Wine cellars for the rest of us

For centuries, wine cellars have been dark, windowless spaces with bottles stuffed into cubbies, more function than form. But that doesn’t suit a new generation, for whom wine collecting is as much a social hobby as an investment strategy.

For these collectors, the cellar needs to be a showpiece, maybe with single-paned glass, LED lights and clear sleeves that put labels on display. And befitting their elevated status, sometimes these spaces aren’t in the basement at all. “They’re not wine cellars anymore,” said Robert Bass, president of Greenville, S.C.-based Kessick Wine Cellars. “They’re wine rooms.”

So wrote Lisa Selin Davis in an article for The Wall Street Journal on October 16, 2014.

This is one of the cellars featured in her article, yet this is not what theWinesketcer’s cellar looks like. E2217045-1A9B-4B9F-BBD0-A54DCCD0F7DFOne contractor, quoted in the article, said his custom cellars start at $10,000; some were well into 6 figures, a bit beyond my budget, even if I did have a house with the square footage for such a wine cellar. OK, I will admit a bit of envy, they are beautiful. Thankfully you do not have to have an air-conditioned, custom designed wine museum to enjoy your wine to the fullest.

So what about the rest of us? There are many varietals of wine drinkers. Most wine is drank within a day or two of being purchased; no real need to think about how to store needed. Then there are those who like to accumulate wine. It could be a few bottles of a favorite label picked up on a visit to a winery, shipments from a wine club, or just the convenience of having wine on hand to pick from. Once the wine bug bites you will find that you buy an occasional bottle that deserves to be aged or at least saved for a special occasion.

Those who invest the big bucks to create these wonderful cellars have taken wine to a different level; wine becomes a collector’s item or an investment. They spend far more for bottles of wine than the other 80-90% of wine drinkers, and it justifies having a cellar that matches that investment. It is easy to see the attraction, but most of us can enjoy the pleasure of wine without the intensity. We may be “new generation” yet “function and form” may be just fine.

When you have more than a bottle or two to keep, a few simple concepts will serve your wine well. First, if you are going to drink it in the next 3 or 4 days you don’t have to be overly concerned, just away from heat and you will most likely be fine.

Secondly, know that most decorative wine racks are not great places to store wine for more than a day or two. The tops of refrigerators are frequently adorned with some wood or wrought-iron wine rack holding a half a dozen bottles. This is about as bad as it gets. It is too hot, probably too much light, and then there is the vibration of the refrigerator, which just irritates the wine, and it rebels by breaking down into an inferior beverage.

Furniture and kitchen designers make some beautiful wine cabinets and racks, the problem is, you will want to keep them on display, they are furniture. That means they will most likely be located in a part of the house that is too warm for wine to thrive.

Wherever your wine ends up being stored the important considerations:

  • Wine likes to be cool, not cold, but cool – so under 65F for most, and in the 50F’s for optimal. (Some argue 53-55F is the absolute best.)
  • Wine likes the dark – light and especially direct sunshine will ruin a bottle in a short time
  • Wine likes to sleep – so vibrations and frequent movement disturb the rest.
  • Wine hates dry corks – so except for screw tops, which are no sign of inferior wine, it should lay on its side, all the better for sleeping. Sparkling wines can be stored upright because the pressure keeps the humidity in the bottle high enough to keep the cork damp.

Basements, or closets in a spare room (that is not always heated) work great.

IMG_1144Here is a portion of my cellar; it is in a basement room, actually the whole double closet. The wooden racks, work well and are affordable, the wrought-iron rack is for bottles that are bigger in diameter. (There is also an experimental rose fermenting there from some grapes in our garden.)

Do you need a wine refrigerator? Maybe. My daughter lived in an apartment with no air-conditioning, it was hot in the summer, no place cool enough for happy wine. So she needed a small wine refrigerator. If you start to explore some higher end wines that you plan to keep longer, or are just worth extra protection, then a wine refrigerator for those makes good sense.

Wine responds to just a bit of care by giving us great enjoyment. Set up your own cellar, whether 10 bottles or a 100, then when the urge for a bit of cheese and a glass of wine hits, you are ready.

Big Bold Red’s are not a right of passage

big bold redDundee, Oregon is one my favorite places, it is in the center of the Yamhill Wine country. On multiple intersections there are signs encouraging those who are seeking “big bold reds” to visit some winery. At any quality retailer in Washington State the refrigerated section dedicated to domestic beer is likely to be heavily stocked with IPA’s challenging you with their hoppy bitterness, the stronger the better. Less obvious, but just as prevalent to those who are lured by good Scotch whisky, is the proclamation of peat and smoky taste.2920783.deschutesbrewery

Flavor, and taste are pleasures to be savored in all of their diversity, yet I fear that in our current propensity for competition and unisex-machismo we have turned drinking into a contact sport. “I drink white wine but have not worked my way up to reds,” is a frequent reply when I inquire if a person likes wine.

Let’s be clear, if you like wine of any color, you like wine. Some of the finest wines of Burgundy in France are from Chardonnay grapes — white. There are more Pilsners and lagers consumed in the world than ales, hoppy or not.

There is one rule about what to drink — drink what you like, with people you enjoy. Wine Spectator ratings are helpful, but only a guide; a wine in the 80’s is not vinegar, in fact it may be downright enjoyable. Yes, you often do “get what you pay for,” but price is only an indicator. I remember a $60 limited Oregon Chardonnay that we saved for a special occasion. It was good, but we both felt that the $20 label from the same vintner was just as good.

Should you try a big bold red, yes, absolutely! Because it is part of the pleasure to experience as many as you can, you may like it, but to drink it because you are supposed to, or because it is seen as some higher calling, not a good thing. TheWinesketcher loves bold reds, and hoppy brews, but for the flavor, not as a right of passage.

In the summer I drink less red wine than in the winter, rosé and white just work better on the sunny deck. Hoppy beers and pilsners work in the summer but when Fall arrives stouts and doppelbocks are a perfect match, along with a Barbera or a Malbec. (Oregon Pinot Noir is good year round.)

TheWinesketcher never tires of reminding the world that wine is a blessing from God, bringing people together, adding to the mystery we call taste. If you see me with my sketchpad at some winery, grab a glass of whatever you like most, sit down and join me. We may discuss taste and terroir, but I will toast whatever is in your glass and be grateful for making a new friend. Then tell me you read my blogs and I will do a sketch just for you, on the spot.