It’s not trivial to have a perfect wine cellar. I often think about exactly what constitutes a perfect cellar for the typical wine drinker who, with his wife, tends to run through a bottle of good wine daily or about 300 to 400 bottles a year (approximately 30 cases). Unless you drink wine with dinner and like a great, well-matured wine as often as possible, there is no reason to have a cellar. You can always pick up a bottle of good wine at the store when you need it.
One problem I often see is people over-buying for their own needs. This is particularly true of the high-tech millionaires who buy cases of everything they can get their hands on and end up with hundreds of cases stored, much of which should not be stored and will just deteriorate.
A wine cellar is a function of discipline. I like the 30-case cellar that takes into account lots of constant buying that day or that week to drink right away. You don’t collect 30 cases of wine without tasting 30 wines before you buy them (although buying certain wines untasted is not uncommon).The 30 “tasters” add up to one month of drinking wine and account for nearly three cases of wine per year. I might buy a case or half a case of about one wine out of five or 10 that I try.
That’s another 150 to 300 bottles of wine you reject for the case lot collection. You’ve shot nearly a year tasting wine to collect. The point being the wine cellar wines can only account for about one quarter of your yearly wine-drinking pleasure if you like tasting different things.
There are some people who find a good wine and drink dozens of cases of that wine. I personally find that approach boring, although safe and smart. Most wine connoisseurs are into variety, looking for the Holy Grail of wines: the perfect cheap wine.
The most trustworthy wine to collect is Bordeaux. It can keep for decades and tends to continually improve.
When you start to collect from other regions it’s very spotty and you have to know what you are doing. The great (and expensive) Burgundies can keep longer than many wines, as can some of the California Cabernets.
But for the most part it’s risky to keep a wine more than five years, and too many wines begin to lose their fruit within a couple of years after purchase. There is nothing more disappointing then opening an old case of wine and discovering that it’s over-the-hill and undrinkable. In a future column I’ll have specific cellar recommendations and other specifications.