Archive for April, 2013


April 24, 2013

Okay, last but certainly not least – how do you use your wine cellar now that you have it built and filled with wine? That probably sounds like a silly question, but you would be amazed how important it is!

That’s because you need to keep track of what is in your cellar, when you want to drink the wines, and how often you want to do that. If you don’t, only bad things can happen – drinking wines too soon, forgetting about wines that get too hold, or not even being able to find a wine when you want it!

First things first – how to organize them in your cellar so you can find them. My approach is pretty simple. I divide the wine racks up by country and region, and then organize the wines by vintage (oldest on top). And on the capsule of each bottle, I put a little white sticky with the name of the wine on it. You can buy them at Staples or other such stores, and there is enough room to put the vintage and name of the wine.

Next – a recording and tracking system. Now, there are fancy programs out there, and even apps for your smart phone. But I have stuck with the one I have been using “before the internet” (yeah, I’m old).

It starts with a simple one page recording template. The top half has room for all the necessary information – name of the wine, purchase date, price, and any reviews you have seen about it. Up in the right hand corner I then write the date(s) I want to drink the wines (and I mean plural, as I always buy at least two bottles of each wine). This comes from the reviews I have seen of it or my best guess based on experience.

The second half of the page has horizontal columns with space to record the date the wine is drunk, any food that was eaten with it, the occasion and – of course – my own personal tasting notes. Usually I have room for 4 – 5 tastings, even though I rarely have more than three bottles of each wine.

Now, once filled out, the template joins a whole bunch of others in a series of binders in my office, organized by country and region. You could fill all these out on-line and keep them on your computer as well, and it would work just as well. But, call me old fashioned, I like to have them all together in a binder. It serves a secondary purpose as well – it is a diary of my life! Because many times my cellar wines come out on special occasions (good and bad), so all those memories aren’t lost.

Okay, so the wines are catalogued – what next? Well, how about when to drink them! That’s when the little numbers on the top of the wine recording/tracking documents come in handy. In a separate binder, I have individual sheets of paper organized by year (2013, 2014, etc.) and list all the wines – from the tracking document – I am supposed to drink that year. Every January 1st, I go through the binders and pull out the templates with the wines for that year and clip them together. It is kind of a nice way to start the year – a bit of reminiscing (from reading the templates and tasting notes) and anticipation of the great wines to come.

And then you drink them! How often depends on how much wine you have each year to drink. I usually have 2 – 3 bottles a week, because that is what my cellar generates based on its size and composition. But even if it is just one a week, that is still pretty nice.

Once you drink a wine, by the way, record the notes and check it off. That’s another way to keep track of things.

So there you go! Crude, perhaps, but also simple, cheap and I have found it very effective. I rarely forget about a wine, and am able to keep track as certain wines age and make adjustments if necessary.


How to Build a Wine Cellar Part 2 – What to Put in It

April 17, 2013

Okay, so you have your cellar location picked out and outfitted with whatever you are going to put your wines in. So now how do you fill it?

Well, that is the subject of this week’s blog. And it is a three part question – the kind of wines to put in it, how to buy them and how many you need.

First things first – the kind of wines. White, red and sweet are the categories to consider, of course (since Rose shouldn’t be kept more than the season it is purchased in). So let’s start with the trickiest – the white wines.

I say “trickiest” because few white wines improve with age. And, in fact, they can deteriorate quite quickly even under the best cellar conditions, being overcome by oak.

My suggestions? Well, look first to Germany and the Alsace region of France. Riesling and Gewurztraminer can be good bets for short to medium term cellaring. Few if any see any oak, so that isn’t a worry. What might be, however, is the style. The best of these wines – even the dry versions – have a touch of residual sugar in them, so will taste a bit sweet. Personally, I like that…but taste before you buy. The good news is if you like the style, some of these wines can develop for 10+ years and become amazing, golden beauties!

Another option – if you want Chardonnay – is to look to France. White Burgundies can be really expensive and the quality varies incredibly, but a safer bet is Chablis, especially Premier Cru and Grand Cru. Again, no oak used here – recognizing a trend? – and some of these wines can be had for under $40. The best producers in the best vintages can also make wines capable of lasting 5 – 15 years.

A final potential white wine choice is from the Rhone region of France – white Hermitage. However, beware of this one. When young, these wines taste quite resiny, and sometimes they don’t come around. It is definitely an acquired taste…and one that I don’t have (even though I have a few bottles sitting in my cellar).

Reds are easier, mainly because there are more options. For Cabernet Sauvignons in a more fruit-forward style, I would recommend producers from California and Australia. There are some wines in the $$35 – $50 range that will develop quite nicely over an 8 – 10 year period, keeping their fruit but mellowing out a bit.

Merlot I would avoid – it is best drunk young before the wood overwhelms it.

