Down the Hall

Why have a cellar for your wine?

Wine is like any other living organism. It reacts either positively or negatively to its environment. The positive or "aging" reaction is the very slow and delicate process of enhancing the bouquet, flavor and structure of the wine. The negative or "spoiling" reaction is essentially when the wine is destroyed or "cooked." If stored under the right conditions, quality wines will develop complex flavors, intensified aromas and even a deeper color. While most of the wines produced by vintners today are meant to be drunk within a year or so of the purchase date, certain wines need anywhere from three or four years to several decades to reach their full maturity. Unfortunately, by the time these wines are ready, they are almost impossible to find and extremely expensive. That is why you need a cellar.

Some people buy a case of good, young, wine as an investment and once it's been aged for an appropriate period of time, sell off half of it at a great profit and then enjoy the other half. Whatever the motivation, a wine cellar is well worth the effort.

What wines to age:

Not all wines benefit from long-term aging. Many white, sparkling, blush, nouveau and red table wines are less affected by aging and should be consumed in a relatively short period of time. However, "Old World" and "New World" reds do very well for several years in a cellar. Generally speaking, Old World wines last longer than New World wines. So, slower maturing and longer lasting reds may reach their plateau in about ten years and last for another ten.


TEMPERATURE is the most important factor. You generally want a cellar at about 55F, but more importantly, no more than 3 of variation in a day and less than 5 over a year. Variations greater than this may cause cork damage. Minute quantities of wine leak out and too much oxygen will seep back into the bottle and mix with the wine. The wine will then mature too fast and probably spoil before the bottle is even opened.

Moderate HUMIDITY is important to keep the corks in good resilient condition. A relative humidity of about 70% is recommended. Excessive humidity will not harm the wine, but will damage labels. Insufficient humidity may cause the corks to dry out, loose their elasticity and allow air into the bottle as well. LIGHT will prematurely age a bottle of wine. Clear bottles are most susceptible to this problem, but ultraviolet light will penetrate even dark colored glass. UV rays will alter the aromas and flavor of the wine, so keeping a cellar dark or lit with incandescent or sodium vapor lights are far better for a cellar than sunlight or fluorescent lights.

Constant VIBRATION from machinery, movement, or excessive sound will disturb a red wine's sediment. Wines should be stored in such a way that you don't have to move them around to get at a particular bottle. Once a wine is laid down, it should stay there until it's opened.

A space should be CLEAN and free from smells or debris. Extraneous smells can enter through the cork and contaminate the wine. Proper VENTILATION will keep the cellar from giving the wine a musty taste.

Always store wine HORIZONTALLY so that the wine stays in contact with the cork. This keeps the cork moist, preventing air from entering the bottle.