A candelabra flickers on the massive oak table in the cool, musty subterranean room. Old wine crates are stacked to the ceiling, each etched with the name of a venerable château.
Dusty barrels in one corner were filled with cognac distilled a century ago. Through the stone archway, racks of cobwebbed bottles stretch into the distance.
Many wine lovers share the fantasy, but how do you tackle the realities of building a wine cellar in your home?
Mature wines offer exotic flavors and aromas that just aren’t found in young wines. As fine wine ages, the fresh grapey aromas diminish and are replaced by aromas of ripe fruit, cedar, chocolate, leather and others.
Meanwhile, tannins—the compounds also found in tea that make your mouth feel furry—chain together, making the wine smoother and easier to drink.
Although it’s hard to peg a price, most wines under $20 are ready to be consumed when they’re bought, and often don’t benefit from aging.
For expensive fine wines, such as classified bordeaux and burgundy; California cult cabernet; vintage champagne; TBA German wine; and super-Tuscans; aging makes economic sense too.
After several years, many of these wine double or triple in price, making them the kind of liquid assets to treasure, regardless of the economy.
As well, there’s the element of nostalgia: Some parents like to cellar wine made in the year their children were born, so that they can give it to them when the kids turn twenty-one.
No matter what your budget, look for wines that are balanced among their elements of fruit, oak and, in red wines, tannin.
A wine that is balanced in its youth will most likely become more complex with age. Conversely, a young wine that is so tannic it’s nearly undrinkable will usually not improve with time.
A Comfortable Cache: $200 – $2,000
Start with the best values on the market today from New World producers such as Australia, New Zealand, Chile and Washington.
These regions offer delicious wines at reasonable prices in the range of $20 to $40 per bottle. In this range, the wines are not so much for aging, though most will keep for at least one to three years, but for—to pull out a bottle for dinner or to have a few on hand when friends drop over.
The most popular wines from Australia are blockbuster chardonnay and shiraz. Try those from Penfolds, Xanadu, Chapel Hill, St. Hallet, Wolf Blass, Jim Barry and Two Hands. From New Zealand, look for sauvignon blanc and pinot noir from Cloudy Bay, Fairhall Downs, Kim Crawford and Highfield.
Chilean wineries, such as Concha y Torro, Errazuriz, Caliterra, Santa Rita and Santa Carolina, produce solid chardonnay, merlot and cabernet.
Washington try merlot, cabernet and syrah from Chateau Ste Michelle, Columbia Crest, Columbia Winery, L’ecole 41, Woodward Canyon, Hedges and Hogue Cellars.
Here are wines for those who want to move up into the $40-$80 bottle range.