People who have to buy a book to help them start a wine cellar probably shouldn’t be starting one. Besides, a wine cellar is not a thing. It is mythological beast with a voracious appetite and a mind all its own. And it decides when it wants to exist.
Wine Cellars are Spell-Casting Beasts
Suggestions on how to construct a wine cellar, complete with architectural plans that used words like “joist” and “base plate,” are usually far too complicated for a simple project that a closet will solve.
As to what wines to put in a cellar, many suggestions become lesson plans in obscure world regions and grape varieties. Few of these ideas answer the question: What, exactly, does a wine cellar achieve?
Is it merely a cache or cave used for holding a few bottles that suit a need, such as getting a bottle quickly without racing off to the store? Or will the wines stored there be kept for a longish period of time while they improve?
Neither issue is ever thought of when the urge to begin stashing wine away first creeps into the brain. Often it happens when a buyer acquires wine for an upcoming party, realizes too late that there is too much, and then decides the bottles have to be kept somewhere other than above the stove.
Once having figured out where to stash wine, one of the first things a wine buyer learns is that wine cellars have no conscience. They quickly become filled beyond the capacity of the owner. “How’d that happen?” the owner asks. The cellar does not answer.
Wall-stretchers being inefficient solutions, it’s soon clear that more space is required. Under-stairs closets become entire sliding-door closets, which then become dugouts below the garage. Pretty soon the wine buyer is speaking of insulation, using terms like R-38.
Meanwhile, the bottles are stacking up and the collection now has different sections: this wine is for Jim, who said he wanted to try it; that bottle is for Minnie, who likes that sort of thing, and that over there is the one for a special occasion, like our anniversary that’s just eight months off. I hope I remember it is there. (Forget it; you will not remember.)
Then the buyer starts to assess things — a very bad decision. Do we have enough bubbly for special occasions? Do we have any dessert wines? Didn’t we finish our last bottle of Bordeaux? What happened to that Chianti we were saving for the ravioli?
Shoppis Interuptus- Wine Cellar
Once shopping was a chore conducted at an Indy 500 pace. Now it includes a leisurely stop in the wine section. The worst sign is when the shopper calls the wine merchant by his first name. Or finds himself crawling around looking at the bottom shelves in dusty aisles.
And that “how to start a wine cellar” book? It is forgotten in favor of reading weekly newspaper wine columns that are little if any help. The worst are columns that suggest you find wines with names like Montalcino, Kesselstatt, Grillo, and Alvarinho without saying even what color they are.
A few years after the stash is begun, the wine lover pulls out a dusty bottle of red that Stanley, the wine merchant, swore would be great in 10 years. It is now 10 years old. Time to open the stuff.
It’s, uh, not great. Sort of old and tired. Where is that “vibrant fruit” that was on the poster, alongside the score of 90?
At this point, if you listen carefully, you will hear the wine cellar secretly giggling.
As a postscript, I must admit I have a wine cellar. I am horribly unsuccessful of ridding myself of this malady. All prescription medications I have tried thus far have failed.
Just this week I got an e-mail from a distant merchant. He asked how I wanted my box of wine. Should he ship it or would I pick it up? And the worst of it was that I had completely forgotten I have already paid for this wine, nearly a year ago!
Perhaps new medications are on the horizon. Thus far, all efforts of the major pharmaceutical companies have failed to alter this infection. The best remedy is to open that four-year-old Pinot Grigio and try to ignore it.