How can one afford, let alone drink good wine year-round unless you are rich? That’s easy, start a wine cellar. Anyone can do it, it’s easy. And it doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg.
But what is a Wine Cellar?
A wine cellar is, simplistically, a place where you store your wine. No, it does not actually have to be in a cellar, though that is a good place. You see, it’s all about cool temperatures, and consistency and cellars are good at this. Sure you could spend a fortune on one of those swank wine cabinets, or spend even more money on one of those incredible circular stair wine cellars (they just look too cool!), but for us mere mortals, let’s talk reality.
You simply want to store your wine in a cool, dry place. Rather like potatoes. A place where the temperature doesn’t fluctuate too much is best. Under a set of stairs is quite common, out of the way, yet accessible and generally no heater nearby or draft. It really doesn’t matter where, just think potatoes, as long as it is fairly cool and consistent it can be a potential wine storage area.
But why store wine?
I know, I know. The first thing everyone thinks is ‘when I buy wine, I just drink it rather than store it’. That’s well and good if you are buying a great, even good, bottle of plonk for just that purpose. It’s also fine if you buy something cheap, and I do mean cheap (and I won’t say nasty, as that will sound snobby). But if you want good wine that is drunk at its optimum time, and an optimum price, it needs storing.
Wine needs storing to help it age as well as help it keep well. Think of those potatoes again. If you don’t store them properly they grow those eyes. Wine won’t grow weird things, but like potatoes, it will keep longer if stored properly. You see, wine is always changing. It’s a chemical reaction thing. I am not going to go into the specifics here, just take my word for it (for you geeks who need to know, read this). And because wine is always changing, that is why there is an optimum time to drink it, e.g. this porridge is just right. And why sometimes it tastes like vinegar.
But How Do I Save Money?
Thank you for reading this far. After all, let’s be honest, what we really want to know about is how to buy good wine as cheaply as possible. First, I’ll say, forget under a fiver. This is about good wine, and unless you are living amongst vineyards, you will not buy a good wine that can get even better for under a fiver.
Second, forget supermarkets (and I include France in this). Supermarkets are fine if you wish to buy a decent (or really cheap) wine to drink now. Their buying ethos and markup mean you won’t get the best wine for your money. Find your nearest independent wine shop. The keyword here is ‘independent’, not a small wine shop that is part of a chain. Though they’ll do in a pinch, you still won’t get the best you can buy for your money.
But, Come on, How…?
Give yourself a budget for the year. It can be anything. If I am in the UK, my personal favourite is £150 -£200. Feel free to roughly equate that to your currency. It can be less, it certainly can be more. Take that amount and visit the independent wine shop. Tell the wine merchant you would like to buy 12 bottles to put in a wine cellar and what your budget is. It can be 12 different bottles, giving you a chance to try 12 different wines. Or, what I recommend, is to buy 6 different wines, 2 bottles of each. Just in case you really like something, you have a second bottle for the future.
Essentially at £150, you are spending on average £12.50 a bottle. £12.50 is a good average for good wine to cellar (for us non-wine snobs) as a general rule of thumb. If you have less money, buy fewer bottles, or go for an average of £8 – £10. Let your Wine Shop help you on deciding here. If you have a bigger budget, do get more wine, the more you can afford the better, as the more money you will save in the long run and the better your wine cellar will be.
Variety is the Spice
It’s up to you whether your case is made up of whites, reds or mixed, and in what percentage. This depends completely on your personal preferences. But be aware, reds keep longer than whites. Figure on average whites will keep 4 years, though there are of course exceptions.
A good wine merchant will vary the offerings. Some bottles will be maybe £8, others will be higher. The key is that the wine merchant will know which wines will be best for you to cellar and give you the best choices for your budget. The wine merchant is truly your best friend at this moment. (And bonus, you don’t have to know anything about wine, just hand over the money.) Don’t forget to ask them to give you an idea of when will be a good time to drink the wine, as well. A good wine merchant will give you suggestions and information.
Wait for it…
Now do this buying once each year, if you can, or even more often if you can. Then… wait 4 years.
You will be surprised how fast this will pass. I promise. Keep buying this way each year during these 4 years and thereafter for as long as you like wine.
And Here is the Saving Money Part
After 4 years, if you were to try to buy any, and I mean any, of the wines you have in your cellar you would be buying them at a much higher price, possibly even double the price. (If you have a really savvy wine merchant it could be even more!) So you have saved that money. On top of that, the wine, with age is getting better, possibly turning into a great wine whilst in your cellar.
Still not sure? Think on it this way. Today, if you wanted a really good wine, you would go into a shop and say spend £18 (or more). If that was in your cellar, you would have bought it for £12, possibly less. Decent, well made, cellarable (is that a word?) wine will always go up in value, e.g. cost. By starting, and then adding to a wine cellar regularly, you are buying cheap and drinking high. Not to mention, you will be consistently drinking better wines at cheaper prices.
Romancing the Grape
All of this does not of course mean you can’t still buy a cheap bottle of plonk. Here in France, we have our table wines. They are very nice, and not at all expensive. And nothing special. Just something nice to drink with an everyday meal. We save the cellar wines for special occasions or for sharing with others. It’s always more fun to share a cellared wine.
I like to write posts about wine from a non-wine person’s perspective. If you would like to join me in exploring and understanding wine, without all the claptrap and hoy paloy, here’s a taste (get it?)…
Do Wine Glass Shapes Matter (wine 103)
Shop Wine Lover Gifts in our Shop
As winemakers ourselves, we are always on the search for interesting, unique and particularly French wine items for our vintage and antique shop. Here’s a taste of some of the things we have found:
Wine Maker Tools
(Simply click on the image to see more.)
Alycea, our little house has a root cellar and we keep potatoes, carrots and bulbs in it. Right now it’s probally 39 to 40 degrees. During the summer the temp may rise into the high 60’s. Do you think this variation in temps might work?
Apologies for the delay in answering, I had to check with my resident guru. The variation is a little bit more than what you would like ideally, but any port in a storm. What you want is a place, out of the way (out of mind) that has as constant a temperature as possible, not in a draft and no heater nearby. If your root cellar is your best place, go with it. And I am told, if you do, lay your bottles on the ground for the best consistent temperature there. Do you have a wine cellar, or are you starting one?