TO CELLAR OR NOT TO CELLAR? FOR MANY, THE IDEA OF HAVING A PERSONAL CELLAR CAN SEEM A CONFUSING AND DRAWN OUT AFFAIR. BUT, MORE THAN EVER, CELLARING WINE IS BECOMING A NECESSARY AND VALUABLE WAY TO MAXIMISING YOUR ENJOYMENT OF WINES.
In years gone past, many wines were bottled and stored at the winery for several years before being released to the consumer at optimal drinking years. Though many wineries still do this, it is becoming less and less of a common practice. At Mount Pleasant, we still store many of our wines for longer periods- the Elizabeth Aged Semillon and Lovedale Semillon are both held for a minimum of 5 years. However the responsibility of cellaring has generally shifted toward the consumers, under the increased desire for early drinking styled wines and the financial pressures of the Australian wine industry.
The onus of cellaring on the consumer has led to a plethora of wine storage options available on the market. However, before you start on setting up your own wine cellar, it is important to consider a long term strategy, primarily establishing which wines will deliver palate satisfaction years down the track and what wine storage system is best suited to your needs and budget.
WINE STYLES BEST FOR CELLARING
Aside from vintage, the grape variety is also an important consideration. As a rule of thumb, stick to what a particular wine region does best. For example, Hunter Valley Semillon and Shiraz, Clare Valley Riesling, Barossa Valley Shiraz, Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon, Margaret River Chardonnay and SSB are just a few examples. Consider the acid structure in white wines and the tannin profile in red wines. Generally speaking, these two components in wines help them stand up over time.
Alternatively, let the experts guide you in the process. There is a huge range of knowledgeable wine commentators on the topic of cellaring and most of them have websites that list the appropriate length of time for cellaring each vintage of each wine. Like Mount Pleasant, most wineries also provide information in regard to cellaring of their wines. Just remember to stick to those people you can trust! Don’t gamble ten years of cellaring on Wikipedia!
Cellaring wine for a wedding anniversary or child’s 21st birthday is always a nice way to mark the occasion, provided you think you can resist the temptation! A good tip is to remember that bigger is better! A magnum bottle will not only allow more people to enjoy the wine but it will also age in the bottle at a slower rate. Because producers are releasing more forward drinking style wines, an aged magnum bottle will smell and taste more in tune with the flavour profile our palates are used to.
Without weighing into the cork versus screw cap debate, choosing wines for cellaring that have a screw cap closure will negate the possibility of any cork spoilage. Nothing could be more frustrating than waiting patiently on a bottle of wine, only to find the cork has failed! Bottles that have synthetic closures are fine for early drinking wine styles but it is best to avoid them when choosing to cellar wine for extended periods of time.
CORRECT WINE STORAGE
In order to get the most out of a wine, it is absolutely essential that you store it in the right environment. A constant temperature with little fluctuation between day and night, summer and winter, should be a high priority. A wine that is experiencing marked fluctuations in temperature will age quicker than desired. A cool temperature between 12°C – 15°C is desirable. If you reside in a warm climate, the wine is better off stored at a constant temperature around 16°C or 18°C than a temperature that is cooler, but fluctuates significantly. If bottled with a cork closure the cork will expand and contract in the neck of the bottle, altering its resilient condition, allowing oxygen to seep in and wine to leak out.
A dark environment is important, especially if you are cellaring white wines. Prolonged exposure to either natural or artificial light will cause the colour of the wine to bleach in the bottle and cause premature aging of the wine, reducing its aesthetic appeal.
Choosing to lie your bottles down or have them standing up is not an issue with screw-cap closures, nor is storing the wine in a slightly humid environment. However if the bottles have cork closures they must be lying down to keep the wine in contact with the cork and therefore expanded in the neck of the bottle. Bottles with a cork should also be kept in a room with 75% room humidity, in order to keep the end of the cork expanded. One without the other could lead to the dreaded oxidation and leakage of wine.