Cellaring wine without a cellar
Question from Claire: We can’t afford to dig out a cellar under our house (just yet!). Is there a cheaper alternative?
In a nut shell – Save your pennies because a cellar under your house would be ace but in the meantime I’d suggest a wine fridge. More on this below.
In a clam shell – If you’re ageing wine for any period of time, you want to make sure it’s done correctly or you’re going to be very disappointed when it comes to cracking that long awaited bottle.
Before I get started it’s probably worth mentioning that very few wines improve with age. Quality wine will get better, developing complexities and new aromas and flavours but an ordinary wine will stay ordinary, in fact it’ll probably get worse because you’ll lose those fruit flavours.
If you’re planning on aging your wine make sure you do it for an appropriate length of time which all depends on the grape variety, sugars, acid and tannins (among other things). As a general rule (but it really is different for each bottle) red wine should be aged for 2-10 years. White wine should only be aged for 2-3 years. But there are always exceptions to the rule for example quality White Burgundy (Chardonnay from Burgundy in France) can be aged for over 20 years. When you purchase the wine check the ideal ageing length with the person that sold it to you.
Now onto the conditions you should store your wine in. Wine is a living thing and is constantly changing (especially when it’s under cork) so it will respond to the environment it’s stored in. Your wine will spoil if there is too much heat, dampness and/or light so you need to store it in a cool, dark and dry place.
Cellared wine should be kept at a constant temperature (so very little temperature fluctuation). Ideally, you want your wine to be stored at 12°C – 16°C. If you have the luxury of a moderated temperature 14°C is ideal. Over 24°C and your wine will begin to oxidise.
You want the humidity at no greater that 70%. If it’s too humid the cork will dry out which will allow air in and will oxidise the wine. You also want to store your wine horizontally (if it’s under cork) so the cork doesn’t dry out. See my post on cellaring wine under crew cap here.
This one sounds a little silly but your wine should be stored free of vibrations (which is easy to do if you don’t live on a fault line). Like you and I, wine will get crappy if it’s disrupted while it sleeps. And you don’t want any strong smells around either as these could permeate the cork and taint the wine.
Now onto what you can use in the absence of a cellar. Storing wine under the house is ideal as the conditions there are just right but in the meantime get yourself a wine storage cabinet or wine fridge which will replicate all the ideal conditions of a cellar. The only problem with this is the limited space in wine fridges. Now I’m getting a little carried away but if you’re a collector and have hundreds of bottle (invite me over) or your wine is an investment you can always pay for public wine storage too.
And if you can’t afford a wine fridge or public wine storage remember 14°C, less than 70% humidity, dark and no vibrations.
Image from Harvey Norman.