With talk of wine, comes talk of wine cellars, talk of aging wine, and for many, the anxiety of determining what will cause a wine to age well. There are numerous factors that cause some wines to age better than others, and even experts with perfect wine storage guess wrong occasionally (and yes, I did say guess).
First off, do you enjoy older wines? Not everyone does, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with you if you do not like aged wines, but it is a good thing to know before you start buying cases of wines to lay down for decades. Here are a few questions to help you figure out if you enjoy older or younger wines better.
In red wine I prefer
a) Fresh, bright fruit flavors
b) Earthy flavors
The wines I like best are often described as
My friends describe me as
a) The life of the party, or larger than life
b) Reserved and thoughtful
I enjoy wines that are
a) Tannic and/or slightly astringent
If you answered with mostly a’s chances are you prefer your wines young and fruity, so stop reading this silly article, go throw a steak on the grill, pop a bottle of Zin, and drink your red wines within two to four years of vintage date. If you answered with mostly b’s, think about shopping for older bottles, finding a good storage space in your house, and laying some bottles down now for the future. On average, bottles in your cellar should be consumed between 7-10 years from vintage date.
So, you’ve decided that you need to start building up a wine cellar, it’s time to go shopping right? Nope, not yet. Before you start spending any amount of money on wines that you want to lay down for any number of years you need to think about where and how you are going to store them. The most important factor of storing wine is temperature. You’ll want to find a spot that is fairly consistent in temperature, and ideally between 55-70° F. Good options – subterranean basements or crawl spaces, interior closets, or small, self-contained wine fridges (you can find models that hold as few as 8 bottles, or as many as 1500). Bad options – on top of your refrigerator, in your laundry room, next to your water heater. The longer you plan on storing wine in this location, the more consistent you want the temperature to be.
Two other enemies of wine storage humidity and light. You want the humidity to stay fairly consistent, and between 55-85% – too dry and your corks will dry out, too moist and they will mold. Also remember – dark cellars are happy cellars. Light exposure will eventually cook your wines, and you’ll end up with overly carmely, flat wines that are more reminiscent of bourbon than a lovely, aged, red wine.
Now that you’ve found a cool, dark space to store your wines, let’s look at getting that cellar stocked. So, what do you look for in a bottle for your cellar. For me, I think about it in terms of wines that aren’t quite done yet. These wines have some characteristic that is at present time a little green.
Big, brassy, bold reds you want good fruit flavors, but some tannins to really dry out your mouth.
Soft, supple reds look for nice fresh fruits and floral characteristics, but some mouth-puckering acidity.
Pink wine – don’t cellar at all, open it before the end of summer.
White wine – well, that gets complicated; it’s probably best to start with some reds and then move into whites a bit later.
Bubbles – don’t hold on to bubbly for longer than two years, otherwise you get sparkling wine that’s not so sparkly, and that’s never good!
Now that you have a few bottles in your cellar, go find some yummy, everyday drinking wine to tide you over until the bottles in your cellar are ready to drink.