Someone recently asked me to describe the "perfect" cellar. Last week I talked about optimal conditions, including temperature and how the wines should be stored. This week I'd like to talk about how to choose wines for cellaring.
Cellaring a wine gives the flavors time to "come together." A well-cellared wine is really a thing of beauty when done with a little foresight and diligence.
Not all wines are destined to age well; those that are designed by a winemaker to be aging-worthy are the wines to purchase for the cellar. Some years ago, for example, I evaluated a home cellar only to find a variety of red wines that were supposed to be consumed within a few years of production. The owner of the cellar chose these wines because he liked them and assumed, because they were red varietals, they would age well. I cannot tell you how many times I have run across personal cellars with hundreds of bottles of what amounts to vinegar in them because of this mistaken belief.
Wine is like any product: the more you understand what you're buying, the better you can leverage the asset. Putting a wine in the cellar takes a bit of homework on your behalf. Some of the best ways to understand about wine are to go to the winery itself and talk to the folks who made the wine, establish a good rapport with a knowledgeable wine merchant, read about wines in the wine press and attend wine tastings held by a knowledgeable wine person.
Another way to expand your knowledge of wine is to attend or work at wine fairs such as the Jefferson Public Radio Wine Tasting or the Newport Seafood and Wine Festival. Wineries are always looking for volunteers to work at such events, and the knowledge one gains in participating is substantial. Having been involved with wine competitions and similar events, I've been exposed to a great many wines that I subsequently put into my cellar.
One of the drawbacks of establishing a cellar is that it's expensive. Most wines intended to go into a cellar for long-term aging are spendy. Even when I owned a wine shop, I found myself increasingly climbing the dollar ladder, reaching for those little gems, which were, frankly, out of my budget comfort zone. Unless you are actively engaged in the wine business, it is rare to turn a profit from storing wine.
But there is great joy in building a cellar, in being patient until a wine has achieved the right balance of flavors to be opened. Find varietals that you enjoy and cellar those varietals. The idea of having a well-rounded cellar is to stick with varietals that please you. If you are not, for example, a fan of dessert wines or sparkling wines, by all means, stay away from them for the cellar.
Do open your palate, however, and expose yourself to as many new and interesting wines as you can. It's fine to have favorites, but I think that there are so many wonderful wines in the world, you will be surprised at what lovely and not outrageously expensive wines you can find to cellar.
Lorn Razzano is former owner of the Wine Cellar in Ashland and still works there part time. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.