As with all things grape, a home wine cellar begins with just one good bottle of wine. People who like wine come to realize that most wines — white, rosé, and light red — are meant to be enjoyed when they’re young.
Beaujolais is an example of a wine meant to be consumed shortly after it is bottled. The charm of these young wines lies in their youth and lightness. Storing a wine of this nature spoils its simplicity.
Thoughts of building a private wine collection begin to surface with the first sip of an aged wine, a giant red from Bordeaux or a slinky, yet elegant, white from Burgundy. These wines benefit from storage, which over time intensifies their flavor. This applies to 95% of the world’s best wines, which should be stored before drinking. ‘Drink no wine before its time’, as the old saying goes.
Benefits of a Home Wine Cellar
Maintaining a home wine collection obviously gives one better choice when entertaining or on those occasions when wine is de rigeur. Having a home cellar gives you access to mature wines without having to search them out in wine stores spread around your city. With a wine cellar, you can buy in bulk to take advantage of sales and discounts offered. Buying wine by the case typically gives you the best price per bottle, enabling you to keep a wider selection on hand as well as allowing you to shop whenever you choose.
Another thing, aged wines are much more expensive than young wines, astronomically expensive sometimes. Having a place for keeping wines in the house allows you to buy young, lay it down for a while before you drink it when it’s mature. And, keeping your own cellar insures that the wine was stored correctly, under the proper conditions rather than held haphazardly stockpiled in some drafty warehouse. Shoddy storage can and will spoil the wine. Classic wines if stored properly increase in value and can be a very good investment with a little thought and planning.
Most of us don’t live in the ideal climate for storing wine. However, many of us do have a basement where the natural below ground coolness can work to our advantage. A basement storage closet hung with inexpensive or cheap wine racks will do the trick. Choose a spot where there is more darkness than light, the darker the better. That’s why a closet with a door is ideal. The spot should be free from vibration and have a fairly stable temperature, no drastic changes from day to day. High humidity is also good for wine, but this can be added to the set up.
The bottles must be stored in darkness because light causes the wine to age prematurely. Bright light, either natural or artificial, can penetrate the dark green or brown glassed bottles, ruining your collection if you’re not careful. Normal household vibrations are okay, but exaggerated vibrations can prevent the natural sediment in wine from settling inside the bottle. Humidity is what keeps the cork tight. However, the most important feature to remember is to keep the temperature stable at all times. Big fluctuations in temperature will destroy your wines. Remember, hotter temperatures are much worse than low or colder temperatures.
Planning is the Key
The next thing you need to do is to decide how many bottles you want to keep on hand. If money is no object, then you’re home free — you’re limited solely by your imagination and disposable income. However, if you’re on a budget like the rest of us, then it would be wise to start small and work up to your fantasy. Some hotels in Paris, France are known to keep cellars with upwards of 400,000 bottles of wine, which makes for a massive cellar. Starting with 50-100 bottles is good at the beginning, taking into consideration the amount of drinking and entertaining that you may do monthly. You can always expand from there as you improve your knowledge and expertise.
Necessary Building Blocks
Some other working parts of the cellar include an air conditioner, a simple humidifier, and insulation in the walls. Larger cellars may also employ power generators, just in case. Don’t have or can’t buy a generator? Then bear in mind that big blocks of ice or lots of bags of ice will work for a short period of time until the power comes back on. If you don’t have a basement and must use another living area, be aware of your light sources,the dimmer the better. You may not be able to block all light but you can just cover your bottles with a blanket.
Problems with Humidity
Installing a humidifier will keep the corks moist and tight in the mouth of the bottle because it is dryness that shrinks the cork, allowing air to enter and spoil the wine. Too much moisture in the air, however, will rot cardboard boxes and ruin the labels on the bottles making them unreadable. Cardboard boxes, you say? Some people use the cardboard case box the wine comes in as a cheap wine rack. If you live in a very humid location then this is not the best thing to do. If humidity is a problem, use a different storage rack, inexpensive and readily available from most stores that sell wine cellar accessories or wine cellar equipment. Spray each bottle label with an unscented hair spray lacquer in order to keep it readable.
The Basics: Storing Wine in the Basement
Within the cellar, storage space is divided between bins and racks. The most basic bins are the wooden crates in which the wine is sometimes sold. Several bottles of the same kind of wine are kept this way. We’ve all seen wine racks and probably have one in the kitchen. Racks in the cellar need not be expensive, but they need to be able to hold single bottles stored on their sides. When putting in a cellar, make room to store the bigger, magnum size bottles as well. Particularly since a wine investment rule of thumb is that you should purchase 4-6 magnum sized bottles of wine for every 12 bottles of wine that you bought for investment purposes. You should also allow space for half- bottles as well. There is nothing like a sweet Sauterne dessert wine — expensive but uniquely satisfying. And it goes without saying that all wines should be stored on their side.
Home Wine Cellar Not an Option?
If all this seems like too much work or you simply don’t have the space, then maybe purchasing a wine storage unit (using cheap wine racks) for location elsewhere in the home is the answer. The options and varieties today are numerous and run the gamut when it comes to cost. You can go as cheaply or as expensively as you choose or your purse allows. The fun part before drinking will be in the exploration of what is available. Enjoy.