Starting your own cellar is a rewarding experience that requires patience and will power. But in 5-10 years, your palate and your friends you share your wine with, will be ecstatic at the gems they get to drink and enjoy. Here are my few tips and tricks to starting your own cellar. Remember, slowly but surely. Regardless of your budget, it really is possible to amass a stunning collection of wines from around the world.
I’ll never forget the day I started my own wine cellar in my house. Prior to owning a house, we lived in a condo, and I had already started collecting wine, it just happened to live in my storage locker in a cool basement underground. Thinking back- it probably wasn’t the safest place to store my collection, given that a thin chain link fence and a combination lock was all that kept thieves from getting into my prized bottles.
When we moved into our house, I knew there would be space to grow my collection, and my first Christmas in the house, my husband and brothers surprised me with a 200 bottle custom shelving unit. As part of the surprise, they put all my existing 30 bottles into the shelf, and my brother-in-law’s friend, who had come along to help with installation, was in absolute astonishment that we had that much wine sitting around that hadn’t been drunk yet. His eyes were wide, and he simply couldn’t believe that we had the will power and where with all to keep a collection. 4 years later, my collection has grown, and my cellar probably sits with 300 bottles. It has taken dedication, a significant budget, and my few rules of purchasing wine to get to where I am today. So, how do you get started? Here are my rules to getting your cellar started and on track!
You have to have the right space/conditions to store wine...
Many houses now days are built with a cold room, this will suffice, but is not the ultimate place for your most prized possessions. I realize that not everyone has the budget to build a state-of- the-art-cellar; and that is okay. If you are looking to purchase and keep wines for more than 5 years, I suggest purchasing a wine fridge to store some of your collection. It will simply ensure the temperature and humidity is correct for your wine.
Most wine will be okay in your cold room if you keep these two things in mind- shelter the bottles from any light and lay and store your wine on its side. The reason for avoiding light is simply that UV will breakdown the wine with time. The reason for laying wine on its side, especially wine that has a natural cork, is that the wine will constantly touch the cork and stop it from drying out. A natural cork that dries out will contract and allow air into the bottle. This will spoil the wine.
What to keep and what to drink...
Cellar management is a big part of ensuring you are keeping the right wines and having others pass their prime. If you don’t keep track of what you have in your cellar, it could be a recipe for disaster. There are wines that have a shelf life of about a year- these are most simple white wines. The exceptions to this rule would be Chablis from France, and Champagnes, which can withstand the test of time (although there are exceptions even to this). If your wine has never been in oak barrels, the chances are it shouldn’t be kept for any extended period of time. I actually just had this happen with a bottle of Rose which was just over a year old, and it began to loose its colour and when we opened it, it lacked any fruit character.
That being said, not all red wine should be kept to extended periods of time either- take a look at the age of the wines you are purchasing. For instance, a lot of Spanish wine could already be 5 years old when you buy it-this is great for immediate gratification, but it is risky to try and age a 5 year old wine for an additional number of years, it will really depend on quality of the producer to determine whether this is a good idea.
Without getting to specific (because there are literally exceptions to every generality that I could make) there are usually small bottle icons on the labels of all the vintages in the LCBO that will give you recommendations on how long to keep bottles. What you are trying to do when you age or cellar wine, is to soften tannins, increase complex flavours from strictly fresh fruit to more dried or cooked fruit, and, overall allow for some balance in the structure of the wine.
Starting your collection....
Once you have an ideal space for your collection, and are a little more comfortable with what you want to keep vs. drink. My rule of 3 is really a good way of increasing the number of bottles in your cellar. When you go to purchase a fine wine, buy 3 bottles. This will allow you to try one now and if its really good you won’t be sad it’s gone- because you have more! Then, cellar the other 2 bottles. The next bottle you can drink 1-2 years after purchase (and if you are like me, you can compare tasting notes to see what the differences are with age). If, for any reason after that time frame you drink the second bottle and you see a complete lack of fruit character, or, there is a fault in the wine, you should drink the 3rd bottle soon after. If it is ageing nicely, leave it in your cellar for another 2-10 years (depending on the wine).
I realize with this rule of 3, there are always budget constraints on what you can afford to purchase. And one $50.00 bottle is feasible while three bottles at $150.00 you cant afford, that’s okay. It might not always work out that way. I would suggest then that you do your research on the bottle you are looking to add to your collection- chances are there is a wine critic who has given their prediction on whe
n the ideal drinking timeframe would be.
Remember, price does not always indicate longevity of ageing in wine. In fact, some wine is so expensive because it is older and ready to drink, and the store, or producer has done the hard work for you!
Good luck with the start of your wine cellar. Patience and will power will really pay off!
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