If the term wine cellar stirs up visions of chateau basements or high end, villa-style living then you’re doing it wrong. A cellar, for today’s wine drinker, simply means a place to properly store wine.
For consumption dates months or years in the future, proper storage is a must. Heat will upset the balance between tannins, acid, and fruit — often referred to as “cooked” conditions that will render your wine useless. Frozen wine will expand in the bottle and can cause the cork to eject or break. “Light strike” can create foul smelling wine thanks to a change in chemical compounds exposed to too much light. Needless to say, these are all good reasons to put your wine in a protected place.
So how to go about the “cellaring” of your wine? Select a spot with a stable temperature, ideally between 55 and 65 degrees fahrenheit. Choose a space that gets limited light and retains a steady level of humidity. Storing bottles on their side is preferred, so that the cork is in constant contact with the liquid, which keeps it healthy and thus limits the opportunity for oxygen to seep in.
Depending on what is available in the home, one may have a basement room that could be outfitted with shelves and other fancy cellar niceties. There may be an extra closet that can hold wine racks instead of towels on its shelves. Even arrangements as simple as a cupboard in the coolest part of the kitchen or a box underneath the bed could work.
Anything is better than the counter, the top of the fridge, or a shelf above the stovetop. These are some of the worst zones to store wine, though they are quite common. Sure, those are convenient, but they receive waves of heat and light on the regular. (As a PSA, these are also misinformed spots to store olive oil, for similar reasons.)
The fun part is deciding how to fill the cellar. Open your notes app and jot down how you plan to use these wines. Do you want to spend a lot and hopefully be rewarded upon opening an iconic wine or vintage? Do you want to pepper your assortment with a few gems, but mostly want wine to drink as needed? Do you just need a few well-selected bottles for special occasions? Do you have a big event (say, an anniversary) in a few years and want to age some bottles for that moment?
Some people prefer to drink wines young, others like the benefit of age. There’s not really any rules. If you can swing it, get a couple of bottles of a single wine so you can taste throughout its lifespan and get a feel for what you really want out of the drinking experience.
Depending on your needs, here are general guidelines for buying the wine to suit your drinking and collecting wishes:
- Best bets for the long run: Red varieties such as Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, and Tannat generally benefit from bottle age and will last heroically in the cellar.
- Also mix in: Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. These also solid red wine cellar candidates.
- Most versatile: Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, Grenache, and Syrah can often be enjoyed relatively young and will also age rather gracefully.
- If you’ve got ‘em, drink ‘em: Most rosé, Sauvignon Blanc, Moscato, and Prosecco are bottled ready-to-drink.
- White wines can also age. Chardonnay and Semillon are prime candidates.
- Some people love German Riesling with a few years on it, while others drool over aged Bandol rosé — keep in mind the treasures that don’t fit in a given box.
- Bubbles can age too, though factors such as bottling date, disgorgement date, and consumer preference play a role. Don’t hesitate to ask for help selecting bubbles to store.
- Vintages vary, so feel free to ask the Verve Wine team which years from which regions are best to lay down.