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How to Set Up the Ideal Cellar

The process of ageing wine is a form of culinary art.

 

One walks a fine line between ruining the wine or enhancing it. The rewards of patience are real, and the pleasure of sharing fine aged wine always makes the wait worthwhile, but if aged under the wrong conditions or too long, your wine will become undrinkable.

If you are one of the fortunate ones who can build a real cellar in your home, consider the three required conditions below, as well as the list of potential items to take into consideration.

 

Building the ideal cellar: three key considerations

 

Temperature: the ideal cellaring temperature is between 12ºC and 14ºC (54º-57ºF).

Historically this is about the average temperature of the great European cellars.

Temperatures much lower than this (under 10°C/50°F) will excessively stunt maturation while those higher than this (above 16°C/61°F) will prematurely age the wine, and not in a pleasant way. The upper  20°s (Above 80°F) will ruin a wine within days and anything near freezing is very bad. Keeping the ambient temperature relatively stable is also extremely important. You will definitely want to keep the fluctuations below +/-2°C (4°F) per day

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Humidity: The humidity of a cellar is best kept between 65 and 75 percent.

Levels lower than this can cause the corks to dry out and shrink, allowing air into the bottle and causing oxidation.

Environments with a humidity level much greater than 75 percent will cause labels to peel, cartons to rot and bottles to develop mould. This will usually not affect the wine’s taste if corks are intact are airtight, but will definitely put a dent in potential resale value.

 

Lighting: Make it as little as possible!

Light should be avoided, most especially sunlight, as UV light causes hydrogen sulfide compounds in wine and affects the tannins and color of the wine. A wine room certainly should not have any windows, and preferably it should be dark most of the time.

 

Other considerations

 

  • Airflow: Try to avoid air blowing directly onto the bottles as this will dry out corks but make sure there is appropriate ventilation to ensure the cellar does not become stale;
  • No vibrations: They affect the speed of chemical reactions in wine. This is however a relatively minor consideration for bottles being stored for a short time;
  • Water tight: Flooded underground cellars are very common and even if the bottles can survive, the labels may not;
  • Pests & Insects: These can easily devastate entire collections;
  • Security system: Not just for burglars, you might want to consider security systems to keep your precious bottles safe from (especially younger) family members;
  • Racking: Ensure all bottles are laid on their side, keeping the corks in contact with wine and moist inside;
  • Insulation: Gaps in doors and windows need particular attention. A poorly insulated room which heats up in the day and cools down at night will soon spoil any wine;
  • Keep it clean and avoid chemicals and strong smells: Wine should not be stored where there are chemicals in the air (e.g. next to open paint cans) or strong smells (e.g. in a cheese cellar). Keeping the cellar clean prevents other bad odors and pests from taking hold;
  • Central heating: This has been known to ruin many collections. Make sure your cellar is insulated from changes in ambient temperature, especially if there is a wall to the outside or hot water pipes running through the wall/ceiling/floor;
  • Cellar records: Keep accurate records of what’s in your cellar, both for insurance purposes as well as to know what is ready to drink when;
  • Insurance: Ensure that your home and contents policy covers your wine. If not, or if not to the value of the cellar content, consider a special insurance;
  • Turning the bottles: An old wives tale! It’s best to leave wine alone. The only wines that need turning are champagne bottles after second fermentation, when the sediments need to gently settle in the neck of the bottle, but that is the work of the winemaker;

 

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For more information and an easy step-by-step guide to choosing the right
wine cabinet for your needs, check out our 'Vintec Wine Cabinet Buying Guide' (PDF, free download).