It’s one of the hardest questions to answer, and it’s probably the one I get asked the most: “How long should I age this?” To which I inevitably reply, “well that depends....”
How cold is your cellar? How do you like your wines to taste? Will you be eating food with it or drinking it all by its lonesome?
There are no cut-and-dried answers for how long to cellar a bottle of wine, and no matter how good you are at it, cellaring wine means you better be ready for some disappointments.
The truth is, cellaring wine means risk, but if you know what you are doing you can minimize that risk and increase your chances for reward. Here’s how:
First, figure out what you like. If you enjoy a young wine bursting with fresh, vibrant fruit, save yourself some coin and skip having a wine cellar. But if you like ’em silky, earthy and mature, than perhaps a wine cellar is a good idea for you.
Building a cellar doesn’t have to be expensive, but you do need to make sure you get a few things right. First off your basement is not cold enough for serious wine storage. Every time I hear someone say, “oh it stays pretty cold down there,” all I think is, “shit, you are ruining all that beautiful wine.” You need to stay between 11 C and 14 C , and no basement I know of is that cold. Your best idea is to seal off a small area, or use a cold room and then insulate it. Pick up a cooling unit — they usually cost less than a grand and work for several years. If that seems expensive to you, think about the alternative: a collection of wine that is underperforming at best and undrinkable at worst.
Next you need to figure out what to buy. Most experts would tell you to go out and fill up on Bordeaux. I will not. Bordeaux can provide some great drinking and, if money is no object, some damn fine wine. But if you’re pulling in less than seven figures you may want to explore some of the lesser known realms of the wine world.
The Rhone Valley is a great place to start. If you like Rhone wines, and most people do, they offer some great buys in the $25 to $50 range and often reward even modest cellaring times. Look for small producers in villages such as Lirac (two to five years aging), Gigondas, (five to 10 years aging) and Châteauneuf-du-Pape (eight to 15 years aging).
If you have a love on for Italian wines, I have some good news — there are more great buys from Italy than I can list here. Do yourself a favour, skip the Amarone and fill up on southern wines like Aglianico or go for some underappreciated Barolo or other Nebbiolo-based wine. Try to find wines with some good rustic charm — the bracing acidity and rigid tannins are what make these wines last so long in the cellar.
Beaujolais is another great region to buy for cellaring. That’s right, Beaujolais. If you stick to the best producers from villages like Morgon, Fleurie and Moulin-au-Vent, you can get some killer wines for $25 or less that will blow you away when you pop them in five to 10 years. Another can’t-miss category is Riesling. If you stroll into your favourite shop and ask your wine guy (or gal) for a few bottles of Riesling to cellar, you will be greeted with a warm smile and a host of great recommendations.
One more important piece of advice — a cellar is not an art collection to be viewed and ogled by your buddies. It is there to drink. So don’t be scared to pop a cork every once in a while. And for the love of God, if you have a case or two of something put away, make sure to check in on it regularly. There is nothing worse than opening the first bottle out of a case only to discover it’s already over the hill and you have to dump the other 11.
When you get it right, aging wine can be rewarding. Besides, what’s more fun than unearthing a bottle you have been saving for a special occasion and sharing it with friends?