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

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.



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