I am often asked, “How can I create a wine cellar?”
Collecting wine means first possessing wine that you believe will be better at a future time, and being blessed with the patience to wait. Equally important is having a proper place to store your wine.
The ideal conditions for long-term wine storage are consistent temperatures ranging between 54 and 58 degrees, ample humidity and darkness. If you have a corner in your basement that fits this criteria, you’re my hero. If not, there are wine-storage facilities in many places or storage units you can buy for your home.
Here are a few tips for collecting wine:
Collect because you love wine, not because you think it might be a great investment. Why? Well, while some wines such as Bordeaux always seem to appreciate, it is still a risk unless you really know what you are doing or hire someone who does. As far as investments go, well, nothing is looking all that solid right now, but I would not hold my breath waiting for wine to replace gold as the new currency standard. Like art, wine is a matter of taste. However, it has a much more limited shelf life.
When you are putting your cellar together, think of the types of wines you like and do your homework to find out if they will age. You might love California chardonnay, but only a handful have much life beyond five years from the vintage. California pinot noir might be your thing, but pinot noir requires special conditions to age well. On the other hand, premier cru and grand cru Burgundy, which is also made from pinot noir, can age for 10 to 30 years, depending on producer and vintage.
Some grapes inherently age better than others. Sweet wines that also have high acid can age for decades. This includes German wines, Vouvray from the Loire Valley and dessert wines like port and sauternes.
Cabernet sauvignon ages better than merlot, as a rule, and merlot ages better than pinot noir. Barolo is longer-lived than barbaresco. While wines have inherent properties based on genetics that allow them to age, terroir and winemaking play a big part in their lives.
I was at a dinner several weeks ago where barolos and barbarescos from the 1990s were served. The two barolo producers fell into the modern camp, while Giacosa, the barbaresco producer, is as traditional as tea at Harrods. Conventional wisdom might say the barolos would seem younger and less developed, but the Giacosa barbarescos were not only more youthful, but had layers of complexity that none of the barolos possessed.
Sometimes wineries tell you how long you can age certain wines, but remember, they are trying to sell you something. Granted, if you taste a pinot noir that was aged for five years based on the winemaker’s recommendation and it taste like vinegar, chances are you won’t buy from that winery again, so it is in the best interest of the producer to be honest.
Here’s the thing: Starting a wine cellar is not as easy as collecting a few bottles in your closet. Part of the fun of collecting is learning what can age and for how long. Wine critics, trusted salespeople and the winemakers are going to be your best guide, but you also have to find out for yourself what types of wines you like since at the end of the day, no one should be enjoying them but you.
Pamela S. Busch is the owner of Skrewcap.com, founder of CAV Wine Bar and a Bay Area wine consultant. Please submit your questions to Pamela@Skrewcap.com.