Cellaring on a Budget


Contrary to what most people believe, you don’t have to spend large sums of money to get a wine cellar started. In fact –according to expert Michaela Morris– if you have only one or two bottles that you are reserving for future drinking, you already have a cellar. Michaela and Michelle Bouffard are the owners of house wine, a business dedicated to wine education and consulting. In an informative and fun session at the Listel Hotel, they quenched the audience’s thirst for wine tips.

The first thing you should know before you start a cellar is how you like your wines. If you like them fruity and fresh then perhaps cellaring is not a good idea. If you like to taste past those vibrant fresh fruit tones and discover strokes of barn, forest floor and earthy minerality, then ageing wine is for you. Once you decide to start cellaring wines, you need to find a place where the temperature will be relatively stable and unlikely to get too hot. Usually this place could be a basement or if you live in an apartment, a closet which door should be kept shut to fend off temperature variation. Ideally the temperature should be around 12-15C. Lights should be kept off as much as possible and a humidifier comes in handy if the natural air moisture is low.

The Housewine experts xplained that wines you choose to cellar must be the ones you like. Once that point is checked you need to taste the wine and ponder three qualities: acidity, tannin and fruit. If the wine lacks acidity then is not a good candidate for long term cellaring. This is because acidity underpins the fruit flavors of the wine and with low acidity the wine will taste flat and will lack freshness. Tannin is the other element to consider, especially when picking red wines. Tannins are compounds found in the grapes’ skins as well as in seeds and other woody tissues. Tannins have an antiseptic role as well as an anti-oxidative one. These qualities will allow the fruit to remain free of oxidation, showing its flavor through time.

As for the number of bottles you need to purchase to start your cellar,  Michaela recommend to buy three as a minimum. The first one you can open after a couple of years. This is a testing time also, since the wine will show its capacity to age. If it still maintains good level of fruit and acidity and tastes better than the original product, you can keep the other two bottles and open one at year four or three and the last one at year five. However, if the flavors already start to decline it is the moment to drink. Further ageing will disappoint you with lack of flavor and sluggish acidity. Finally, when assessing wines to age, acidity is the main indicator for whites and tannin for reds. In both cases time will turn the color towards brown. Red wine will have a brick red hue; white will become golden or even amber.

Wine Recommendations

Good white varieties to age, due to their natural high acidity include Riesling and Semillon. The first one will develop a diesel-like aroma, with fruit going from the green apple initial to riper apple, stone fruit or even tropical notes. Semillon is known to age well for decades due to its unflagging acidity and develops deliciously toasty flavors. Good choices include Nederburg (12.99), Hattenheimer (22.99) or Markus Molitor Himmelreich (53.99) for Rieslings. Excellent candidates for Semillon or Semillon-Sauvignon Blanc blends are Poacher’s Blend (12.99), Brokenwood (22.99), Black Hills Alibi (36.99) and Bordeaux’ Chateau Mirambeau (43.99).

Tannic load, as mentioned before, will increase the capacity of a red wine to age gracefully. Little known Xinomavro grape is one of the best Greek varieties for this purpose. Boutari Naoussa Reserve (21.99) will improve greatly with five years in the cellar, enhancing its natural dry cherry and fig flavors. Italy’s Nebbiolo grape always benefits from ageing. Barbaresco by Produttori (42.99) is a great option. Also from Italy, but this time in the south, the Aglianico grape with its fiery tannins gets only better after a few years of rest. Red Cello (14.99) will see its fruit shine and its tannins soften up. Other reds to put away for a couple of years include Volteo Cabernet Tempranillo (19.99), Morande Pionero Pinot Noir (15.99) and Agua de Piedra Cabernet Sauvignon (13.99).

You don’t need to be rich to start a cellar. In a few years you will be more than happy you did.

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