I was asked a very difficult wine question the other day. One of my students is wishing to start a wine cellar and asked me what she should place in the cellar. We talked about the issue for some time and I quizzed her on what kind of wines she liked, and so on.
It was then that I made the decision not to try to "find out" what I thought she should start her cellar with but give her an idea on how I started my cellar and why I chose the wines I did. I thought that this might give her direction on where she might want to go with her own cellar. Let me share with you what we talked about:
Price — Of course, price has to be a consideration in building any cellar. Wines can be very expensive and building even a moderate-level cellar, bottles can add up. A good cellar can cost as little as $15 a bottle for age-worthy wines, if chosen carefully.
Where — There is no reason to think about building a wine cellar if you have not thought of a place where the wines will be stored well, that is, stored in a condition which will allow the wines to age gracefully. This requires a spot where we see little temperature rise higher than 60 degrees, dark and stable, meaning that the wines should not be moved but lie undisturbed with cork remaining wet at all times. With screw cap wines it is not necessary for the wines to be lying horizontally.
When — When are the wines to be consumed? Remember that a good storage place means that one can pull the wines when one wishes; there is not a time constraint on exactly when a wine should be consumed if the wine is stored correctly. Of course, the majority of wines are to be consumed within a few years of release, but having excellent storage means that waiting longer on wines not intended to age for great periods of time can, many times, work well for you. I maintain a cellar at about 55 degrees year-round and have found some of the lighter red wines and some white wines lasting quite a bit longer than they would otherwise be expected to do so. A decision, when buying a wine for the cellar, of when you would expect, generally, to consume the wine, is a good thing.
Aging wine — If you are expecting to put a wine "down" for a great deal of time (longer than 10 years), choose wisely. Try not to choose wines which are "destined" to age but choose, instead, wines which fit your palate and what you wish to consume. This is tricky business. Yes, we know that many Barolo and Bordeaux can age quite well if stored optimally, but this has nothing to do with your personal taste in wine. Find where your palate lies and move from that point to the cellar. If, for example, you do not like the heavier, tannic red wine offerings but understand that many of these types of wines age well, there is no reason to purchase them. Also, if you like the lighter, drier, simple white wines and rosé wines, stick them in a cellar to keep them fresh but understand that they need to be consumed early.
The best thing to do about a cellar once you have the storage problem and money issues sorted in a comfortable manner, is to attend as many wine tasting events as you can and expand your experience with all types of wines, as well as get acquainted with solid wine professionals. These are invaluable assets in starting and maintaining a very nice cellar.
Lorn Razzano is former owner of the Wine Cellar in Ashland and works there part time. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.