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Cellar dwellers

Having a cellar is a one of life’s luxuries

What your cellar looks like can be as variable as the weather, from under the bed (which at least provides easy access) to custom built rooms that suggest you might be compensating for something else, like buying an old E-type Jaguar.

The reason to be particular about wine storage is that each bottle of wine is a living thing and needs its own version of homeostasis (a bit of 2nd year physiology comes flying back here).

Generally wine that is made to last will always cellar well and reward your patience with more complex characteristics.

It also allows wines bought for that special event or 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 because they are infused with more natural preservatives from the tannins released from the red grape skins, as well as their higher alcohol content. White wines usually have greater acidity, which can be surprisingly effective in helping whites live on.

Temperature is the single most influential variable in cellaring wine. Anything above 22 degrees Celsius or below freezing will kill off this evolving living thing.

Most experts feel that between 13 and 14 degrees Celsius is appropriate for long, slow maturation. Heat tends to speed up reactions and can make wines mature more quickly, but go too high above 22 degrees Celsius and the wine can literally be stewed.

Another factor is temperature consistency. You don’t want more than 0.5 degrees Celsius variation over a 24 hour period, as rapid heating and cooling makes the cork move like a piston, allowing in more oxygen, which speeds up the oxidation process. In a warm climate like Queensland, it is acceptable to have a cool place that is 16 degrees Celsius in winter and 22 degrees Celsius in summer, as changes in temperature are gradual.

Relative humidity is relatively important – and this isn’t some bad Tasmanian joke. Corks dry out and let more oxygen in if stored below 70 per cent humidity. Some place bowls of water in their cellar to aid humidity. A lot of these issues are negated by the use of screw caps, but try selling that to a rabid Burgundian wine maker.

Excess light can imply heat, which is not desirable. But UV radiation itself 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 is turning your bottles. This came from the turning of champagne bottles, 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 a bit of unused space around the house 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. I can comfortably cellar about 80 plus bottles that Mrs Plonk doesn’t know about.

This month, Dr Plonk has selected the following from his shelves for a tasting:

Champagne – Fleury Organic Champagne NV: This is a Blanc de Blanc, which means 100 per cent Chardonnay. The nose has a wonderful lemon influence, with subtle yeasty, nutty characteristics. Maybe a hint of ginger spice. The palate is crisp with a finishing soft mouth feel.

White – 2010 Greystone Sand Drift Pinot Gris Waipara Valley NZ: There are pink hues in the colour, with a nose of white peach and honeyed almonds. The palate is generous, with enough acidity to balance the sweetness.

Red – 2008 Stella Bella Margaret River Shiraz: This has an intense bright purple colour, with a blackcurrant and black pepper nose. Secondary notes of olives and cedar waft in. The wine flows effortlessly, and has fine balanced tannins.