drink that bottle night – every night!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Drink That Bottle Day has become an annual phenomenon, which has hopefully dislodged a few decent wines from purgatory. But in truth, any day can – and should – be drink that bottle day. If you love your wine, and enjoy a glass or two with dinner, it is really no more of an investment than those two or three triple espressos, or that fast food lunch, if you buy smartly and –here is the catch – HAVE A WINE CELLAR!

Starting a wine cellar may sound quite daunting, but if you approach it methodically it really is quite simple. Ask yourself a few questions: What sort of cellar do I want? How many bottles would be full capacity? Will it be entirely devoted to ageworthy wines, or will it be a working cellar, for everyday enjoyment? What are my preferences in terms of flavor and style?

Earlier this year, I laid out some specific guidelines for getting that cellar of yours going. Here are some further thoughts. Unless you have unlimited funds and want your wine cellar to look like the magazine ads, it’s best to allocate your resources to maximize the investment in wines, not shelves or hardware. As I build out my own cellar here in Waitsburg, I am pretty hemmed in by the budget. I spent some weeks online and on the phone investigating every possible pre-fab style of shelving to see what I could find that would work. Even the most labor-intensive options (as in, we’ll ship you 12,000 small pieces of wood and you put it all together) were going to cost thousands of dollars.

So instead, I am going with a post-modern look, assembled from existing pieces, industrial scrap, and bare planks.

If you have not strolled the lumber aisle at Home Depot lately, I highly recommend that you do so. Perfectly fine 8 foot long, 12 inch wide pine boards can be had for about $8 each. They’ll hold a lot of wine once you fashion them into sturdy shelves with partitions. For your partitions you can use metal rods, or more wood, or... get creative. The real savings comes if you abandon the notion of making individual slots for each bottle. That may look good, but it eats up a huge amount of material and takes a lot of labor.

Remember that individual wine bottles come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes, so when designing your basic box be generous. You want it to hold roughly a case or so of wine. Maybe as much as 15 bottles, no more. That allows you to organize your cellar into manageable lots of similar wines. They may be grouped by grape variety, by producer, by vintage, by region – whatever makes sense for you. I would stick with squares and rectangles, not diamonds. In my fancy Seattle wine cellar I made the mistake of having diamonds built. They don’t work! Wines get stacked too high and bottle variation makes it really easy for them to fall out.

Another important point – tilt your wine shelves sufficiently to keep the bottles tipped up an inch or so. That will also keep the stack from slipping, and as long as the wine still covers the inside end of the cork, it won’t dry out.

The next most important aspect of your cellar is to check on the temperature and humidity. Buy a cheap gauge that reads both, and put it in place immediately. You can keep wines safe in a fairly wide temperature range, say 45 to 65, if the changes are slow and seasonal. Nothing colder or higher, and you do not want to see the temperature shifts occurring more frequently, from proximity to a furnace or hot water pipes for example. Humidity should ideally be between 60% and 70%, but unless you are cellaring wines for decades, you can probably get away with a wider range there as well. Pricey wine cellar cooler/humidifiers can be problematic, and if they break you are in real trouble. So better to find a way to keep your wines comfortable in a natural environment if at all possible.

Now, start purchasing, and if you can find some older bottles (often marked down as close-outs) grab them so you have pre-aged wines for near-term drinking. My Seattle Times archive includes hundreds of columns with thousands of inexpensive suggestions. If the vintage has changed it should not matter most of the time; a good producer is a good producer in almost every vintage. Get going on your own cellar and you will soon find that drink that bottle night comes along four or five times a week!


Dave Larsen said...

I stack wine upside down in their original cardboard boxes. The boxes sit on wood shelves I built. I number each box and use an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of the wines in each box. Its not pretty and I have to turn the entire box upside right to retrieve a bottle but it is a very low cost system and the most efficient use of space.

Brian said...

Greg thanks for sharing this helpful info. While you're at it, do you have any tips, tricks or recommendations on how to accumulate the wine that will go into the cellar? Is that something you could share in a future post?

PaulG said...

Brian - check out the previous post (early January) with specifics on stocking a cellar. Sincerely, Greg Paulgutt.

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