Proper storage vital for wine – Oct 19, 2013

By Anthony Gismondi

Thanks to a reader for this week’s topic about storing wine. It’s not like I don’t think about it constantly.

Case in point, every time I walk into a restaurant and see bottles sitting at (very warm) room temperature for weeks and months on end.

Worse yet are all those million-dollar homes and condominiums being built with wine racks in the kitchen facing sun-drenched windows. Kitchens are for cooking food, not wine, but you would never know it by some of the designs featured every weekend in this paper and others. Wines prefer a cool, dark and vibration-free environment. They are not required to be seen by your friends until they are ready to drink.

When is wine ready to drink? I know what you are thinking – when the cork is pulled out – but you may be surprised to learn that most every wine will improve, or get better, in the bottle. Storing it for even a few weeks or months in a quiet, cool, dark place allows the wine to gather itself, settle down and recover from the shock of being bottled, shipped and generally bounced around in its early life.

When it comes to aging red wine my rule is seven to 10 years whenever possible. Almost all will taste better given the chance to age in bottle. And based on some 35 years of cellaring wine, seven to 10 years allows for all the major components, fruit tannin, acid and oak to meld together to offer a flavour that is far more complex than the primary fermented fruit flavours installed at bottling. Since most red wine is two or three years old when you buy it, it is not all that long a wait.

If you don’t have a cool corner in the basement (north facing, mostly underground) you will need to purchase a wine fridge to keep your investment safe. You don’t need a piece of furniture, just a fridge made for wine. The good news is the quality of wine fridges is rising and prices are dropping every year. Remember, using an inexpensive fridge to store wine is light years ahead of a sunny window rack overlooking False Creek.

Keep in mind that size and worth mean little to true wine lovers. All cellars begin with one bottle so the sooner you get started assembling your cache, the sooner you will be drinking delicious mature, aged wine. Everyone wants an instant old cellar, complete with spiders and cobwebs, but cost and availability dictate against that happening.

Building a cellar takes time and you need to be vigilant. Buying the best young wine you can afford is the preferred route and that means from a reputable producer and from a terrific vintage. It’s what we term foundation vintages: young, highly regarded and as cheap as it will ever be at retail.

Don’t miss the opportunity to lay away a few bottles from great years: 2010, 2009 Bordeaux, 2010, 2009 Red Burgundy, 2010, 2007 Rhone, 2011 Vintage Port, 2009 German Riesling, 2009 California reds and so the list goes.

I often tell people that if the difference between a good wine and a great wine is only a few dollars then always buy the better wine. Believe me, the few extra dollars will look like a bargain a decade from now. That said, set a budget and stick to it. The good news is you can buy a lot of wine for $30 today. Just make sure you are getting your money’s worth if you are going to spend more and keep in mind it is much easier for a $50 wine to triple in value than a $1,500 bottle to double its worth.

Finally, how much to buy is really a matter of budget and your ultimate cellar size. A 1,000-bottle cellar is a solid, long-term goal if you plan on drinking one or two great bottles of wine a week. That allows you to replace about a tenth of your cellar a year. The rest is just a matter of time.

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