Tips for putting wine in the cellar

I had the fortune recently to taste some very old red wine from a cellar filled with many beauties. These wines were stored well, with the temperature under 60 degrees and the humidity around 70 degrees — as close to perfect as one can get.

Aging wine can be problematic if not done correctly and can also be a losing proposition if the wine is not intended by the winemaker to age.

Here are some good ideas for anyone wishing to put wine in a cellar for future fun:

1. Choose the wine carefully. Not all red wines age well. I can't tell you how many personal cellars I have critiqued where the space was filled with wines far over the hill. I have gone to quite large cellars, many under houses, where there might be more than 40 cases of wines in which half of them have turned to vinegar.

Those are tough visits, especially because the owners' expectations are very high, indeed. Most wine collectors are sure of their purchases only to find out that, not unlike antique buyers, many of them were either not of high quality or were purchased way over the market value. Many of the wine collectors wish to sell their wines on the secondary or third market only to find that, again, most of the wines are simply not of high value. I hate being the one to tell them that their wines are either not age worthy, the wrong vintage date, are stored poorly or a combination of all three.

2. Find an honorable purveyor. If you wish to store wines of value in your cellar, find a purveyor who has been doing business in cellar wines for more than 10 years. It takes about that long for a merchant to find the right wholesalers, the right prices and the right importers for the wines destined for the cellar and for long-term aging. Longevity means the purveyor understands vintages, particular wineries, historical trends of the wineries and where the consumer might find older vintages at a bargain to set in the cellar. There is immense value in long-term relationships with producers and wineries when it comes to allocation of scarce items and short productions.

3. Step the cellar. This is a technique of great value when putting wine in the cellar. I have been in countless cellars where all of the wines have "come due" at the same moment. Some folks get crazy over a certain winery or vintage date and all of the wines from those vintage dates arrive at drinkability at the same time. I know of one man who went a little nuts over a 1990 vintage Bordeaux and now has 10 cases of wine coming due to drinking now. Does he have the time or inclination to drink 120 bottles of wine in the next few years, or does he try to sell the stuff? Savvy buyers know that this wine is at its peak and of course this means they won't buy the wine for their cellar. The best system is to purchase in "steps," that is, successive vintages, so that nothing comes due at the same time.

4. Choose a good cross-section of red wine for the cellar. Vary the cellar choices so that you don't end up with one or two varietals. People's choices change, food preferences change and new releases come on which can be quite different and stunning. I try to put in my cellar many of the varietals I pair with the cuisine I like to eat. Some of these are syrah, sangiovese, cabernet, tempranillo, grenache and nebbiolo. This give me a wide range of choices over the years. Also, many of these wines age differently and have such wonderfully different sensations that when they have been aged well, the optimum characteristics explode on the palate.

Try not to be in a rut when choosing wines for the cellar. Taste preferences are always in flux, and that big, heavily oaked cabernet sauvignon that might have been "just the thing" years ago might seem way overboard today.

Keep flexible and the cellar will be a thing of joy to experience for many years to come.

Lorn Razzano is owner of the Wine Cellar in Ashland. Reach him at

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