How To Cellar Wines On A Shoestring

I confess to being a wine nerd. I dream of escaping to a secret vault to sip on a swish selection of wines. I'm not the only one to harbour this fantasy. But it begs the question, why cellar wines? And is it possible to do it on a budget?

Wine cellar image from Shutterstock

There are two main reasons for cellaring wines:

  1. Because they can taste better
  2. Wine is an alchemy of colour, aroma and flavour compounds that in the early days need a little time to settle down and find their groove. Don’t get me wrong, most wines are made to be enjoyed immediately, while others are best tucked away for a while. These reward patience with funky, complex and unique aromas and flavours.

  3. Because it’s romantic, and we could all do with a little more romance
  4. Aged wine invites you to step back in time to remember the people, places and moments that make you smile. There’s a reason why we buy wines in the birth years of our children, to mark marriages or remember that special trip we took — it transcends science and reason and allows us to relive that which we hold dear. And this rocks in my book.

Regardless of the reason to cellar wine, these 5 tips will help you to do it well without breaking the bank.

#1 Stash ‘em properly

UV light and temperature fluctuations can damage wine, so it pays to rest them in peace. For between $300 and $600, you can pick up a 35 bottle capacity wine fridge. Alternatively, for around $45 per month you can rent space in a dedicated wine storage facility. Or if you’ve got a dark, cool and smell free zone in your house, why not indulge in a little DIY?

#2 Stick to some safe bets

The two main components in wine that give them their stamina are acid and tannins and some varieties are better endowed than others. Riesling, semillon, chenin blanc, shiraz and cabernet sauvignon are well known for going the distance. However, expecting magic from an everyday quaffer is madness; you need to spend a bit of money on wines wine a track record of endurance.

#3 Drink them when they’re ready

Wine labels, wine publications, producers themselves and Google are great sources of information. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that these recommendations are based on you having the perfect cellar. So treat these tips as guidance only and trust your palate to take you to your happy place. This leads nicely to our next point...

#4 Buy a few bottles

Ideally a dozen, but if not, then at least enough for you to be able to open a bottle over the wine’s lifetime. Along the way, the wine will evolve and show its different characters. Remember, aged wine is a journey not a destination and where you stop along the way is up to you because everyone has different taste, so own it.

#5 Keep it real

Wine, like people, is about attraction and romance, remember? If you fancy them up front then you’re likely to love them in the future, so don’t put down a luke warm wine expecting it to float your boat won’t happen. Also, get comfortable with risk because regardless of perfect storage or provenance, some wines won’t live up to your expectations while others will fulfil your fantasy.

Read next: Winehacker: The Complete Guide To Buying Wine In Australia

A biologist by training Charley escaped from the lab to forge a career in wine as a representative of Vinomofo and winner of the 2014 Australian New Wine Writer of the Year award.


    Correct me if I'm wrong, but it's it all about keeping a stable temperature? So they don't necessarily have to be in a cellar - as long as they are tucked away somewhere that doesn't see too much activity or change in temperature?

    TBH, most wine doesn't need to be cellared. Even stuff that says it can be cellared is often perfectly drinkable right now. This especially applies to white wine for which ageing changes the character and flavour rather than improving per se.

    So really, cellaring is best reserved for tannin rich reds such as completely fermented, and well oaked shiraz. For these the acids, lack of residual sugar and wood will tend to make them astringent when young but smooth when cellared.

    To pick these, aim for higher ABV and at least 12 or months on oak. Generally price helps too as it costs more to make higher quality wine intended for cellaring. That said, there's still an over-supply problem in the industry, so the opportunity has never been better to pick up some premium quality wines at low prices.

    Thereafter, cellaring is quite easy and doesn't really require a cellar or any high end storage. I agree with @zenu above that the crux is lack of temperature fluctuations rather than the actual temperature. So under the stairs or in a cupboard in a room with no outside walls will often be fine.

    The only other tip that matters is to keep corked bottles on their side (stops the cork drying out and tainting the wine. Those with stelvin or screw caps can be stored upright.

      All bottles should be stored horizontal as their orientation changes the surface area (to something fast larger) exposed to the air and when they target aging they do it with this profile in mind. Plus it makes the whole thing go faster.

    Hey @zenu spot on. Temperature stability is key when storing wine and the ideal temperature band sits between 10-15 degrees Celsius. However, no great harm will come to vino stored at slightly higher temps (up to around 20 degrees Celsius) as long as there aren't any major fluctuations. It's worth noting that research out of NZ has showed that storage at lower temps slows the evolution of wine. So it might be wise to try and store at the lower end of the acceptable temperature band.

    Nope, traditionally bottles have been stored on their side because it keeps the cork wet and therefore the seal viable. With screwcaps vertical storage is fine. The only way to change the surface area is to change the bottle size. Magnums age slower than regular bottles and half bottles age faster. In general slow, graceful ageing is the most sort after eg. A really old magnum or even larger format bottle aged in a cool cellar.

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