Starting a Wine Cellar on a Budget

4 great values for the cellar

 


I recently wrote an email that recommended several of my favorite cheap red wines that I indulge in. One of the reasons I was inspired to write that email (it was actually one of a two-part series on Wines for a Cheap Drunk) was to give people a little perspective. You see, we can only think things are “great” or “special” once we have a firm idea of what is ordinary. Now, I’m not dissing the wines that I think are ordinary (unless they get priced with the aspirations of the producers, in which case, we’ve got issues.) No, quite the contrary: A wonderfully ordinary wine is often just the ticket for a Wednesday night roast chicken or Sunday sandwiches on the porch.

Having covered those wines in a bit of detail, I thought it would be fun to follow up with wines that will one day be special, and still won’t break the bank.
For me, it’s almost a prerequisite that great wines have a little age on them. Cellaring wines gives them a chance to develop complex flavors and aromatics that may set them apart from the ordinary; the textural transformation that happens during bottle aging is truly remarkable and gives wines a seductive appeal that can be unmatched.

The big problem, of course, is that virtually all great wines for the cellar come with impressive price tags.  I’m here to help point out those great exceptions! While I probably like my wines with more age on them than most people, the suggestions that follow will benefit from at least 3 years in the cellar and will easily last a decade.

It’s easy for me to start off almost exactly where I left off with my value-drinking email, in Portugal. In fact, one of the least expensive wines from that email is also one of the least expensive wines from this email. The Porca de Murca is a great wine that really blossoms with some time in the cellar. I’m still working through my 2003’s of the regular bottling and it’s a joy to drink. I’ll be finishing them off over the next three years or so and while it’s not the most complex wine in the cellar it has developed a lovely, silky feel. Try the Porca de Murca Riserva for a wine with more power and cellar potential.

Two to Try

2006 Quinta do Vale Meao Meandro

2005 José Maria da Fonseca Domini Plus

Since we’re on the Iberian Peninsula I figured we might as well stick around. Spain has so many fine wines that fit the bill here that I could probably write several emails about the great values but I’ll have to limit myself to just a few. To start with, my geek self is drawn to the amazingly-chiseled versions of Mencia that come from the impossibly steep slopes of the Ribeira Sacra. I love these wines, packed with acid and fine tannins, I’ve laid a few down, and while I don’t have much experience with aged versions I’m putting my money where my mouth is and have begun to lay a few, like the 2007 Ventura Vina Caneiro, down.

Two to Try

Marques de Murrieta Rioja Reserva

Celler Vall Llach Embruix Priorat

Want to know more? Don't miss part 2 of Starting a Wine Cellar on a Budget. You can also check out our features on Portuguese Wine Regions and The Rise of Rioja.

Two to put in your cellar today

2006 Quinta do Vale Meao Meandro
It’s easy for me to start off almost exactly where I left off with my value-drinking email: Portugal.

2007 Ventura Vina Caneiro
My geek self is drawn to the amazingly chiseled versions of Mencia that come from the impossibly steep slopes of the Ribeira Sacra.


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Comments

  • Snooth User: sbray
    233908 22

    Yay, love seeing more Portuguese wines on the market. Has any reporting been done on the Alentejo?

    Apr 27, 2010 at 1:45 PM


  • Snooth User: Carly Wray
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    196958 852

    The Alentejo gets some coverage in our Portugal overview: http://www.snooth.com/articles/wine...

    Apr 27, 2010 at 1:59 PM


  • Snooth User: lizcerri
    218265 7

    Hello. I've tried 3 times to start a cellar. I have the right temperature and lighting, but my wines seem to sour after being stored for a few years. What am I doing wrong? lizcerri@yahoo.com

    Apr 27, 2010 at 7:29 PM


  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 221,145

    Hey Liz,

    What wines were they. Strange things happen to wines as they age. Many go through a "dumb" period where they can show nothing but some acid and tannin. I would imagine this might be what you are experiencing.

    Apr 27, 2010 at 7:45 PM


  • Snooth User: starfire56
    364033 31

    I live in Arizona where cellars are few and far between. What is a good storage temperature? Should wine be stored in the dark? If not, how much light is sufficient? I am a relative newbie at this so don't dis me too much!

