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Build a Wine Cellar
How to Build a Wine Cellar
It is often envisioned that collecting and storing wine is solely for the wealthy wine collector; those with enough money to build custom underground caves to store their thousands of priceless bottles in. This is far from the truth. Any even semi-serious wine drinker should, and can, have a proper space to store their wine, whether it is eight bottles or eight hundred bottles. Custom built temperature controlled caves are far from the norm, and far from necessary. There are many ways to safely and properly store wine, regardless of budget; whether it be the dark back corner of closet or a temperature controlled wine fridge, an old root cellar in your basement or a custom-built walk-in cellar. While anyone who wants to "cellar" their wine can, it cannot be done haphazardly. There are several rules and guidelines that must be followed if your wine is not to be wasted or destroyed. We have compiled a list of rules, guidelines, and wine-aging tips that we believe can send you on your way to correctly and safely storing wine. Whether your goal is a large and comprehensive wine collection, or enough bottles to get through the weekend, you can always be sure that the wine will be in its best condition possible to enjoy.
Rules and Guidelines
- Lay the Wine Down
Store the wine horizontally so that the wine is always in contact with the cork. Very importantly, the cork needs to be kept wet. If the cork dries out, the wine will be exposed to and damaged by oxygen.
The ideal temperature to store wine is between 55 degrees and 58 degrees Fahrenheit. However, any temperature between 40 degrees and 65 degrees Fahrenheit will suffice as long as it remains constant. Consistency is key. The most important rule when storing wine is to avoid large temperature changes or fluctuations. Great fluctuations in temperature can damage the cork, pushing minute quantities of wine out of the bottle, and letting air seep in. At a correct and consistent temperature, the wine will age properly, enabling it to fully develop to its full potential.
The ideal humidity for your cellar is 70%, however anywhere between 50%-80% is acceptable. An overly dry atmosphere is dangerous to the cork seal. In an extremely dry environment, a cork can shrink, allowing air into the bottle, oxidizing and destroying the wine. Moderate humidity is important to keep the cork in good resilient condition and prevent it from shrinking. Excessive humidity will not harm the wine, but it will cause the labels to get moldy.
Exposure to light can prematurely age a bottle of wine. Ultraviolet light will damage a wine by causing degradation of otherwise stable organic compounds, causing unfavorable and irreversible changes in the wine. Clear glass bottles are most susceptible to this problem, but wine in dark glass can be damaged as well. Wine must be stored in a relatively dark environment. Fluorescent lights give off significant amounts of ultraviolet light; incandescent or sodium vapor lights are better for a cellar.
Wine should be stored in a calm and consistent environment. Vibration agitates the bottle and negatively speeds up the chemical reactions taking place inside the bottle.
Your cellar or storage area should be clean and free from any smells, foodstuffs or other items. Strong outside smells can find their way through the cork and contaminate the wine. Do not store wine with other food. Keep the area clean and dedicated to wine.
Which Wines to Cellar?
Not all wines improve with age
Only a relatively small proportion of all the wine made in the world every year is worth keeping for any length of time.
Generally, the wine, that age the best are:
- Fuller-bodied reds
- Vintage ports and other fortified wines
- Rich sweet wine, that are intended for keeping (such as French Sauternes and Alsatian and German late-harvest wines)
- A few dry white wines (such as the best French Chablis and white Burgundy)
As with many things involving wine, there are, of course exceptions. Every wine producing country may have an anomaly of a wine that ages unusually long. For example, unoaked Semillon from the Hunter Valley of Australia ages beautifully.
Below is a chart showing the general timeframes that particular wines should age:
Suggested Cellaring Times
Set Up & Materials
- The actual "construction" of your wine cellar can be as simple or as involved as you choose to make it
- The objective in setting up racks for your wine is to securely hold the bottles horizontally, in as dense an arrangement as possible.
- Racking can be individual cells of timber, steel or plastic, or even simple shelving or bins
- As a rough guide, each square yard of racking will carry 100 bottles
- Create your own racking using bins and/or crates, or use the internet or a local wine supply store to search for the rack that best works in your particular situation
- If your home or wine storage area does not have naturally perfect temperature conditions, you may need to use a type of refrigeration unit
- Standard home or commercial refrigeration is not well suited to cooling wine
- This type of cooling is designed to remove humidity, and the temperature tends to fluctuate too much for proper wine storage.
- There are various systems on the market (including Whisper Kool and Breezaire) that are virtually self-contained temperature controlling units designed specifically for wine storage
- If the humidity levels are undesirable in your storage area, there are several options
- You can add a bowl of water to the area to increase humidity, and even add a towel to the bowl to act as "wick" to further increase humidity
- There are also many table-top humidifiers available, some designed specifically for wine cellars
Planning Your Cellar
- A good inventory system is the most important, and often least considered, element in maintaining any wine investment; a poorly kept inventory leads to wasted wines
- A cellar without organization can lead to wines being drunk before they are ready, or wines kept way past their ideal drinking time
- Whether it simply be a notebook, or wine cellar software such as Vinote's, keep track of the bottles in your cellar.
- Apply a "drink by" or "peak" year to every bottle in your inventory
- Only you can estimate how large your cellar needs to be, determined by your own drinking habits, wine preferences, etc.
- The most common problem with wine cellars is that people outgrow them
- Always plan your cellar to hold more bottles than you believe you will need, leaving space to grow into
Types/Amounts of Wine
- Often six bottles of a certain wine is enough to follow a wine over a period of years to monitor its development
- Build your collection slowly. Your tastes will change with time, and it is unwise to immediately fill your cellar with wines that you may not appreciate in the future
- Cellar as many different wines as possible, allowing your knowledge and palate to expand
The wine within a bottle is a living organism, constantly changing and hopefully evolving. Like any living thing, wine will respond positively to being treated well and taken care of. If you follow the few necessary guidelines, the rewards of enjoying a properly aged wine will far outweigh the work put into storing the bottle.