How to Start a Cellar….

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A mate phoned recently to ask me a few questions about wine fridges and starting a cellar. In our environment, and unless money is no option, then wine fridges are the go, but then there’s a whole lot of things to look at with wine fridges, enough to warrant a column of its own, but the more we chatted about what she would stock the fridge with the more I realised that this was probably something that other people were interested in, even if it’s just throwing a few wines under the bed in a cool dark spot for a few years.

When I first started creating a cellar I rushed in and grabbed a whole heap of wines that I liked and were in my budget. I couldn’t then, or now, go out and buy cartons of Grange or Hill of Grace, or even just single bottles for that fact. I was just kind of lost with it, I didn’t know what I was doing, I knew what I liked, and what I was buying but the end result generally ended up with me spending more money than I needed to if I had of just started with a plan in mind:

1. Do you actually like the taste of aged wine? This is may sound like a strange question to ask someone who is planning on starting a cellar, but most people like the idea of a cellar, but don’t know if they actually like the taste of aged wine, especially aged white wines. If you are about to start investing in a cellar, then go out and buy some wines across different age. A few 10 -15 years old, a couple 3 -5 years old, and try them, see if you actually like the taste. Finding out this early can save you a lot of cash in the long run.

2. Cellaring wine will not make a bad wine come good. Some wines are made to drink now, some are made to age. If a bottle of wine isn’t great to start with, then the chances are that in ten years time it will still be the same. Price is not an indicator of this either, for example we’ve got a 2012 red, that was a $10 bottle, is drinking superbly and still has a life of about 8 years left in it. However we recently opened several 2008 reds, which were three times that price, to find they were off. And these were wines that should’ve easily carried 20-25 years. Read as many reviews as you can, go to tastings, ask for advice at the bottleshop to find wines that will hold their own with age. If you like aged wines, and are cellaring for personal enjoyment, then this should be your number one concern.

3. Watch those first few purchases. Those first two or so years can be the hardest as you tend to buy too much of the same type, or too much that will mature at the same time, there is nothing fun about having to drink an entire cellar, because it all matures at the same time. Buy wines of different style, prices, areas and maturity date. If you’re not sure then ask the person you’re buying it from, this is where going to a trusted bottleshop is worthwhile. This brings me to:

4. Keep it unusual and exciting. There will be times when you know what you want to drink, other times you want to be surprised and interested. Sounds like marriage advice “ways to keep it exciting”, but it’s true; a cellar can become boring very quickly if you’ve only collected your favourite style or favourite wine. Keep it interesting; throw in some excellent whites, Chards, Rieslings and great Viognier; interesting reds like Touriga, Nebbiolo or Chianti. You’ll also need wines for different times, wines for cool nights and our hot summer days, wines that you will want to share, ones for friends and wines that you will want to have with cork-dorks. 

5. Put down some Pinot! I wish somebody had told me this earlier.  When I first started getting interested in wine, I didn’t like Pinot. Not the weak thin wines, but the big, gamey and smoky ones. Your tastes change with age, and when they do you’ll be kicking yourself that you didn’t age some excellent Pinots. The wines can have such power and yet finesse and, of course, all the ones that I particularly like are the ones with a few years of age.

6. It’s your cellar. You’ll be the one drinking it, or serving it to friends. It’s not there to brag about or to impress, if that’s what you’re doing with it, then you might as well just use the money to buy a flashy car instead. A cellar full of 98point Halliday rated wines may be impressive, but it’s not useable. A well-chosen cellar can bring you quite a bit of fun, when you focus on stocking wines that you enjoy drinking and sharing. A cellar is like a family photo album, always changing and being updated, but there are the ones that you always come back to when you show it to friends, or that you like to pause and linger on as you think of the time. 

Just remember that to keep that cellar interesting, as your wine ages so too will your tastes, and your tastes will change. 

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