Starting a Wine Cellar in Your Mountain Abode
Experts encourage a mix of reds and whites and urge beginners to invest in both young and mature wines.
When you think of the Mountain West, you may think of mountain climbing, skiing or simply the great outdoors. Wine surely isn’t the first thing that comes to mind — for that, you might think of California, Italy or France — though that doesn’t mean you can’t become a connoisseur from the comfort of your own home. Keeping a wine cellar may be intimidating, especially if you’ve familiarized yourself with some of the world’s most prestigious and impressive collections. Starting your own isn’t as challenging as it may seem.
Perhaps the first major consideration ought to be space; wines will fare best in a cool, dark and humid place like a basement or closet. Many choose to use their basements in particular, but if your basement is prone to flooding, make sure to store your collection on a pallet or riser so they don’t get damaged. Wine should also be sheltered from the light and kept away from machinery that emits heat or vibrations, like a dryer, hot water heater or furnace. It’s also a good idea to store wines on their sides to keep the cork moist, preventing air from getting into the bottle and affecting the wine inside.
If your home or apartment doesn’t have a space suited for wine collecting — or if you find that your passion for cellaring is quickly overtaking your space — many cities offer wine lockers you can rent. If you’re not sure where you can find these locations near you, ask a local winery or sommelier, and they’ll most likely be able to point you in the right direction.
Once you’ve selected your space, it’s time to think about what types of wines you want to populate it with. A good wine cellar is balanced, with various types of wines coming in at various vintages for various purposes. It makes a difference whether you’re looking for a place to store wine in the short-term — until a dinner party or a holiday — or in the long term to let it age. A balanced cellar doesn’t lean too heavily in either direction, but rather keeps a blend of beverages for every occasion.
It’s also important to take your own tastes into account. What good is a wine cellar if you don’t like anything in it? Higher price tags don’t always mean you’ll like the wine better than your less-expensive, go-to bottle, so don’t overthink it. Not all wines are created equal, and not all will age well, even under the best conditions. In fact, some types might even deteriorate over time. Red wines with a high level of tannins tend to age well, while white wines with high acidity levels can quickly lose their freshness and begin to oxidize if stored improperly, or for too long.
That doesn’t mean you should shy away from white wines entirely. A select variety of top Chardonnays, Rieslings and Loire Valley Chenin Blancs are perfect for a wine cellar. Fine Cooking recommends starting off with Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc from Australia, Pinot Grigio or Pinot Bianco from Italy or New Zealand’s Sauvignon Blanc. All of these are ready to be consumed right away, but will also fare well for up to two years in the cellar.
Wine connoisseurs at Serious Eats recommend starting off with a mix of reds and whites, including the fan-favorite Nebbiolo. It’s a full-bodied red wine more famously known by the two production regions of Barolo and Barbaresco in Piedmont, Italy, and experts say it’s something of a “sleeping beauty” — many varieties may be harsh at first but will age exceptionally well.
You can include both young, everyday reds and mature reds, balancing out your collection nicely with a range of vintages and textures. You don’t want to be stuck with a cellar full of wine and nothing to drink because you exclusively invested in wines that take a decade to reach maturity. Wine Spectator urges buyers to purchase wines that are generally made to be consumed young — Spanish Garnacha, Côtes du Rhône, Beaujolais — while also including some that may improve with age, like Chianti Classico, Portuguese reds or Oregon Pinot Noir.
Most importantly, your wine cellar is yours. Don’t let your unique vision and tastes get lost in your quest to impress others or fulfill arbitrary expectations of what the space should be like. Do your research, form a plan and cultivate your collection however you see fit. And, of course, enjoy!