Dreaming of building your unique wine cellar but don’t know where to start? Here are a few tips to get you started
Before you rush to the bottle store, do some online purchases or call your favourite importer. Take a step back and think about your game plan. Buying wine and collecting wine is a totally different concept to buying to drink,
especially as more than 95% of the world’s wines are meant to be consumed within a year or two after release. Buying wine for immediate consumption is often based on an impulse linked to your current mood and preference. Collecting wine means making some educated purchases, planning, patience and a long-term commitment. It also means that you will have the opportunity to drink some of the greatest wines at their optimum, as some need decades to reach their destined complexity and maturity.
Lifestyle and cost
Based on your lifestyle decide how many bottles you realistically foresee that you will need. There is no point in overstocking your cellar if you are not going to have many opportunities to serve and share your wines. You don’t need to have a lot of money to start your collection. Obviously the bigger the budget the more and better quality you get but if you buy cleverly you can start a decent collection with just R5,000 per year, increase it to R15,000 or even R50,000 and then you are in business! You may not be able to buy a premier or Grand Cru Burgundy, but you can buy a village wine from a reputable domaine. Many prestigious producers also produce a second label (like the Guidalberto from Sassicaia, of Château Musar’s Hochar Père et Fils) and this is often a good place to start.
The balanced cellar
Eventually it will be all about personal taste but a balanced cellar should contain wines to suit any occasion following a ratio of about 20/80, 20% to drink now and 80% to mature with varied drinking windows. Don’t forget to include some bigger formats such as magnums, they are perfect vessels for aging and perfect for hosting as one bottle is often never enough. This should include red and white, young and mature wines, every day and prestige bottles. Aim to stock your cellar with a rough ratio of three reds to one white, and bear in mind that many white wines (except top Chardonnays from Burgundy, Rieslings from the Mosel and Loire Valley Chenin Blancs as well as Swartland), quickly lose their freshness and might oxidise if not stored in perfect conditions.
A good wine collector always has some bubbles, aged vintage Champagne or MCCs develop beautifully exotic tertiary characters. And as meals should never finish without a sweet note some half bottles of Noble Late Harvest wines from Germany, South Africa, France and Hungary are a must. Most collectors aim to create a range spanning wine regions, style and vintages. Aspire to create breadth and depth to enable you as some point to create horizontal (explore one wine type across multiple producers and countries) or vertical tastings (same wine, multiple vintages). Also remember that as you embark on this journey of discovery, your tastes will evolve along the way, so don’t be afraid of taking advice on wine styles to cellar that may not be to your tastes initially.
Do your homework. In addition to getting the right wine at the right price, you also need to make sure that it has been stored in perfect conditions and if imported that the shipment has been done in temperature-controlled containers. Do some reading or take a course such as the WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust), learn about the world’s major wine regions, key producers, styles and grape varieties.
Storage and cellaring
Good storage is a pre-requisite to starting a good wine collection, the best way to guarantee a longer life. Lying your bottles horizontally in a rack means that the liquid is in touch with the cork and prevents it from drying out. Basic conditions are a space where the temperature is constant and no more than 19 degrees. The ideal temperature should be between 11C and 14C. Changes in temperature will affect the taste of the wine: too hot and the wine
will age too quickly with cooked flavours. Too cold and the cork can be affected, and risk causes of seepage and oxidative flavours. If you are aiming for long term storage then you need about 12C, but for short term (i.e. 5 years or so) then 18 to 20C is fine. If stored against an external wall, make sure it is not north facing. In addition, your cellar should be dark as sunlight disperses the molecules in the wine the result is lifeless and colourless wine. It should also be vibration free so not near kitchen equipment with a motor. The best option is, where possible to keep your wine in their original cases. Wines have a limited lifespan so keep a record of each wine to make sure you drink them in their prime drinking window. If you are unsure you can use a Coravin to access a sample from the bottle without compromising the quality of the wine inside. A Coravin is a device that provides the means to extract wine out of your chosen bottle – without having to pull out the cork or even disturbing the foil cap or wax that conceals it.
Lastly have fun! Collecting wine is a way to travel in time and places from the comfort of your own home. As British author Jeanette Winterson wrote, “Wine is wonderful. Wine is earth and sunshine, frost and harvest. It is solace and celebration.”
(This article has been written by Christine lundy, Marketing manager at Great Domaines, it was first published in the second edition of Gourmet Magazine in February 2019)
Picture credit: Lauren Snyman for www.thewineroom.co.za