In Southern California, we are becoming more and more wine savvy every day. As you start to enjoy wines and really delve into what you like, developing a wine cellar might be a natural extension of your culinary pursuits. Here are six tips to ensure that your investment doesn’t turn into expensive salad dressing (vinegar).
- Temperature: The most important thing to know about storing your wine is that the more stable your storage temperature is, the more stable your wine will be. Ideal storage temperatures hover around the sixty-degree mark. However, degree variation is more detrimental than the actual ideal temperature.
- Wines Are Lazy: Lay those bottles down! You want the wine to be actively touching the cork at all times. This ensures that the cork remains moist. When a cork dries out, it can shrink, which would prematurely let extra air in to oxidize the wine. One exception is sparkling wine (Champagne, Cava, Prosecco) because these corks condensed and inserted with great pressure, which mitigates issue of the cork drying. Also, some say that if laying a sparkling bottle of wine on its side might dissipate the carbonation in the wine more quickly than standing the bottle straight up.
- Timing is Everything: When opening a very old bottle of wine, time is of the essence! While you might be able to enjoy drinking that young Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon for a few days, if you are drinking a wine with serious aging, then that time is reduced to an hour or two, at most. There is a beauty to aged wine that is impossible to replicate, but the wines are often no longer stable. The tannins, acid, and other components of the wine that act as natural preservatives have now precipitated to the bottom of the bottle, often in the form of sediment. What that means is that aged wine oxidizes at a much more rapid pace than young wines. You should still use a decanter, but as a means to remove the good wine from the sediment, as opposed to letting the wine breathe. On your marks, get set, drink!
- Keep a written inventory, including pricing. Knowing exactly what you have and how much you purchased them for is a great reference point in acquiring new wines. It will prevent over-buying, and will be a great way to figure out what the best values are in the wine industry.
- Know When to Drink Fresh: Not all wine ages gracefully. In fact, beyond a few years of aging, very few wines continue to increase in complexity and begin a slow decline. There are three main qualities to look for in finding wines to age: Tannin (the fibrous compound that gives you a sensation of the water being sucked away), Acid (you can tell how acidic a wine is by how much you salivate when drinking it), and Alcohol (needs no explanation here). These three facets help to preserve and stabilize wine. That is why the best examples of Bordeaux, Burgundy, German Riesling, and Barolo can often age well beyond twenty years.
- It is Better to Drink Too Young Than Too Old: If you open a Napa Cabernet, and see that it is still too young, you can always decant the wine to let it settle and open up its nuances… but when a wine is too old, the best you can do is imagine what it was. Also, vintages are very important here. The growing condition of each year affects the grapes, and therefore, the wine as well. So, some years are better than others, and some years can be aged for longer than others. That 1968 Haut Brion should have been enjoyed twenty-five years ago, while the 1969 can still be quite exquisite if stored in ideal conditions and can likely go for another five or six years.
The best part about having your own wine cellar is the anticipation of drinking a wine that you have cared for in your possession, and finding the right occasion for it. Ultimately though, it is important to remember that wine is a product that is meant to be enjoyed, not coveted. Having an immense collection is only as good as the moments you enjoy depleting it. Cheers!
EDGAR POURESHAGH is a Certified Sommelier and the General Manager of the neighborhood wine bar 320 South on LaBrea (just south of the Yougurtland). 320 South is open for dinner every night with a tapas style/small plate menu designed for sharing. Wines can be experienced using the Enomatic Wine dispensing machines – designed to encourage wine exploration. 320 South at 320 South La Brea Avenue, Los Angeles 323-327-6146 www.320southwine.com