Storing and cellaring wine explained - why bother?
Which wines should you cellar?
The key when choosing wines to cellar is to firstly confirm that cellaring is appropriate for the bottle in question and it all comes down to the quality of the wine. An everyday drinking wine such as a cheaper New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc will be unsuitable for "laying down" and will actually deteriorate with age. Many wines are therefore more suitable for immediate or near term drinking and will not be transformed in the cellar to something better.
What happens to red and white wine in the cellar over time?
Top wines will mature and reveal their true character after 5-10 years or more in the cellar. For example, many Bordeaux blends, Barossa Shiraz and others. But there is a half way house where certain wines will benefit from some degree of cellaring albeit not for extended periods to soften the tannin and add complexity to the palate.
The best wines have the benefit of quality grapes and an expert or certainly very competent wine maker. Over time, these wines will develop layers of flavour and become increasingly balanced to give them added finesse and personality.
Reds will benefit in particular from the softening of harsh tannins e.g. Saint-Joseph Shiraz when young can have a harshness which fades with time and allows the spicy character of the grape to develop. As a bottle matures flavours can change from fruity to savoury, tannins soften but acids and alcohol remain constant giving the wine added balance.
White wines can change in a big way in the cellar to give more toasty, buttery characteristics particularly if they have been barrel aged. A white with an acidic character when young can moderate as the other layers of flavour begin to develop to soften this overt acidity thereby "coating" it without actually changing the acid level itself. Cellaring therefore adds complexity and richness to whites as demonstrated very well by some of the best Burgundy's such as Puligny-Montrachet.
How and what wine to cellar (top tips in the wine cellar):
1) The rule therefore is cellar your best stuff, not the mediocre. Buy the best you can afford and drink your cheap, everyday wines immediately.
2) If you don't have an underground cellar find a dark, cool spot e.g. under the stairs, a darker spot in a garage out of the sun. Consider buying a specialist cabinet if you don't have the right spot. There's no point spending a fortune on Chambolle-Musigny and then ruining it in the wrong location!
3) Screw caps can be laid down in any orientation, cork sealed wines should be laid with the cork down to keep it moist and drying out leading to leaks and oxygenation.
4) Store the wine in the right temperature at around 15 degrees centigrade and no more than 20 degrees. The key is a consistent temperature, wines hate temperature fluctuations. Definitely no heat spikes!
5) The right humidity is also important to prevent corks drying out - 60-80% is about right. If it's too low or get a humidifier (probably less than 50% as a guide)
6) Remember also to buy what you like and enjoy drinking the end result of the cellaring. There's no point buying a load of Australian Shiraz if you don't like Shiraz!