    Apr 27, 2010 at 9:51 PM


  • Snooth User: queenkjr
    460783 2

    I live in Hawaii where Humidity and heat are High how would I start a cellar?

    Apr 27, 2010 at 10:51 PM


  • I have a cellar for the past 8 years in Thailand (where the tax on wines total 400%!! four hundred, no typo)
    I keep my liquid gold in 2 large "Barrique" chillers that maintain temp at 15 degrees Celsius. It also controls the humidity at decent levels as Thailand gets HOT all year! Just like the politics.
    Also, keep away from direct sunlight ... like a mushroom. Cheers

    Apr 27, 2010 at 11:05 PM


  • I have a cellar for the past 8 years in Thailand (where the tax on wines total 400%!! four hundred, no typo)
    I keep my liquid gold in 2 large "Barrique" chillers that maintain temp at 15 degrees Celsius. It also controls the humidity at decent levels as Thailand gets HOT all year! Just like the politics.
    Also, keep away from direct sunlight ... like a mushroom. Cheers

    Apr 27, 2010 at 11:06 PM


  • I have had a cellar for the past 8 years in Thailand (where the tax on wines total 400%!! four hundred, no typo)
    I keep my liquid gold in 2 large "Barrique" chillers that maintain temp at 15 degrees Celsius. It also controls the humidity at decent levels as Thailand gets HOT all year! Just like the politics.
    Also, keep away from direct sunlight ... like a mushroom. Cheers

    Apr 27, 2010 at 11:07 PM


  • I have had a cellar for the past 8 years in Thailand (where the tax on wines total 400%!! four hundred, no typing error)
    I keep my liquid gold in 2 large "Barrique" chillers that maintain temp at 15 degrees Celsius. It also controls the humidity at decent levels as Thailand gets HOT all year! Just like the politics.
    Also, keep away from direct sunlight ... like a mushroom. Cheers

    Apr 27, 2010 at 11:09 PM


  • I have had a cellar for the past 8 years in Thailand (where the tax on wines total 400%!! four hundred, no typing error)
    I keep my liquid gold in 2 large "Barrique" chillers that maintain temp at 15 degrees Celsius. It also controls the humidity at decent levels as Thailand gets HOT all year! Just like the politics.
    Also, keep away from direct sunlight ... like a mushroom. Cheers

    Apr 27, 2010 at 11:13 PM


  • I have had a cellar for the past 8 years in Thailand (where the tax on wines total 400%!! four hundred, no typing error)
    I keep my liquid gold in 2 large "Barrique" chillers that maintain temp at 15 degrees Celsius. It also controls the humidity at decent levels as Thailand gets HOT all year! Just like the politics.
    Also, keep away from direct sunlight ... like a mushroom. Cheers

    Apr 27, 2010 at 11:14 PM


  • I have had a cellar for the past 8 years in Thailand (where the tax on wines total 400%!! four hundred, no typing error)

    I keep my liquid gold in 2 large "Barrique" chillers that maintain temp at 15 degrees Celsius. It also controls the humidity at decent levels as Thailand gets HOT all year! Just like the politics.
    Also, keep away from direct sunlight ... like a mushroom. Cheers

    Apr 27, 2010 at 11:15 PM


  • I have had a cellar for the past 8 years in Thailand (where the tax on wines total 400%!! four hundred, no typing error)

    I keep my liquid gold in 2 large "Barrique" chillers that maintain temp at 15 degrees Celsius. It also controls the humidity at decent levels as Thailand gets HOT all year! Just like the politics.
    Also, keep away from direct sunlight ... like a mushroom. Cheers

    Apr 27, 2010 at 11:17 PM


  • Snooth User: dmcker
    Hand of Snooth
    125836 7,840

    Well, Greg and Carly. Looks like you should provide links to all those past Forum threads on how to build/select/manage wine cellars...

