|CELLARING / COLLECTING ...preserving the flavors while postponing the pleasures...
Sooner or later, anyone who enjoys
wine regularly will probably start a collection, although often quite unintentionally.
Of all wines produced, only a very small percentage will improve
in either sensory or economic value by aging,
and the risk of ultimate disappointment is quite high. That risk
seems however, to have little deterrent effect.
Typically, the one-bottle-at-a-time
wine buyer will at some point discover their regular merchant is sold
out of their current and typically new-found favorite wine. So, embarking
on a desperate mission of serious wine shopping, they get lucky enough
to find another source with a few remaining bottles and make the decision
to stock up. And so it begins: The Cellar.
This "cellar" may wind up
in a counter top wine rack on display, a kitchen cupboard, or a cardboard
box in a closet, crawl space, or garage. But make no mistake about
the implication, this IS the ominous beginning of a wine collection.
For now, we'll simply refer to it as "the stash."
of Wine Collecting
1. Take your time; choose
no hurry to fill your "cellar". There are
new wines every year. Read what the critics say, but
follow your own taste. Spend more money tasting than acquiring.)
2. Taste before you select.
you don't like it now, you won't like it later; the
"ugly duckling" might mature into a swan in the fairy-tale, but an ugly-tasting
wine will merely become an ugly-tasting old wine in the cellar.)
3. Buy at least 3 bottles
the chance of commiting to collect marginal wines and also of waiting
too long, not wanting to drink the "last"
Factors that will cause the drinker to morph into collector and the stash to grow
(often uncontrollably) are sentimentality, discovery, boredom,
Sentimentality results from
saving the last bottle or two of a particular favorite for
occasion". Discovery of new favorites tends to slow
depletion of the existing stash, while, at the same time, adding
to its overall volume. Boredom has the same effect.
Speculation usually begins when
inflation, created by supply and demand, makes monsters out
of bottles that began as "great values". The drinker purchases
a wine that inadvertently pays a (theoretical) dividend1 and
so decides to begin purposeful wine investing2 (aka: collecting).
Although the popular perception is that all wine improves with age ad infinitum, this notion is 95% wrong (see September Song). Collecting wines as an investment with economic goals, rather than gastronomic ones, requires quite a different set of selection criteria and the appropriate tool to measure success is a not a corkscrew, but a spreadsheet.3
of either the goal or the cause, the effect of the growing wine stash is to make the drinker-cum-collector
think about protecting and preserving it. Although this is the most
common way wine collections start and grow, it is also completely
the oposite of how it should be done.
The right way to collect
wine is to invest in a proper place to store the
collection first, but I won't waste another breath trumpeting
this largely lost cause ... Collectors and purchasers of older wines
know this Golden Rule: if in doubt about the provenance of a wine
(how it has been kept), don't buy it. However, this should never
deter anyone from opening and evaluating even such questionable offerings when the opportunity arises!
Wine Cellar Conditions
1. Constant Consistent
the range of 55-58°F, with no up or down fluctuation
totalling more than 3° in any 24-hour period.)
to either natural or artificial light ages wine
prematurely or ruins it.)
3. Solid, vibration-free.
for the cave, the slab, or the bunker; avoid
the refrigerator, the second-floor bedroom, or
4. Slightly Humid.
(In the range of 55-75%. Too
little, the corks dry and shrink; too much,
the labels and corks can develop mold that can permeate into the wine.)
HEAT IS ON
most important single factor in storing wine is CONSISTENCY of
temperature is absolutley vital to storing wine. The overriding
consideration in storing wine is keeping that temperature
many more ways can I say this?
of plus or minus 10° F
within a 24-hour period -- ruin wines. Although a solitary incident
may not be fatal, it will nevertheless permanently change the flavors
— away from the fresh-and-fruity and toward the old-and-musty.
Repeated temperature fluctuations will surely ruin wine. Heated
wine may smell and taste "cooked" or
maderized, like Sherry or burned sugar.
The garage, the root cellar,
crawl space under the house, or the unfinished basement
are very bad places to store wine, because of wide and
frequent temperature fluctuations. Lacking a dedicated temperature-controlled
room or cabinet, it's best to store wine on the floor of
an interior closet, where no wall is shared with the outdoors,
a furnace, stove, refrigerator, water heater, dish washer,
clothes dryer, sauna, kiln, boiler, foundry, particle accelerator,
There is a tool
to help find and monitor suitable temperate environments: a
minimum/maximum thermometer. This relatively inexpensive and
convenient device will show the highest and lowest temperature
in any given time period.
