Keeping Your Babies Safe: A Note on “Cellaring” Wine

8 Sep

I’ve been running the air conditioner in my apartment non-stop.  This is not only because it’s been pretty warm here in DC, but because I have a case of wine (with some awesome picks like the 2006 Radio-Coteau “Savoy” pinot noir and a few white and red Burgundies) I’m keeping for two tastings I’m hosting for the staff of my school newspaper.  I’m really paranoid that the wines will go bad.

I’ve had a few bad experiences with wine that was improperly stored.  For instance, my last sentimental bottle of L’Esprit du Silene gave up its spirit after being stored (by my parents) on top of the refrigerator.  More recently, the two cases of wine my roommate and I had “cellared away” in a spare closet turned to vinegar after the cruel DC summer.  But this was nothing compared to the Battle of the Somme-like destruction experienced by my friend and fellow wine blogger Shea during a particularly nasty heat wave in British Columbia.

Of course, the destruction of my own two cases did set me back quite a bit of money.  Just as important as the economic aspect, however, is the frustration of opening bottle after bottle of vinegar in the quest of hospitality or romance.

So how does one avoid this fate?

Obviously, one can simply purchase to drink. Thus, instead of buying a young cult cabernet and “cellaring” it away, one can purchase either bottles that have been aged (which can be expensive) or purchase more affordable, ready-to-drink wines such as Côtes du Rhône or many white varietals. But there is a good chance that you are reading this blog because you’re ready to take that next step in wine drinkership–namely, starting to buy verticals or duplicates of certain wines, buying cabs and barolos (heh) that need aging, etc., etc. Given the tenor of my post so far, how do you keep your investments from tanking? There are many methods, but the basic idea is to keep bottles in a cool, humidity-controlled, dark, and still place. (Try finding a place like that in the city!)

Presuming you have a LOT of money, the best way would be to have a full-on wine cellar. These can be straight-up cellars dug into the ground, which would be cool but also is not really an option in the urban setting. More feasible is to convert an extra room into a wine cellar (properly “wine room” if it’s above ground). While some wine aficionados have a very informal method of storing their wines–Karen MacNeil, for instance, stores her wine sideways in cardboard boxes–others create beautiful, custom spaces in which to hold their wine. Some wine rooms even have tasting tables so people can drink wine while surrounded by bottles–admittedly an awesome prospect.

If you’re, say, a law student like me and you don’t have nearly enough money to build a custom wine room, another option is to add a wine cooling systemto a spare closet or room. These come in a variety of forms, including “through the wall” systems that resemble air conditioners to self-contained systems, which are typically designed for larger spaces. Proper wine cooling systems should keep the temperature to between 55 and 57° F and the humidity level between 50 and 80%.

Finally, if you don’t have a spare room–for instance, if you’re living in the living room of a one-bedroom apartment like I am!–but want to keep at least a few special bottles protected, you can spend a few hundred books on a wine refrigerator. These range from small countertop models that hold nine or twelve bottles to much larger floor models that can hold hundreds.

After losing about $300 worth of wine this past summer to improper storing, I think it might be a good idea to get a wine fridge. After that, perhaps a bottle of Cheval Blanc?


4 Responses to “Keeping Your Babies Safe: A Note on “Cellaring” Wine”

  1. Roger Stockton September 11, 2009 at 11:47 pm #

    Most of us would love a chateau caliber wine cellar but those of us who work for a living are stuck with one of the cheaper alternatives. The little wine refrigerators work great, I have one that holds about 30 bottles. The rest gets stored in a closet using boxes stored on their side.

    The important thing is to find a place where the temperature does not fluctuate dramatically.
    Once I become a rich wine blogger, I’ll start digging. 🙂

    • vinicultured September 12, 2009 at 12:05 am #

      Hey Roger! Yeah, I will probably be getting a small wine fridge soon. The humble collection I wrote of in this post survived the cold Washington winter but could not make it through the horrible, horrible DC humidity and heat. It was held sideways, in cardboard boxes. I guess they never woke from their cryonic stasis!

  2. Shea September 12, 2009 at 1:13 pm #

    Thanks for the shout out :). Battle of Sommes is a good description. Luckily I have a small wine fridge too – about 60 bottles – that I got from Costco for a good price. It was just not big enough to house the massive collection I had. And yes, given you are in DC wine storage is essential. Vancouver rarely goes above 85, so I am safe most of the year (except for freak heat waves).

  3. samwise September 16, 2009 at 1:46 pm #

    Go to and check out their wine fridge selection. I got mine from there a few weeks ago (just in time for one of the last case of 2006 Soter vineyard North Valley Pinot Noir I can find in the country). Definitely worth the money. I would get something rather disposible (200-300 dollar range) for the time being. This way when you become a hot shot lawyer later on in life you can upgrade to a EuroCave… 🙂

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