Cellaring Wine - art form or common sense?

by Piers Lewis

One of the first questions I ask when buying a red wine is: “How long will it cellar for?”

Building my cellar over the last 20 years has been a learning experience, and one I look back on with pride, wonderment and sometimes even embarrassment.  
When first starting out in the wine world and looking to build a cellar as a long term investment, I naturally sought wines that I had heard of and knew would cellar for 5 – 10 years and would be drinking well.  But not long after purchasing these wines I realised that there was more to building on my cellar collection than just buying well known wines.  I pictured inviting my friends over for a dinner party in 5 years time and us all bringing the same wine!  Whilst it may be a good wine, if we were drinking the same wine all night, it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun.

When I bring out a wine from my cellar to share with friends or family, it is a good excuse to tell the history of the bottle you are about to drink.  Maybe recalling the other bottles of this wine you’ve drunk.  Or when you bought it and why, or how much.  Or you could just tell the story of the winery from where you bought it, as every wine and winery has a story to tell.

For me, building a cellar is a very personal experience.  I know every wine in my cellar.  This may be a little over the top to most people that collect and cellar wine, but for me it led to stories and experiences, a way of remembering when I bought the wine, why I bought it, and what I hoped to get out of the wine.  It might have been a recommendation from a friend.  A wine critic that I liked recommended it, or even if I was just bored and it seemed like a good deal!

Diversity in wine that I have in my cellar is key.  Whereas I do seem to have a fair few more of some varieties than others, and naturally with me being Australian, more Australian wine than other countries, but opening something a little different always gets the taste buds interested and re-invigorates my thirst.  I sometimes even ask my wife to pick a bottle and not tell me what it is, seeing if I can pick the grape variety, region and vintage.

But, reflecting on my time building my cellar, there is no art form to it.  Sure, you are wiser the longer you work at it, but common sense and some basic rules can ensure you start your cellar wisely, and enjoy building it for years to come.  The key points I like to adhere to when purchasing with cellaring in mind are:

  1. Will the wine cellar well – typically wines that will cellar well will highlight this on the label, or who is selling the wine should note this.  Although cellaring for 30 years may seem attractive, it is hard to hold on that long, so look for 5 – 10 years at a minimum, and have some special wines that can go the distance to 20 – 30+ years;
  2. Red wines typically cellar better than whites, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t purchase some Chardonnay, Riesling or even Semillon’s that can last a long time.  Don’t be afraid to try new varieties that you are not familiar with;
  3. Buy 6 of the same wine and vintage at a minimum, if your budget allows.  Comparing a wine you drank after 1 year, 2 years, 3 years or more in the cellar is a good way to appreciate how wine develops over time;
  4. Buy different vintages of a wine if it has a good track record of producing wines that cellar well.  Comparing vintages, or having a vertical tasting, as it is known, is also a good way to understand the differences between vintages and what may have made these sometimes subtly differences.

Good luck, and enjoy the experience of investing in your long-term cellar.

I would recommend the following wines if you are interested in Cellaring.

Edwards 2013 Edwards Cabernet Sauvignon

Category: Education



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