My first exposure to the existence of wine cellars, and for years after, my vision of what a wine cellar should be was in Edgar Allen Poe’s The Cask of Amontillado. Not to discount the great idea of bricking up one’s adversary, as described by Poe, but most of us have other reasons for building and maintaining a wine cellar.
Because we enjoy good food and wine, having several choices available at a moment’s notice is the single greatest advantage to having a cellar. Other reasons are: lying down to improve flavor, long term investment and saving money.
Most wines released from distributors are meant to be drunk quickly (soon I mean), but there are many wines whose flavors benefit from aging. Big tannic California Cabernets, Syrah, Bordeaux, Burgundies and even some big spicy Chardonnay develop balance as the tannic acids mellow. There should be space allocated in every cellar for some of these long term guests.
Investing is probably the least important reason to have a cellar, but if one is willing to do some homework it can be fun. I worked for a national wine publication several years ago and had current information on weather and vineyard conditions through several sources. They pointed to the fact that 1990 was going to be a very good year in Bordeaux, California and Italy. The gamble was that a torrential rainfall or hailstorms could ruin the harvests. I invested in Bordeaux futures that year with the thought that the only downside was that I may have a lot of first growth wine to drink for several years. Not so bad I thought. It turned out to be one of my best investments ever, as my wine cellar investment became worth many times over what I had paid for it.
Saving money comes in the form of buying a case rather than a bottle when good wines are offered on sale or “post off”. Most all retailers offer case discounts on wine, so one can take advantage of that too.
The ideal conditions of a wine cellar are few, but important. The bottles should be stored in a dark cool place on their sides to keep the cork moist, and the temperature should be a cool 55-60 degrees. The exact temperature is not as important as consistency. Climate control equipment such as those offered by Summit Wine Cellars is available to properly control the wine cellar temperature and humidity of just about any space.
Allocating a closet or an area in the basement for conversion to wine storage can be an exciting project, and greatly adds to the enjoyment of wine.
To quote the famous wine writer Hugh Johnson, “Wine asks for two things: to be kept lying in a cool dark place, and to be served generously!”