Ever thought about having a wine cellar or something vaguely resembling it? The fact that your name is not on the mortgage is immaterial.
A wine cellar sounds great if you have a 1976 Grange on hand. But who can afford to spend $1,800 on a single bottle of wine? Still, you don’t have to be a millionaire or even have a lot of wine to effectively “cellar” wine, even if you live in an apartment.
Say you have some wines you’ve purchased for a special occasion, maybe a 21st birthday or an anniversary – something better than the quaffing wine you bought to wash down that Thai takeaway – and you want to store them correctly. Or maybe someone told you it was a good idea to allow a particular wine to “gain some age”. What’s the best way to care for these wines until you decide to drink them?
You don’t need a French chateau or a luxury mansion to store wine properly. Read on.
There are two key factors to keep in mind: temperature and light. If your wine has a cork seal rather than a screw top, then a third factor to keep in mind is humidity. And by the way, Grange is likely to have a cork top for the foreseeable future so you’ll need to think about humidity if you’re storing Grange. It’s worth noting that almost all Australian wines are now screwed-capped, but at least two-thirds of the world’s commercially sold wine is still cork-sealed.
Temperature should ideally be constant and in the range of 12 to 16 degrees Celsius. This can be a challenge in Australia considering our hot summers. It may be that if there’s no artificial cooling at your place then the inside temperature can be well over 20 degrees in summer. This means that your wine will mature quickly so you may not get that 10-year-old wine in the tip-top shape you were hoping for.
Temperature variation is an important factor so try to locate the wine in a spot where the temperature doesn’t vary more than seven or eight degrees Celsius. If you find a place where around 16 degrees is common/usual you can allow for the temperature to go to around 23 degrees without too much worry. But the closer it stays to a constant temperature the better.
You also don’t want the temperature to go over 26 degrees for any length of time, no matter what – that’s just too warm for ageing wine. On the other hand, you don’t want to store wine below 12 degrees for long periods as that stops the wine maturing. If it comes to a choice, it’s better to have wine stored at a temperature that’s around 20 rather than 9 degrees. It sounds more complicated than it is.
If you don’t have a basement (who does?), perhaps a dark, cool part of your home: a cupboard on the east side of the house under the stairs might qualify. Just look for a spot that’s not hot, gets minimum light and where the temperature is relatively even.
As you’ve no doubt heard, wine is a living thing, so light can affect it. That means both direct sunlight and fluorescent light, so minimise the impact of light. Make sure to avoid movement as well. On that point, be aware of vibrations such as foot traffic near the wine, so don’t locate your store in the kids’ play area. Wine is best left undisturbed – just let it be until you’re ready to drink it.
As mentioned above, humidity too can be an issue. It shouldn’t be too high or too low if the corks are to be allowed to do their job (assuming you have bottles with cork seals). A 70% humidity figure is a guide.
Screw-capped bottles can be stored standing up or lying on their sides, and cork-sealed bottles should be stored on their sides because this keeps the corks moist.
Taking into account everything we’ve said, the easiest solution to cover all these factors is a temperature-controlled wine cabinet. You might get a second-hand one for a few hundred dollars, but the price is around $600 to many thousands for a new one. If that’s out of your price range, then assess your home for a suitable location. This can be anywhere, but probably not in the kitchen or bathroom because of the temperature variations in those rooms. A garage corner that doesn’t get hot despite cars being nearby might do, but you don’t want wine too close to strong smelling liquids like petrol as that can adversely affect it. Below-ground level usually works as it’s naturally cooler there, so basements work well.
If you don’t have a basement (who does?), perhaps a dark, cool part of your home: a cupboard on the east side of the house under the stairs might qualify. Just look for a spot that’s not hot, gets minimum light and where the temperature is relatively even. Depending on your home, this could be the bottom level of a linen cupboard. A friend of mine dug a hole in his backyard, dropped a small garden shed into the hole, built a few steps down for access and so created a good place for his wine. There are creative options if you give it some thought.
Good wine – particularly red wine – is worth cellaring. The quaffers stay much the same so there’s no real point there. Winemakers generally indicate what they think the potential cellaring life of a wine is so that’s the place to start. The bigger reds (shiraz, cabernet etc) and red blends are good candidates for cellaring. As for whites, my favourites for ageing are Semillons and some Rieslings, but other people like aged Chardonnays and other varieties too.
When I open an aged red, I strain it into a clean jug (a tea strainer works), clean the bottle with warm water (no detergent) then strain the wine back into the bottle for drinking. Some prefer the wine in a decanter, and that’s fine. It’s a personal choice. All this gets air to the wine to bring out its flavour and cleans away any sediment.
Even a modest “cellar” is worth considering. Treat your wine well and it will treat you well in return.