Place either thermometer in the potential
storage area and monitor, morning and night, for a week. If the daily
Farenheit swing is over a few degrees (5-8?), pick a new location
and begin again. Once a likely spot is found, the wine stash can be
moved there, but monitoring should continue weekly, monthly, seasonally,
annually, centennially, etc., until confident of the location's temperate
do some wines seem to become more complex
and smoother-tasting as they age?
a great deal of circumstantial evidence shows what
factors affect wine aging, no
one really knows or can explain the chemistry of
competing theories about tannins contradict one
another — one says that astringent molecules
break down into smaller pieces; the other says
they they clump together to make larger ones ...
does one know the right time to drink
that aged bottle, when the wine has reached its peak of enjoyment?
person's palate and experience is unique and prevents
a one-size-fits-all answer to this dilemma. Consumers
might appreciate wine producers who would bravely put
expiration dates on their bottles ... I know I would.
BY FEB 2049
The great body
of anecdotal evidence suggests that wines stored at lower
ranges (50° -
55° F) will be preserved longer and have a longer time
period when the wine is in its "peak" of drinkability. Wines
stored at higher ranges (65° - 70°) will age sooner,
but not as well, and have a shorter time window for maximum
Stored past five years in the
vagarities of "room temperature", most wines are likely to
show browning color and taste lifeless, flat, or tired. If
stored where temperature ever reaches above 75°, the
wines may taste cooked or maderized (burnt sugar, Sherry-like,
but without the floral appeal).
Wine aging is not predictable
with any degree of certainty and there are no guarantees that
even properly stored bottles will improve. Conversely, wines
that are not intended or expected to hold up well occasionally and mysteriously do improve.
Both disappointments and surprises can occur and whether this
risk is enticing or problematic depends more upon personality
type than taste.
As the stash grows, you will lose track of individual
bottles, guaranteed. Where is that bottle? I know I
bought one; did I trade it? ... sell it? ... drink it?
Eventually, this might become a bigger problem than keeping
the temperature stable. It's an ounce-of-prevention
problem that most collectors don't consider until it
requires a pound-of-cure to inventory and map the
Start simple, but start somewhere.
Label each box or bin with a number or letter. Keep a notebook with
columns and develop consistent abbreviations for often-repeated info,
like varietal, merchant, etc.. Be diligent about entering new purchases
and logging consumption. As the collection swells, make tags for each
bottle. Save the tags in an envelope tacked to the "cellar door" and
batch-process your depletions monthly or quarterly.
When hand entry gets
old, the computer is the greatest collector's tool yet
invented. Lacking the hacking skills to design a custom
wine data base? There are inexpensive, excellent,
downloadable software programs available, such as Vinoté,
that keep track of even more information, such as tasting
notes, and make bottle tags.
Start now. Failure to
keep track will sooner of later result in Bottles
Discovered Post Mortem and you'll be forced to consume
Procrastinators' Plonk (an excellent match with
BIN THERE, DUN
One can get as fancy as one wants with wine racking,
cubicles, bins, whatever. A general rule seems to be, the
more customized a cellar, the less flexible the storage
and the sooner it is outgrown. Strictly a personal
choice, of course, but I'd rather spend money on the
bottles than the bottle holders.
Cardboard cartons make
fine wine storage bins. They're cheap, custom fit to
bottle dimensions, and modular. They protect the labels
from scuffing and absorb any excess moisture. Stored on
their sides, with the ends cut off, the bottles can be
viewed by their end caps and the boxes can be stacked
three high with relative confidence. Simple plywood
shelving can add structural stability and arrangement
wine bottles with cellaring potential come packed in
wooden crates. These are also good storage containers for
the long term. Whether cardboard or wood, the boxes
should be opened and the bottles checked immediately
after purchase to find any low-fills, leakers, or empties
(it happens!). Re-pack after inspection. Ten years after
may be the right time to pull the corks, but too late for
bottles on their sides. Neck-up invites air contamination from corks
drying out, shrinking, and losing their seal. Neck-down results in sediment
collecting on the cork where it is unwanted and nearly impossible
to remove. This position also hides any seepage that may occur from
defective cork seals, temperature spikes, or other causes. Bottles
resting on their sides keep the corks supple, sediment sequestered,
and seals visible.