Pinot Noir is a bit of a tricky choice. Burgundy is an option, of course but, like the white counterparts, very expensive and quite variable in quality. California is a better option, although prices are getting very expensive there too. You can also try the best producers in BC (like Kettle Valley). But don’t expect to age these wines as long – 5 – 8 years is the max before they start to dry out.

Next up is Syrah and Shiraz, and both have great, relatively affordable options for cellaring. The northern Cotes du Rhone is expensive, but Crozes-Hermitage and Cornas can sometimes be found. In the south, some of the Cotes du Rhones are mostly Syrah and far cheaper. The former can sometimes age for 15+ years; the latter, 4 – 6 years. In the new world, California, Washington and BC Syrahs are another good bet, with an age profile of 4 – 10 years.

One of my favourite red wines for the cellar is Grenache-based. Chateauneuf du Pape and Gigondas from the southern Rhone are great options, and while they are getting expensive too, some can still be had for about $40. And these can really develop nicely, turning into sophisticated, soft, lovely wines after 10, 15 and even 20 years in good vintages.

Finally, if you want to splurge, head to Italy and Piedmont (for Barolo and Barbaresco) and Tuscany (for Brunello di Montalcino, Chianti Classico Riserva, and Vino Nobile di Montalcino). The Piedmontese wines are the most expensive, but might also be my favourite for aging. They are tannic when young but then turn out almost port-like at 15 – 20 years of age (without the sweetness). Just gorgeous! Their Tuscan cousins can be cheaper (except for the Brunellos), and develop for 10 – 15 years.

Last but not least, sweet wines. For whites, Bordeaux in half bottles can be a good deal (Sauternes and Barsac) and for reds, well, Vintage Port can age almost forever. It is very expensive, but sometimes you can find lesser priced half bottles.

So how do you know which specific wines to buy? Well, as I have said before, unless you have unlimited funds to try them first (and the older versions), find a wine critic who has the same style as you and trust him or her, both in terms of what to buy and when to try/drink them.

Which leads into the final question – how many to buy? I advise at least two of each specific wine. That way you can see how they age a little bit, anyway. And overall quantity – that depends how much money you have and how often you want to drink them. But the latter is a question for next week.


How to Build a Wine Cellar – Part I

April 10, 2013

I was down in my cellar today selecting wines for the weekend, and it came to me…I had never blogged on wine cellars before!

So here is part one – on building a cellar. The second part — what to fill it with — will follow next week. And lastly will be how to best use your cellar (something that many people unfortunately don’t give a lot of thought to, meaning they either drink up their cellar too quickly or forget about wines until they are over the hill).

So building a cellar…that has both a physical part to it (i.e. the space, racks, etc.) and a wine part. It makes sense to do the physical part first, as that obviously impacts what you fill it with!

Now, I am no engineer or carpenter, so can’t propose any technical recommendations. But based on my cellar experience over the past 25+ years, I can offer some practical advice.

First, location. My cellar has usually been in a separate room with a door that locks (more on that later!). Those rooms have included modified dens (upstairs and downstairs), closets, specifically built cellars, and — for a short period of time — under my bed!

They key things I have found are that you need it to be dark, vibration-free, average humidity, and cool. The first three are pretty easy to find; the latter harder, but not as hard as you might think! I have found that the key aspects of temperature are relatively low all the time (55 – 65 F), no very low or high temperatures (under 50 or over 70 F), and how gradually the temperature changes during the year.

The last one is surprisingly important – my current cellar is in a separate room in our basement and, while cool (around 62 F), gradually warms up to about 68 F in the summer and cools down to 57 F in mid-winter. Over the past 11 years, I have found that seems to have little or no impact on my wine! So for me, the speed of temperature variation is as important as the actual temperatures (assuming it doesn’t get to hot or too cold, of course).

What all this means — at least from my experience — is that you don’t have to have a fancy (and very expensive) purchased or custom-built wine cellar. Don’t get me wrong, you can if you like, and I would if I won the lottery. But an investment of $10,000 – $20,000 + (which is what I would need to accommodate my 1000 bottle cellar) isn’t needed.

So you have a spot picked out… but what do you put your wine in?

Again, it doesn’t have to be fancy – purchased or custom built wine racks look best, but simple shelving or wine boxes turned on their sides are fine as well. The wine just has to be able to lie on its side, not roll off or fall out, and be accessible. Lying on its side is important – you need to keep the cork moist or it will dry out. And don’t forget the last one — if you store bottles in a way that you can’t get at it them or have to pull off a bunch of other bottles to access, that can be pretty frustrating.

Finally, security! As the father of teenagers, I have had a lock on my cellar door for years — no point in taking a chance with kids (or their friends!). Any kind of locking mechanism will work; currently I screwed on a simple latch and put a padlock on it. And keep the key safe! Last thing you want is to go through all this trouble and then have your key mysteriously disappear!

That, then, is my advice on how to build a wine cellar. Next week, I will talk about what to put in it!