Cellaring wine: keep it cool and dark
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A few weeks ago I wrote about rediscovering (and opening) long-neglected bottles that had languished, unseen, on wine racks and basement closets in my house for too many years.
The project of cracking open these slumbering bottles, which I had to move out of the basement to deal with flood-related renos, isn’t going as briskly as I had planned, so now I’ve got to start thinking about where these wines will be put back to bed once the repairs are wrapped up.
Rather than returning to tucking bottles here and there in various nooks and crannies throughout the basement and beyond, I had hoped I might be able to store all the bottles in one place. But given my options, it appears I may be destined for the same controlled chaos after all.
The main thing to remember when cellaring a wine, be it for the short or long term, is to pick a spot that’s cool, dark and free of vibration. Temperature-wise, my basement laundry/storage room would work well. But store your vino too close to the washer or dryer and the vibrations given off by those appliances will make the wine age (and eventually deteriorate) more quickly. There’s a fridge in the laundry room, but it’s an older, conventional model that vibrates a fair bit when the motor’s running, so it would likely have the same effect.
Some of my “cellar” is currently strewn about the dining room, which is actually a little chilly along one wall, which would be ideal were it not for the fact that I’ve noticed this winter, while working at the dining room table (my de facto office until renos are done), that the sun streams in through the front window and hits that very same spot. Exposure to light is one of the reasons most age-worthy bottles come in darkly tinted glass; too much sun and a wine will age more/too quickly — or, even worse, suffer what’s called light strike, a reaction of B vitamins and amino acids in the bottle that results in sulfuric, oxidative flavours.
One thing to consider when moving these ragtag bottles back downstairs is whether they have to be lying down or not. Typically anything bottled with a cork closure should be stored on its side so the cork doesn’t dry out and ruin what’s inside. Wines bottled under screw cap or crown cap can remain standing up if need be, and in fact on more than one occasion local brewers have suggested storing bottles of beer standing up (unless they’re bottled under cork) is actually preferable. That’s assuming the beer is age-worthy to begin with — poring through my beer stash has also meant pouring out a few beers that were well past their prime.
So while the thought of organizing and storing all of my wines and beers in one central spot is a good idea in theory, the reality is that I’ll once again end up shoving bottles in every dark and cool corner of the basement, and in the back of random closets throughout the house. And as I struggle to find a spot for all these dusty bottles, I’ll scold myself for not following one of wine’s most basic rules: that most wines are meant to be drunk young.
Wines of the week
Monte Creek 2020 Cabernet Franc (British Columbia — $29.75, Liquor Marts and beyond)
Cocoa, cassis, black pepper and bell pepper notes show beautifully on the nose of this B.C. red, which comes from the Kamloops area of the B.C. interior, north of the Okanagan Valley. It’s medium-plus bodied and ripe, with dark chocolate, cherry, cassis and plum flavours, hints of bell pepper, cracked black pepper and tea, bringing moderate tannins jam before a modest-length finish. It’s a nice example of cooler-climate Cabernet Franc which may have been brought in special for the Winnipeg Wine Festival, as I wasn’t able to find it on the Liquor Marts website (unlike the Monte Creek Riesling, Chardonnay and rosé). I picked it up at the Crestview location. 4/5
Temple Bruer 2021 Shiraz Malbec (Riverland, Australia — $25.95, Liquor Marts and beyond)
An organic, preservative-free and vegan red, this Aussie blend of Shiraz and Malbec from the warm-climate Riverland region near Barossa brings deep blackberry, plum, leather, violet and white pepper aromas. It’s plush and full-bodied but still dry, with dense and ripe cherry, blackberry, plum and blueberry flavours, a black tea and vanilla component and a slightly warm, 14 per cent finish that comes with soft tannins. A bit of an atypical Aussie red, but still plenty tasty for those who like softer, richer fruit flavours. 3.5/5
Caiaffa 2021 Negroamaro (Puglia, Italy — around $24, private wine stores)
This organic Negroamaro from Italy’s Puglia region delivers plum, mocha, earth, blueberry and white pepper notes on the nose. It’s dry and medium-plus bodied, with the blue-black fruit flavours front and centre, a hint of cracked black pepper underneath, notes of spice and mocha from three months in oak barrels, spicy tannins and, at 13.5 per cent alcohol, a medium-length finish. Balances juicy and rustic notes throughout; try with pizza. The Negroamaro appears to only be available at Calabria Market, although there are a few other products from this winery scattered throughout other private wine stores. 3.5/5
Literary editor, drinks writer
Ben Sigurdson edits the Free Press books section, and also writes about wine, beer and spirits.