ONE SIZE DOESN'T FiT ALL
Bottled wine is often available in formats other than the standard 750 millileter4. Collections intended to include these larger (or smaller) containers should take their special spacial needs into consideration.
Plan ahead. Eventually,
either the quality or quantity of bottles acquired may
suggest a more elaborate solution than the stash of
cardboard boxes on the closet floor. Escalating options
may include faster consumption, renting a wine locker,
purchasing a dedicated wine cabinet, insulating and
cooling a spare room, or building a passive underground
cellar, winery, distillery, etc., so plan ahead (yes, this has been mentioned already...).
STUPID WINE TRICKS and MYTHS
refrigerator is not a good place to store wine for several
reasons. Refrigerators are designed for short-term cold storage; temperatures
within change over a fairly wide range, every few minutes or hours.
The components are engineered to drop temperature rapidly to below
50° F and not necessarily maintain it within a narrow range
of a few degrees. The
other more serious danger of refrigerating bottles is that the
temperature changes (and low humidity) will cause some corks to
dry out and fail prematurely, causing wine to leak out (minor problem)
and air to seep in (major problem). The
low temperatures reached, rapid temperature swings, and vibrations
from the self-contained compressors that cycle on and off several
times daily, all are harmful to wine development.
Dedicated wine storage cabinets are not cheap (or small). Don't be fooled; there are many "wine chilling cabinets" on the market, suitable for wine that will be served within aa few weeks or months at most, but unless the unit is more than half the size of your kitchen refrigerator and also twice the price per cubic foot, it is probably not a good long-term wine storage option.
The only time wine should
be kept in a refrigerator is after it has been uncorked.
In fact, the smart way to chill wine is to put it in a bucket,
filled with about 2/3 ice and 1/3 water, for 15-20 minutes (using
ice alone, without the water bath, takes longer, because air pockets between the cubes,
even if finely-crushed, insulate against the cold).
fluctuations between normal and low temperatures can cause wine
to precipitate crystals of potassium bitartrate that
look like broken glass (myth), but are completely edible and perfectly
harmless; they are merely an annoyance. When these crystals are
dried and powdered they become "Cream
of Tartar" commonly used in baking.
as a means of avoiding sediment buildup is a stupid urban myth and
completely antithetical to removing particles and sludge. Turning disturbs natural settling, has no reasonable purpose, and the extra handling and light exposure will cause
premature aging or spoilage. Sediment which settles on one side of
the glass usually stays there. This build-up, in fact, makes it easier
to remove by decanting and forfeit less wine in doing so. To help
settle the loose stuff, stand the bottle (don't shake it) in
a cool spot (not the refrigerator) for 24 to 48 hours before
decanting (see Sedimental Journey).
1. Nearly all red wines and a very few white ones may improve in taste if they are allowed to rest in their bottles for periods of a few months to a couple of years at most. Only a very small percentage of the world's wines will continue to improve longer (and only under optimum conditions). A year or two after bottling, most wines will begin to decline and proceed to deteriorate at various rates until they become unappealing to consume, most of them long before a decade has elapsed. (How often must this be repeated this before it registers?) RETURN
2. If your intent in collecting wines is to achieve economic gains more than organoleptic ones, a very concise and sensible
page of Wine
Investment Advice is provided on the Wine Seacher site.) You may also benefit by seeking services from one of these firms, both of which specialize in wine investment advice:
3. The International Fine Wine Investment Community provides articles, links, tools (simulator, forum), etc., for those who would dabble in wine investing. Investor-collectors may additionally choose to subscribe to the Liv-Ex 100 Fine Wine Index, which tracks investment-grade wine prices, even publishing a stock-market-like ticker-tape for wines.RETURN
4. See the previous article on Wine Packaging. RETURN
(mentioned earlier) sells
software and items related to wine cellaring. Why
Start a Wine Cellar? is one of several excellent articles on their site covering
all aspects of wine cellaring and collecting.
writer Jennifer Rosen does a hilarious turn on the mentality of collecting,
titled To Have and to Hoard.
places where climate-controlled dedicated Wine
Locker Rentals are available. Wine
Searcher also has an excellent chart of wine storage facilities,
by country and location, with links.
Yuri Vanetik provides Reasons to Go BIG: Large-format bottles for the serious wine collector in this article on the California Political Review site.