Collecting wine made simple
Weather you're in an apartment or own a home, collecting wine can be a rewarding hobby. The first thing to recognize is that wine needs a particular environment in order to survive for years. The second thing to note is that each wine has its own apex, which can never be pinpointed and is always an educated guess.
Conditions for storing wine are specific, but with a little ingenuity getting as close as you can to these conditions will allow you to collect and age wine with success. Wine does not like light, especially sunlight, so keep your collection out of the picture window. It doesn't like vibrations or heat. In fact a steady temperature range around 55° Fahrenheit is optimal, but temperatures under 65° can offer success too. The key is to have a steady cool temperature. Finally, corks need humidity so that they don't dry out.
Refrigerators are not a good choice for storing wine long term. They vibrate and are too arid for the corks. The small wine coolers sold in appliance stores are okay for short term storage, but they are just a modified refrigerator. For the not so serious collector with an average budget, all you need to do is eliminate vibrations and light and obtain a cooler steady temperature.
My wine cellar is a small room in my basement that is always between 59°F and 65°F. The temperature fluctuates, but never more than a degree or so in one day. Avoid large swings in temperature. I bought a remote wireless thermometer so that I can keep an eye on my cellar. I also purchased a commercial rack or 'gondola' that holds a dozen cases of wine from a wine shop for about $150. I tend to store a lot of wine on the floor too, because it is the coolest part of the room.
Once you create your space and start your collection you will be faced with the decision of when to drink each bottle. Inexpensive bottles of wine and most wine wines are meant for immediate consumption or short term cellaring. However, just because a bottle costs $10 doesn't mean it won't improve for several years. One method of knowing when to open a bottle is to buy several and open them over time. Another method is to read the trade magazines for recommendations on when to drink your wine. Trial and error is the method I use. When I shop the closeout bins, I will buy one bottle, drink it, and then determine if I want to buy more and how long it will last in my cellar.
One category that should not be overlooked is the 2000 vintage from Bordeaux. There are many selections from this stellar vintage still available in our wine shops. The 2000 vintage was the best offering from Bordeaux in 40 years. Wines from the Médoc are cabernet sauvignon based, while wines from Saint-Émilion are merlot based. Both will age gracefully in your new cellar. There are many selections available under $20 that will reward a patient collector.
The 2001 vintage from California has been winning wide acclaim. Combine this banner harvest with the current grape glut and you've got a recipe for some cellar worthy wine at reasonable prices. Avoid well known names and look for more obscure selections.
Wines made from old vine grapes are very collectable. The older vines grow less clusters, but their flavors are concentrated and capable of aging. Spain happens to have more old vineyards than any other growing region.
Many cellar worthy bottles can be found on closeout racks. Often a wine's only fault is that the sales staff knows nothing about it. Shopping from the closeout rack can be risky, so scrutinize fill levels, look for leakage, off colors, and pushed up corks. Beware of bottles in retail shops that have been abused by the sun or heat. Temperatures over 80º degrees shorten a wine's lifespan. The longer wine is stored in hot temperatures, the shorter its life.
Remember, wines made in large production and most white wines should be drunk soon. Producers that boast small yields, hand picked harvests, grapes grown at elevation, or vines that are 50 years or older are good candidates for a few years in your cellar. As you collect and drink your treasures, you'll begin to develop the skills that can measure how long a bottle might last in your cellar. You will experience disappointments by opening bottles on the downside of their peak or even after they're defunct, but the rewards of drinking a bottle of wine at its pinnacle will more than make up for those less than perfect experiences. A bottle of wine that has had the time to develop into a masterpiece in your own cellar is priceless.
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