By Elspeth Brown
If a wine is worth paying extra for, it is worth the effort to store it under optimal conditions. Imagine purchasing an expensive Barolo, saving it for 20 years and then opening it on a special occasion only to find it has turned to vinegar and sludge. What a waste of time, money, space and enjoyment! Aging wine is not rocket science, but it does take some strict observance to take proper care of your bottles.
This year, I had my basement refinished and had a wine cellar installed at the same time. It is, honestly, the coolest room in my house. The walls are a beautiful tongue-and-groove, knobby white pine. The lighting highlights the bottles, and the vintage chandelier adds to the richness of the room. The wine racks are made of copper pegs adding uniqueness to the entire look. Dröm Construction, of Asheville, finished the basement and wine room. The most amazing aspect of their work was how they chose just the right space for the wine cellar and the proper way to store my wines.
My wine cellar, like most others in this area, is conveniently located in my subterranean basement. The temperature is consistently cool. Heat is one of the worst factors for any wine, whether you are aging it or not. A temperature over 70 degrees will age wine quickly. The wine starts to “cook,” or turn to vinegar. The ideal temperature for a wine cellar is 50 degrees, but if the room can stay between 45-64 degrees, that will also be adequate.
When choosing a space for your wine cellar, it should not be anywhere like your kitchen or laundry room because there is a good amount of circulating heat at any given moment. It should be somewhere dark, dry and cool that receives little sunlight—like a vampire’s lair. My wine cellar has no natural light coming in, which is perfect because the UV rays can heat up a bottle and prematurely age the wine.
One of the most important things the contractors did when they were building the wine cellar was placing the wine racks on the walls. First, this saved a huge amount of space, allowing me to store even more wine. But more importantly, the copper racks were installed at a 5-degree angle, allowing the bottles to sit horizontally and slightly tilted. This allows the corks to stay moist. If the cork dries out, it shrinks, allowing oxygen into the bottle, which will also cause the wine to turn to vinegar.
Keep in mind that not all bottles of wine are created equal. The old philosophy that you get what you pay for always hold true. Most inexpensive wines will not age well because they are young. It is best for the buyer to do some research before purchasing wines to cellar. Some of the qualities to research include the vintage, or year, of the wine. You want to make sure it was a quality year. If possible, you want to check the color: the darker, the better. Tannin, acidity and high alcohol content are also big pluses when aging a wine.
Obviously, these characteristics will be difficult to identify without tasting the wine. So, this is a great excuse to get two bottles. Drink one now, and then cellar the other if you think it will pass the test of time. Have fun!
Elspeth Brown is the owner of Maggie B’s Wine & Specialty Store, 10 C South Main Street in Weaverville. For information, visit MaggieBsWine.com or call 828.645.1111.