This topic has peculiar resonance for me as I’ve just spent the last couple of days logging my modest wine collection. I used to have a kid’s exercise book with ‘Cellar Book’ written somewhat pompously in marker on the front. I was always very casual about updating and – as I have wines in 5 locations in the house – I was always ‘losing’ bottles. As I write I’m looking at 70cls of Muscat de Riversaltes 1974, found under the floorboards. Could well be past it, methinks.
Now it’s all down on ‘Cellar’ an elegant little iphone app I’d thoroughly recommend; sorted, location coded and backed up to my PC. So everything is cool and kosher. Until next week at least!
Although most wine purchased is drunk the night it’s taken home, many wine enthusiasts do enjoy amassing wine for future drinking and need somewhere to store it. Years ago, we were renovating a room of our house, one we’d previously only used for storing junk. The process involved replacing some ancient floorboards. The builder lifted the damaged ones and my eyes popped out when I realised not only was there a potential storage space beneath but that the ambient temperature down there was on the cool side of cool. I couldn’t wait for the carpenter to arrive so I could instruct him to make a trapdoor. This is the nearest I’ll ever get to owning a real cellar and a lot nearer than most.
There are the seriously lucky few who reside in old houses with cavernous subterranean rooms. There are others who can afford the outlay and the space for a thermostatically controlled cabinet such as the Eurocave. The best the majority can hope for is a spare cupboard, a space under the stairs, a garden shed or an attic.
The four main enemies of wine in storage are light, incorrect temperature, insufficient humidity and vibration. Light is easy to keep out; insulation can help maintain a near-constant temperature; and something as simple as a large damp sponge left on a saucer can provide essential humidity. Vibration can be damped by putting a couple of layers of old carpet or rubber mats under the bottom shelves.
Remember the warmer the cellar, the faster your wine develops – or, possibly, decays! You should aim for a temperature of around 8 to 10 degrees and it’s crucial to keep it as constant as possible: a wine will suffer more from a roller-coaster ride from 10 degrees to 25 than from a steady level of 18-20. Which is why the average kitchen, with its Alaska-to-Sahara and back temperature changes is just about the worst location.
Having secured your space – be prepared to defend it against all comers –and created a congenial climate you’ll need storage. Bottles, certainly those with cork stoppers, keep better when flat – that’s why the process is called ‘laying down’. Modular Wooden self-assembly racking is inexpensive and readily obtainable. If you do have trouble with temperature fluctuation then terra cotta hoops or homemade shelving fashioned from breeze blocks provide a better answer.
You need to keep a record of what you’ve got and where to find it. A cellar book is essential, coupled with a plan showing exactly where every wine has been placed. You could, of course, use a spreadsheet or database program, which would also permit you to sort by region, vintage, cost price and ‘drink by’ date. Remember the game of ‘Battleships’ you played as a kid? An excellent way of keeping track of your wine is to code the wine racks vertically and horizontally, alphabetically and numerically, so that each ‘hole’ has a code – a11, n6, for example – so you can assign this to the wine that fills the space, entering it in your cellar book or database.
Tech heads might want the super-comprehensive PC program called ‘Cellar Tracker’ (http://www.cellartracker.com) or the elegant little iphone app ‘Cellar’ (€3.95) to keep on top of their prized purchases. Finally, remember, it’s better to drink a wine a year too early than a day too late.
This week, two Pinot Noirs, both from New Zealand at a time when that country, where I have many winemaking and food writing friends, is never out of my thoughts. The first, the gorgeous, savoury Mt. Difficulty 2005 came up from my cellar. Given that the Kiwis learn a little bit more every year about the grape some call ‘the black bitch’ the current vintage (2007, €28.50 from www.wines direct.ie, one of Ireland’s best online specialists) should, laid down, be even better. The other Pinot, Giesen 2009 (€20 Hole in the Wall, Jus De Vine, Martins Fairview), was choc-full of rich, ripe fruit and would also be suited to squirreling away in your cellar/cupboard/garden shed or whatever, for a year or two.