Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Bordeaux Step 3: Thinking Through the Storage Issues

Cellaring wine has a certain mystique, an aura of wine geekness that says "I know what I'm doing." Even popular songs were written about wine cellars and those who had them in the 1920s and 1930s (vintage image from The Authentic History Center). But the prospect of cellaring wines can be daunting, not least because of storage issues. Space may not be the final frontier if you are thinking of getting into Bordeaux wines, but it was a real concern for me and I imagine for most people. Where was I going to put this stuff? How much of this stuff would there be?

Solving the first and second questions requires math. Most Bordeaux wines are shipped to you 2-3 years before they start drinking well. There are exceptions, but as a general rule this is true. And, most continue to improve for years after that, so you may not want to drink all your 2003 Bordeaux the moment it hits its stride around 2008. Indeed, part of the fun is NOT doing that but tracking how the wines continue to develop and change. So, in my calculations, I knew I wanted to buy 6 bottles of Bordeaux a year (3 x red, 3 x white) , and because I didn't want to drink them too young the holes would slowly begin to emerge in about 3 years only to be refilled. This led me to believe that with a storage space sufficient to hold three 12-bottle boxes of wine, I was set.

Now you will see lots of folks out there who say you need to buy at least 6 bottles of every wine to fully track their development, or even 12 bottles of every wine. Professor Bainbridge thinks that any cellar smaller than 250 bottles is useless based on the idea you would drink a bottle of aged Bordeaux a week--but I don't have that kind of space or that kind of money. Do you? Why should we miss out on ALL the fun? Why not have a little fun? So you need to know that I am in some ways going against expert opinion here, but this is working for me and is manageable both in terms of cost and in terms of space.

Now you have to find a space that will hold 36 bottles--eventually. As this excellent article by Prof. Bainbridge explains, there are two cellaring options: active cellaring (in a refrigerated unit) or passive cellaring (in a cool, dark space). I don't have room anywhere for a refrigerated wine cellar except the garage--and only a few models are capable of keeping their cool under those conditions, so I opted for passive cellaring. I use a combination of a closet and some windowseats. Prof. Bainbridge suggests that you can hold wine for up to five years in warmer temperatures than you would for longer periods, but I would try to find a place that stays around 60 degrees if at all possible. You would be surprised at how cold your northern cabinets and interior closets can be. Don't believe me, or want to be sure? Buy a digital weather station and stick it in your spot for a few weeks and track the temp. Remember, too, to check it in the summer and the winter, because you don't want daily temperature fluctuations greater than 10 degrees in your chosen space. Of course, if you are buying for an investment, then you are on the wrong site. Deal with professionals who can store your wine impeccably and certify its provenance, like the folks at Vinfolio.

You want to try to find a spot now that will hold at least 36 bottles, even if you are only going to put 6 bottles into it because it will save you hassles later on. And, you can use the extra space to store some of your other wine. You want to find the coolest, darkest place in your house that doesn't freeze (basements in the northeast, for example, might not be such a good idea, so check first) For many of us, this will be on the north side of the house in a cabinet, cupboard, or closet. Some people swear by unused fireplaces since the stone is an insulator. Here's one of my two storage areas, complete with vacuum, dog carrier, old lamp, and two x-boxes from the Wine Enthusiast now completely stuffed with wine. You want to avoid spaces next to fridges, heating ducts, and other things that vibrate and/or give off heat. One of the best overviews of cellaring--the whys and wherefores--is in an article by Jim LaMar on the Professional Friends of Wine site. It is good-humored, informative, and absolutely correct.

Facing the storage issues is the last hurdle you need to cross before you start buying, so next week I'll start talking buying strategies beginning with finding a good merchant who handles Bordeaux futures and pre-arrivals.


Sonadora said...

Looking good! Add about 8 more of those plus a few styrofoam containers and you've got the inside of our closet. I'm really trying hard to convince Matt that we need a large refridgerated unit to hold it all. He said we should just drink faster :)

Anonymous said...

A few thoughts. One, it seems bad form to diss another perfessor on your blog, but Bainbridge's elitist ideas on wine storage make about as much sense as his politics. If you're not a piggy person, you can cellar one bottle as easily as one thousand. Two, another option is a storage locker. This can be very affordable if you share a locker with a friend or two. Three, set up a RSS feed for a temp-controlled cabinet on craig's list. They pop up sometimes, cheap. Four, my own experience with cooked closet wines and other anecdotal data I've seen suggests that passive storage is just not a good option. For example, Tom Dehlinger has been writing in his newsletter about tasting cellar wines against closet wines, and the results don't look good for the closet, even for wines that have spent only a year in a nice, cool, Russian River closet. But he is writing about PN, which may be more delicate than your Bordeaux.

Dr. Debs said...

Hey, Sonadora. I filled my X-boxes so fast it was astonishing. I'm trying to get the fridge unit into the budget and the kitchen space wars, too. Good luck. :)

Dr. Debs said...

John G, thanks for the feedback. I think freedom of speech is protected here (despite your experiences on your blog!). It was expert opinions like these about how I didn't need cellar notes for under 100 bottles of wine and shouldn't consider cellaring wine unless I did 250+ that made me mad and I decided to move ahead despite such recommendations.

As for yours, I especially liked the craig's list suggestion. I think you have to be really careful with your closet, and know your house structure, too. I have very, very thick stucco walls. The closet is downright chilly, except in summer. But in summer everything goes to an unheated house on the north coast which averages a low internal temp in a set of northern window seats. Closets on southern walls are a problem, I know. Don't get Dehlinger's newsletter, but it's something to keep an eye on. You might be on to something with your Burgundy-Bordeaux comparison, too. Still, I'll keep an eye out and let you know how it's going as I start tasting!

Taste of the Vine said...

Hi, just thought I'd leave a link to a wine course which can clear up any complications in how to store wine:

The Complete Wine Course


Dr. Debs said...

Thanks for the link, Taste of the Vine. Hope to see you back here again in the future.