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Aging Wine Without a Cellar
Copyright 2001 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved. Originally printed May 28, 2001. For more information go to

Although 99 percent of all the wine made in the world is meant to be enjoyed while it is young and fresh, the remaining 1 percent includes many of the most noteworthy wines. Accordingly, it's the rare wine lover who doesn't eventually decide that it would be a fine idea to "lay down" a few Bordeaux or Burgundies, Ports or fine dessert wines to improve with age.

But then you learn the "gotcha" of wine cellaring: For the best long-term results, fine wines need to be kept at a constant 55-60F (13-15C). Too cold, and they will barely evolve at all; too warm, and they will age quickly but not well.

So for SERIOUS wine collecting, unless you're lucky enough to have a natural cave or earthen basement that maintains the right temperature year-round, you'll have to invest in a free-standing cellar unit - a fancy refrigerator designed for wine - or have an insulated, climate-controlled room built in. As you might imagine, these are not inexpensive options.

Is there any hope for those of us who enjoy wine and want to try aging a few bottles without having to make a four-figure investment?

Well, sort of. With the understanding that it's a compromise, there is no reason to let the lack of a cellar deter you from setting a few good bottles aside. Here are a few hints that may help maximize your success:

* Start with ageworthy wines: "Big," tannic reds - Bordeaux and good international Cabernet Sauvignons, Rhones and Shirazes, and good Spanish reds like Rioja and Ribera del Duero - as well as fortified dessert wines like Port (both the Portuguese original and the Australian variety) and Madeira hold up well under adverse conditions. Don't try to age whites or delicate reds except perhaps as a limited experiment to see what will happen. Sometimes wine will suprise you.

* Choose your location wisely: Find a cool, quiet corner for your wine collection. Don't use the kitchen or dining room, and choose a spot away from direct sunlight and heat registers.

* Do not disturb: Let your wine bottles rest on their sides, so the cork stays in contact with the wine. And if you've heard the old legend about "turning" your bottles periodically, forget it. Your wine is sleeping, and it doesn't want to have somebody come in and roll it over any more than you would.

* Don't wait too long: While ageworthy wines stored under perfect conditions may last for decades, don't expect that kind of results at room temperature. Just about any cellarable wine should last fine for two or three years, especially in an air-conditioned or naturally cool home environment. But based on my experimence, five years approaches the limit; after that you run an increasing risk that your wine will be "tired" at best ... losing its fruit, browning in color, and taking on the heavy, sherrylike qualities that oxidation imparts.


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