What's in Your Cellar?

Aging wines, perhaps, if you’re a patient hobbyist.



We live in an age of “instant” this and “warp-speed” that—disagree with something you hear on TV , and your tweet of protest can arrive in seconds. But there are still slower satisfactions, and you can have one of them in your own basement: the pleasure of collecting and patiently aging fine wines, to be taken out and savored only when they’re ready. Socalled “cellaring” is a time-consuming hobby that involves study, trial-and-error efforts and lots of patience—just like life. And like life, it can provide moments of delightful discovery.

Before you build a wine cellar and begin hauling home cases of that promising cabernet, first determine whether you actually enjoy aged wine, suggests MaryAnn Worobiec, Wine Spectator magazine’s senior editor.

“I wouldn’t recommend starting unless you know you like them because aged wine can be an acquired taste,” says Worobiec. “As wines age, they tend to lose their upfront fruit flavors and develop secondary notes that are more subtle.”

According to Worobiec, aging will change the wine’s structure—the relationship between its different parts: the tannins, acidity, intensity and flavors. She suggests sipping aged wines at restaurants and at special events at wine shops. “Once you’re bitten, you’ll take every opportunity to try them,” she said. “Take pictures and notes, and get references.”

Ron Carter, co-owner of The Wine Seller in Ridgewood for 19 years, agrees that learning is the fun part of cellaring. “Perhaps the best reason to age wine is for the fun of seeing it evolve over time,” he says. “Instead of buying just one bottle, buy four—they don’t have to be ultra-premium—and open them over a year or two. Take some notes on the aromas and flavors each time you pull the cork and compare them.”

Once you have decided to create a wine cellar, the question of proper and adequate storage arises. “How big a cellar you need depends on your budget and space,” Worobiec says. “For some, basic wine storage starts with shelving bottles in a dark corner in a closet. Others progress to equipping a special room or basement with a cooling unit.”

Whether you opt for a closet or a dedicated room, the basics are the same:

  • Keep a consistent temperature—about 55º F.
  • Avoid light.
  • Avoid vibration.
  • Keep the humidity level between 65 and 70 percent. (Consider investing in a hygrometer, used for measuring moisture content; digital models sell for about $30.)
  • Keep the bottles horizontal, so the wine stays in contact with the cork and preserves the seal.

A wine refrigerator is another option. For between $150 and $300, you can buy a refrigerator that holds about 24 bottles. (It’s also a great way to showcase your collection.) Coolers vary in capacity and price, and come in dual-zoned models with different temperatures for reds and whites.

“Wine coolers can fill up quickly, so if you’re buying hundreds of bottles a year and you’re not able to store them properly, consider a [commercial] wine storage locker,” Worobiec advises. “There are wine storage lockers all over the country; they offer a perfect solution if your wine collection outgrows your home, but it’s not as convenient.”

Finally, what kinds of wines are worth aging? Higherpriced red wines above $50 per bottle were named the most by wine sellers. “I heard a statistic that more than 95 percent of wines sold are meant to be consumed immediately,” says Carter. “But even moderately priced wines can benefit from a little aging, particularly reds. French Bordeauxs are age-worthy, and more expensive wines will almost always have greater aging potential.”

“But a wine cellar is not a hospital,” Worobiec cautions. “A flawed bottle of wine won’t come out better with time. It will just get older.” —Deston Nokes

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