Thursday, April 2, 2015


Do you ever wonder what it might be like to step into a room chock full of your favorite wines, pick up a few bottles that are in their prime drinking range, and step back into your dining room? For many of us this is no more than a fantasy. Unlike the classic homes of Europe, typical American versions do not come complete with a wine cellar. In fact, many typical American homes don’t even have those wine-friendly dark, cool, and humid basements! And then there are the condominiums and apartments. Now how many of those have you seen that come with a wine cellar?

So that leaves most of us starting from scratch, which is not such a bad place to begin. After all, your needs and desires are unique. Starting from ground zero gives you a chance to answer a few basic questions before plunking down the big bucks. It could be worse. You could move into a home that has a built in cellar that is way too elaborate for your lifestyle. When this happens, the desire is to fill up every corner with bottles. But all too often, those bottles get forgotten, and the quest for even more wine becomes the Holy Grail, the ultimate pursuit. The convenience of having your favorite wines at hand at home is forgotten. Or worse, you feel that once the cellar is filled, its contents cannot be disturbed. It goes something like this: “I mean really, after all that work acquiring those bottles, do you really think I am going to open them? To consume them? No way. But I will take you on a tour and show off all of my cult Cabs and superstar Chardonnays. Look at this one. I paid too much, but I just had to have it. Go ahead, you can touch it.” Anyway, if your idea of a wine cellar is something more grandiose than one of those cute wine racks which make the bottles looks so pretty as they bake in the sun or heat, you might begin by considering the following:

1)       What are your reasons for setting up a cellar?
2)       How much wine do you consume now?
3)       How much wine do you use for entertaining?
4)       How much wine will you give away as gifts?

Once you have plotted out your consumption needs, decide on a location. A very basic “cellar” is as simple as a laying down a few boxes in an existing dark cool place in your home such as in the back of a closet or under a staircase. Ideal spots are also free from vibration and extreme temperature fluctuations. 52-56° is ideal for serving whites and storing reds. Noted wine expert and gardener Hugh Johnson says “When humans need air conditioning, so does wine.”
Another inexpensive option is to convert an existing piece of furniture. If you are thinking bigger, your options are either to convert or build a room, or to purchase a freestanding wine closet. Either way, a little homework will save you money on the initial investment. And plotting out your realistic wine consumption will save your investment from turning into vinegar. The Wine Appreciation Guild (1-800-231-9463, www., and International Wine Accessories (1-800-527-4072, both offer a full selection of freestanding and custom cellar equipment along with helpful advice, though I prefer Wine Appreciation Guild as it is a local company (their facility is in South San Francisco). Also talk to your favorite local wine merchant who may offer a better deal than standard catalogue list prices in the hopes of getting some of your business when you are ready to stock the cellar. For beautiful custom cellars, many featured in the Wine Spectator, visit

When you are ready to stock the cellar, keep in mind that 98% of the wines sold are ready for consumption now. Choose from the other 2% of the world’s offerings if you are planning to lie wines down for the long term (more than three or four years). Wines need acidity for longevity. In whites, look for European Rieslings, white Burgundy, white Bordeaux, and dessert wines. Californian whites become softer and more mellow after a year or two but the majority will not benefit from long term aging. Tannins (components from grape skins or oak barrels that give the wine an astringent, drying quality) and pigments are preservatives as well. The best reds for long-term aging have had extended skin and/or barrel contact so that their tannins levels are initially high. Look again to European wines from regions such as Bordeaux, Burgundy, Rhone Valley, Piedmont (Barolo and Barbaresco), Tuscany (Brunello di Montalcino), Rioja and the Ribera del Duero in Spain, and to top Australian and Californian Syrahs, Cabernet Sauvignons and Cab-based blends.

planet grape®   home of grape goddess®

bringing wine down to earth

Catherine Fallis, aka grape goddess®

America's premiere female Master Sommelier.

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