Just the other day I came across a lovely and quite old bottle of Conterno Barolo. Barolo, along with Brunello di Montalcino, Barbaresco and Amarone, continue to rank on the top of my Italian wish list. This bottle was from the very lovely, powerful and elegant 1978 vintage. I had saved about a half a dozen of these wonderful bottles because they are the birth year of our twins. Because I have not had this wine for some time, I do not know whether this last bottle has weathered the test of time. I'll likely find out on the twins' 35th birthday, when this little gem will be opened and enjoyed.
Aging wine successfully takes some forethought and some understanding of what wines are appropriate to age. Not all red wines are destined for the cellar. I have been employed many times to evaluate cellars and have found instances in which, with just some very rudimentary planning, the collection would have stood the test of time. Let's look at a few easy steps to ensure a sound cellar, should you chose to start one:
Store wines in a cool environment. Wine must be stored in a cool place, with no vibration and a low light source. By "cool," I mean under about 60 degrees. I have experienced long-term cellaring which might go up to 65 degrees for a short time then back down and the wines have remained sound. The thought is that 53 degrees is optimum for cellaring, but hitting that mark, unless under refrigeration, is a task. Those of you who have a cellar are in luck because, naturally, this is really the best place to store wine. If your wines hit 70 degrees or higher, I think that you should not consider long-term storage for fine wines.
Store wines with natural corks on their sides. More wines seem to come with either screw caps or synthetic corks, which frankly I like — especially the screw-capped releases. I have not come across many "high-end" releases, that is, those destined for the cellar, with anything but natural cork enclosures. Make sure that these wines stay horizontal at all times. The wine creates a seal by expanding the cork against the glass neck. Standing the wine vertically for over a month or so can really dry out the cork, allowing air to get into the wine, which, of course, destroys it.
When purchasing wine for the cellar, make sure that the retailer has the wines with cork wet and not standing under a commercial heat source. It amazes me, when walking through retail establishments, how many wines are sitting directly under heaters and standing straight up!
Choose wines carefully. Again, not all wines are destined to age well. Ask a reputable wine person which wines are appropriate for aging, how long they should be aged and what you should expect after you open them. There are also many fine wine magazines online as well as by subscription that can guide you on wines appropriate for the cellar and their prices.
Age both red and white wines. Remember, there are white wines that age well. I have just come back from a German riesling tasting in which many of these sweet beauties were more than 15 years old. So try to balance your cellar with a few delicious white wines as well.
Have a wonderful holiday season!
Lorn Razzano is former owner of the Wine Cellar in Ashland and still works there part-time. Reach him at email@example.com.