void of any natural light, and away from any continuous artificial light. Stay away from any locale which has any vibration. Don’t use the space under the stairs if you have kids pounding up and down for the next 15 years. Likewise, the closet next to your teenager’s sound system would be an inappropriate location.

Ok, now that you’ve found the perfect space, let’s look at what to do with it. Are you looking for a showcase display or just the basic storage facility? There are several companies that will design the optimum redwood racking system - for a price, of course. A good carpenter can erect any type of built-in racks to fit the space or, if you prefer, have fun and design your own. Now, how big you build it is determined by the space available plus how many cases you expect to accumulate. How often do you drink a bottle -- 5 times a week, just on the weekends, or special occassions? Let’s figure this out, if you drink on average 5 bottles a week that comes out to 260 bottles or 21.66 cases per year. Are you looking for wines to age for 5 years, 10 years, 20 years or more? If so, then you should have 1/3 to 1/2 of your cellar reserved for those long term bottles, which leaves you about 11 cases of capacity for current consumption. If you consume your weekly average, you will go through a case in a little over 2 weeks, so you are purchasing at least 2 cases a month. Adjust these number accordingly to fit your drinking habits. One caveat, don’t lock yourself too heavily into one particular style of wine or a single vintage. Keep your portfolio diversified! Everyone’s taste changes over time and you may grow tired of that wine you so loved a couple of years ago, as well as finding yourself with everything maturing at the same time, and needing to "drink-up".

Taking care of wines in your cellar is one thing. Making sure that you serve them at an optimal temperature for enjoyment is another. It only takes a bit of personal research to discover that the temperature at which your serve a wine can dramatically affect the appreciation of the beverage. In our experience, way too much fine wine suffers because it is served too cold or too hot. Curiously, we find that restaurants, which have more invested in wine and should arguably know better, are among the most common offenders when it comes to serving wines at inappropriate temperature levels. If you’re drinking a good white wine, do not overchill it. Excessively cold temperatures subdue the aromas of a fine wine and often numb the palate to the point where you can only recognize a cold liquid flowing over your tongue. If you’re drinking swill, by all means chill it to near the freezing point. If, however, you’ve spent some serious money on a fine Puligny-Montrachet or Château Haut-Brion Blanc, don’t diminish your investment and bypass your senses. Fine white wines should spend perhaps an hour in the refrigerator before serving, not the day or more that most wines seem to be subjected to.

The time-honored rule for red wines is to serve the bottle at room temperature. The temperature of most rooms in modern America is about ten degrees or more warmer that those of 18th-19th century Europe, when that rule of thumb originated. Consequently, too much red wine is served too warm, accentuating the sharp, somewhat acetic elements that are present in virtually all wines and making the wine much less attractive than it would be if served a few degrees cooler. If you are storing your red wines on the kitchen counter, on top of the refrigerator, or in some other warm setting, you might consider a cooler spot for them, or at least cool them down for 20 minutes or so before serving. You’ll find the aromas are far more attractive and the flavors much richer and more sumptuous if you do. Giving your wine a good home is not just wine snobbery run amok. If you’ve invested time and money in selection good wines, it only makes sense to care for them well. Most wine that is consumed, though, is not as feail and delicate a beverage as the most ardent proponents of perfect storage systems contend. We will concede that one can go overboard with attaining the precisely perfect storage conditions - especially if you drink the wine up within a few months of purchase. wines can suffer abuse and still remain quite drinkable. They will, in all likelihood, be less attractive than they might have been. We suggest that you scan your living space to fine the best spot available and ensure that your wines are the best they can be.