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Cellar dwellers


Having a cellar is a one of life’s luxuries.

How you do it varies, ranging from under the bed (which has the benefit of easy access) to custom-built rooms that often show that you might be compensating for something: maybe like buying an old E-type Jaguar.

There is good reason to be particular about wine storage. Wine is a living thing, and needs its own version of homeostasis (this is where a bit of second year physiology comes into play).

But, apart from this, why cellar wine?

Generally, wine that is made to last will always cellar well and reward your patience with more complex characteristics. It also allows your event wines, bought for that long-awaited anniversary, to shine and highlight that treasure trove of great memories. Yes, I believe some people even buy divorce wines, although it is usually with the other party’s money. 

In general, reds will last longer than whites, due to more natural preservatives from the tannins from the red grape skins and usually higher alcohol content. However, acid is higher in white wines and can, surprisingly, aid in helping a white live on.

Temperature is the single most influential variable in cellaring wine. Going past 22 degrees Celsius or, alternatively, below freezing, will kill off this evolving, living thing. Most experts feel a temperature range of between 13 and 14 degrees Celsius is best for a long, slow maturation process. Heat tends to speed up reactions, and can make wines mature more quickly. But above 22 degrees Celsius the wine can literally be stewed.

Another factor is the temperature stability. You don’t want more than 0.5 degrees Celsius variation within a 24-hour period, as rapid heating and cooling makes the cork move like a piston, allowing in more oxygen and speeding up the oxidation process. However, the explosion in the use of screw caps means this may not be as important as it once was. In a warm climate like Queensland, a cool place that is 16 degrees in winter and 22 degrees in summer is acceptable, so long as any change in temperature is slow.

Relative humidity is relatively important (and no, this isn’t a reference to a bad Tasmanian joke). Corks dry out and let more oxygen in if stored in an environment where the relative humidity slips below 70 per cent. Some people actually place bowels of water in their cellar to aid humidity. Some of these issues are negated by the use of screw caps, but try telling that to a rabid Burgundian wine maker.

Excess light can imply heat, which is not desirable, but UV light itself also contributes to spoiling.

Vibration is probably the least of your worries, but it isn’t good form to toss your bottles around.

The other fallacy of cellaring is the need to regularly turn your bottles. This came from the practice in traditional champagne production – riddling – used to collect and consolidate sediment in the wine, and doesn’t apply to still wine.

So you can buy yourself a maximum-minimum temperature hydrometer and monitor the cupboard under the stairwell, or you can turn that unused space into a cellar with a wine air conditioning unit.

Fridges designed for wine storage are great and look smart.

I also use my old examination couch at work, with every draw and cupboard filled with wine. There I can comfortably cellar about 80-plus bottles that the missus doesn’t know about.

Worth cellaring

Brockenchack McKenzie William Eden Valley Riesling 2013 – beautiful lemon-lime citrus notes, with a hint of spice. The palate is upfront and generous, with a sharp acidity that will ensure a decade of cellaring. Halliday gave it 96 points and, at less than $20, it’s a steal.

Yalumba FDR1A Barossa Cabernet Shiraz 2010 – sensational deep purple colour with an emerging hint of red brick. The nose displays a complex marriage of red plum fruits, chocolate, star anise and roses. The palate is generous, with full and balanced tannins. This is a wine approaching legendary status, and is a treat at about $60. Drink now after decanting for an hour, or cellar for another 12 to 15 years. It’s all good.

Holyman Tamar Valley Tasmania Pinot Noir 2012 – dark cherry colours. Opulent, spicy nose with red currants and some rose petals. Gorgeous fruit balanced by supple tannins and acidity. Yes, you can cellar this Pinot Noir for six to eight years and it will be a complex beast of a pinot: “The iron fist in the velvet glove.”