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The Cellar and What You Need To Know...

Fast Facts - The Environment:

Keep it fairly dark (incandescent light is more preferable than fluorescent)
Temperature 8-14 degrees Celsius
higher temperatures accelerate aging
avoid temperature fluctuation
Tranquility is important - quiet and vibration-free
Keep a clean cellar, well ventilated, no strong odors, and wine only

Fast Facts - Arrangement:

Place bottles horizontally to keep cork damp
Labels upright
prevents label damage during handling
allows gentle removal
shows sediment with minimal disturbance
Aperitifs, liquors, and spirits stay upright so liquid does not touch cork or cap
Whites, sparkling wines: Lowest part of the cellar where it is coolest, least temperature fluctuation
Reds above whites arranged according to the "sturdiness of the wine"
Light and fruity reds just above whites
full bodied reds are next
uppermost row(s) for ports

Fast Facts - Security:

Get a lock... Enough said...

Test Yourself and Your Cellar:

If you can walk into your cellar area and find a wine without turning on the lights, you and your cellar are a marvel of wine storage efficiency!

There are essentially two types of storage approaches, one for short term storage and one for long term storage. Short term storage is more suitable for places like restaurants and places where there is a need to fill wine orders quickly on a daily basis. Long term storage is for wines that are blessed with the opportunity to mature. Both simply require only a little common sense to arrange and protect an investment. This section has the long term storage user in mind, but some information does relate to the needs of short term storage as well.

Sit down, you may be surprised, but you don't need a deep cold underground catacomb to store wine. A simple, relatively cool and dark space with a stable environment will do for most people. Others may have a special wine refrigerator, still others may have the luxury of a full wine cellar that has been in the family for generations. Lucky bastards. But very simply put, the more attention you place in developing and controlling your cellar environment, the better the conditions are for wine to continue to improve chemically and physically... slowly and peacefully.

The rule of thumb we all know for wine in general is "keep it constant cool, dark, and quiet". That's what the wine wants so that's what it gets. White wines are particularly fragile, but in general a wine stored too cool or too warm will suffer. Too cool, and you run the risk of crystals forming. Translation: Damaged wine. Too warm, and the wine matures at an accelerated, unpredictable, and uncontrollable rate. The fancy term often used for this is that the wine will "madeirize" (Madeira is a fortified wine from the island of Madeira off the coast of Northern Africa). Translation: Damaged really strong wine.

We usually associate humidity in storage with cigars, but as with temperature, there is an optimal humidity range for wine storage as well primarily for the sake of preserving the health of the cork. The ideal range is between %60-%80 humidity. Anything below %50 humidity and corks begin to dry out. Anything above %80 places corks at increased risk of becoming moldy and labels begin to peel and rot. Bottles kept on their sides preserves corks well enough (labels up), but if you lose the cork, you lose the wine so its worth considering. And since %70 is also the ideal humidity for your cigars, you may be tempted to store your expensive stogies with your wine. Don't. That is, don't unless your cigar humidor is relatively well sealed. Avoid contamination from cellar odors, whether from stored cigars or stored vegetables. Try to keep your wine storage area for wine only.

Not only might you lose sleep over temperature and humidity, but fluctuation in temperature and humidity can be as bad for wine as fluctuation in weight in one's diet. Over the long run, it can bring more harm than good. Avoid fluctuations. This goes for temperature, humidity, light, and all other factors I can think of. I'm discovering that wines can be rather fussy that way... This is a particularly difficult problem to control for a cellar in countries that experience traditionally cold winters and hot summers.   I have heard of some people using extensive fiberglass insulation for their storage areas, and yet others investing in dedicated air conditioning units. Do your best for your storage goals and you should be pleased. But good luck all the same!

It may seem like a big hassle. Well, for most people it is. The majority of the population are satisfied going to the local wine store now and then and picking up a bottle of last year from where ever. THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT. But here is a little proof of concept I tried. I went to my local wine vendor and invested in a mature bottle, one that was ready to drink. Investment may not be the right word for something that you drink that same night (I don't remember what it was, but it was French, red, a Bordeaux I think, Pauillac rings a bell, early 1990s... anyway, I think it cost me about $70CDN or $50 US), but when compared to a more recent sister bottle, this novice found enough proof to become more curious about this sort of thing. Not necessarily just for value but mainly for personal interest, education, and pleasure. I find the experience like computers. Want to learn all about computers? Buy one and play around with it. Want to learn more about wine? Buy one and play around with it. You get the idea.

I'll leave you with one final revelation that you may find useful if not persuasive. When kept well, a good wine becomes an even better gift. Now, you may prefer to invest for your retirement money elsewhere (and I suggest you do). But in terms of "social" Return-On-Investment, I find that people who receive a six or seven year old bottle of red for dinner are usually very impressed and grateful. And rightfully so. Affordable when purchased, taking care of a nice bottle so that the wine improves simply adds to the thought and gesture with very little effort.  And for added appreciation points, leave the dust on the bottle. Perfect for us guys who forget to bring a gift. Just one obvious warning to remember: The initial joy may be immediately erased upon opening if the wine has spoiled, so monitor your stock! That is, of course, the nicest reason to collect and store your own wine after all.




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