How to ‘grow’ a wine cellar

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The objective – never to drink a wine (white or red) that is less than ‘really drinkable’; near its peak.

An investment in your future happiness, a bit like a pension! There is just no way around it; you have to buy more than you drink, year by year. But the key is really in the mix of what you buy. There are 20 year wines, there are 10 year wines and there are 5 year wines; by this we mean the amount of time before the wine becomes really drinkable; significantly better than it was in the year of making.
How many bottles of wine do you consume a year?
What proportion white? What proportion red? What proportion ‘really drinkable’? 12 dozen, which is only 2 or so a week? You need to estimate this.
Unfortunately, there is no substitute for a spreadsheet showing how many wines you have for drinking by category and by their ‘start by’ year. This shows you where you are short and need to buy. If you don’t finish all your wines by the ‘start drinking’ date that is a nice problem to have because most will get better, at least for a few years!
Where to start buying?
Auctions If you want good drinking wine in the early years the best place is wine auctions. You’d be surprised how reasonably priced pretty good wine is (often not much above the original purchase price). They may not be the best estates / chateau or the best vintages but they will certainly get you in training for the good stuff to come.
En Primeur The wines of Bordeaux and Burgundy and, increasingly, the Rhone first become available en primeur, that is, they are sold before bottling. Many of the big London wine merchants hold en primeur tastings. Others, such as the Wine Society, offer wines en primeur by brochure. The hype about a vintage is surreal, every one is great or, at least has significant merit, so you have to read between the lines. Our advice, always only buy the best vintages. Otherwise keep your powder dry, in a savings account if necessary.
Wine tasting Most wine merchants hold tastings. The big thing to remember is for what drinking year are you buying. Don’t fall for the wines that are immediately appealing; think (and ask the merchant) about how they will develop into your drinking year.
Visiting winemakers
For us, the most pleasurable way. There is nothing quite like opening a bottle that you bought yourself 10 or so years ago and it’s just as good as you hoped for. A good place to start planning your wine trip is to look at our wine visit notes (see here) or the ‘halfwine travels’ tab at the top of this page. You will find wineries to visit with notes on what we thought about their wines and the prices, excellent restaurants and some more or less ok hotels (but at least they’re pretty cheap).
Where to store your wines?
So now you have bought a whole bunch of wines. Where do you store them? Temperature controlled storage at 12º is ideal. Your own wine cellar is best, the kitchen is the worst.
If you use third-party storage you must ask how they identify your wine as being yours because, if they go bankrupt, you will have to prove ownership and this is not easy as we can attest.
We have found that the big issue in wine storage is temperature fluctuation – providing it gets slowly warm and then slowly cold, temperature is not such a problem. We have stored wine in a garage that is perfectly good after 10 years (but, just to be sure, we have stored the expensive stuff in a wine fridge; our Eurocave has served us well over the years, see here).
When is a wine ready?
Hopefully you have managed to buy more than one bottle of a particular wine. Try the first bottle but don’t decant it, drink it slowly over an hour or two and watch to see how the wine evolves. If the last glass is the best glass, then it has time to go. If the first glass is pretty darned good then, happy days, you’ve started to ‘grow’ your own wine cellar!

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