Cellaring wine is a centuries-old tradition of storing wine. Over years or decades, the sugars, tannins, and other components in wine break down, leading to a more complex and harmonious flavor than the wine possessed when “young.” Though many modern wine aficionados have heard of the practice of cellaring or have tried aged wines at oenophile events, relatively few of them have tried cellaring wine on their own. Cellaring wine has been described as an art, and its fabled complexity may scare aficionados away. With the appropriate wine cellaring supplies and a bit of effort, you too can age wine beautifully at home.
The first and most important thing needed is an appropriate environment in which to store the wine. Traditionally, wine was aged in cellars—hence the term “cellaring.” In a perfect world, we’d all have subterranean stone cellars reminiscent of old castles in which to store our wine collections. Unfortunately for most of us, this desire is unrealistic. There are, however, modern-day options that will allow you to store your wine long-term with excellent results. The main elements needed for appropriate wine cellaring are a stable temperature (usually around 55°F), a stable humidity level (around 70%), and protection from direct light. The simplest way to accomplish this is with a wine storage cabinet. Wine storage cabinets come in many designs, from modest units that house fewer than 50 bottles to larger models that can store up to 500 bottles. For the intrepid, there are even build-your-own kits that will allow you to create a wine cabinet complete with a specialized wine cooling unit for yourself.
Once you have the appropriate space established, the next step is to choose your wines. While there is a certain art to choosing wines to cellar, there are two cardinal rules that, particularly among beginners, should always be obeyed. The first is that the only wines that age well are the wines of higher quality. In general, don’t bother cellaring anything that costs less than $25/bottle. When in doubt, talk to your local supplier—a good wine store will be able to recommend which bottles are likely to age the best. If you’re lucky enough to live near a vineyard, there’s no better expert on wine than the people who made it. The second is that red wines age much better than white wines. There are conflicting schools of thought on whether any kinds of white wine are good for ageing, but as a beginner it’s better to stick with reds. As before, your wine supplier or local vineyard may be a valuable resource in this regard.
Once you’ve established your own wine cellar and have chosen the bottles that you’d like to age, the next thing needed is time. Cellaring can be a long process, anywhere from 3 to 30 years. Five years is about average. So choose your bottles, cellar them with care, and then prepare to wait—but make sure you stock up on at least a few bottles that you don’t plan to age, so that you have something to drink in the meantime.
Laura Carlton is a freelance writer who does online outreach for Vintage Cellars, custom wine cellar and wine storage specialists. Based in San Marcos, California, Vintage Cellars started building custom wine cellars throughout the United States in 1990 when they found a growing need to supply all types of products for storing wine.