    Apr 27, 2010 at 11:35 PM


  • Snooth User: viper 346
    423497 1

    I will help those of you that are having issues with starting cellars or otherwise.
    First: Some information on me/my company:
    We have been building cellars for 30 years.
    Transfer & ship substantial collections for private clients and businesses.
    Design & Fabricate cellars, tasting rooms for private clients and commercial (restaurants/corps) resorts - worldwide, in some of the most inhospitable places you can imagine.
    My background is in chemistry and construction a good combo if you are in this biz.
    I am a Sommelier and studying for the MW. Additionally, I profile wines ,aromas & flavors(objectively) for east coast retailers.
    I am not compensated by winemakers or distributors, objectivity is my wine philosophy.
    The most difficult isues with cellars is getting started and the questions that need to be answered BEFORE you get started.
    Lets hear from those of you who need help, Ill do my best.
    PS Mr. Dal Piaz I appreciate your objectivity and approach to wine and food. You have not over analyized them to the point of confusion for your readers.

    Apr 28, 2010 at 9:48 AM


  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 221,145

    Thanks Viper, I appreciate the sentiment. I really do try and keep things understandable and accessible.

    As DM notes there are quite a few threads in the Snooth forum that address the issues of cellaring but let me just touch on a few topics here.

    Aloha Queenkjr! I spent a couple of years on Maui long ago, and while condition upcountry were fine for storing wines for a year or two, overall the temps in Paradise are simply too high to support long term passive cellaring. The solution for you would have to include a wine fridge I'm afraid.

    Just a quick rundown of wine cellaring conditions.

    The most important thing to know is that while a wine can be damaged fairly easily, and in fact many wines are sturdier than we like to admit, that damage can take some time to actually be noticeable.

    The idealish condition for wine cellaring are a dark, vibration free space with moderately high humidity of about 70% and temperatures that don't rise above 70F, which is an arbitrary cut-off. Many people keep wines at 55F, which is probably close to ideal and is the temperature of subterranean cellars, so it too is arbitrary.

    Wines stored at 55F can age glacially slowly, so that can be a significant issue.

    My cellar has always been passive. It ranges from 52F in the winter to a high of just under 70F in the summer. The temperature variations are very slow, which is another issue you need to control.

    So the short of it is - if you have a coolish, moderately damp, dark place you have a fine place to store wine for the medium term, say 10 years (love all these arbitrary numbers?). For longer term cellaring you might want to have closer to ideal conditions to ensure that your wines mature to their fullest potential but small variations from the ideal, while amplified over time, really lead to similarly small reductions in the peaks your wines can achieve.

    Which leads me to other discussions such as what happened to the wine before you got it in to your cellar, how it was mistreated along the supply chain, and what is the likelihood of catching a wine at peak (and that is one of the great arbitrary comments in the wine world, my peak is you very past peak). Bu that needs to wait for another article!

    Apr 28, 2010 at 10:34 AM


  • were in boston can i get CANNONAU DI SARDEGNA Vigna di tsalle 2008 /cantina dorgali has a black lable

    Apr 28, 2010 at 3:28 PM


  • Snooth User: Bhog
    188541 1

    Your temp variations and gradual increases from 52 in winter to 70 in summer describes my cellar, which was intended for a tornado room. I've got a few hundred bottles and we are considering an expensive chiller unit for consistent temp control. You sound like it's not necessary, for the medium term of 10 years. Am I understanding corrrectly? The temp variations above will not harm the wine, in that term? Please and thanks.

    Apr 28, 2010 at 10:48 PM


  • Snooth User: Kenner
    118554 33

    GDP is correct.
    I have had a passive cellar for over 30 years.On the cement floor in the basement, stcked 3 cases high. No problems except some tender whites that have oxidized, but they would be DYA and I let them hang out for way too long....my fault, but sometimes you forget what you have. The same thing can be a benefit, like finding a lone bottle of some great Bordeaux that you thought was all gone, but now has 5 more years on it , and is even better than you remember. Slow or no changes in temp, with a cap at about the 70 degree mark mentioned, dark, no vibration, and most meaty reds will do just fine. Drink once every 6 months to keep tabs and see how their evolution is going. If the wine is well made, good tannins and acidity, no bacterial/mold infection or bad cork, then it will be more resilient than you might imagine. If it doesn't hold up, than it was the wine, not the cellar at fault. Heat is really the enemy, because oxidation is a chemical reaction, and heat energy drives it faster.

    Too much good red wine with potential is drunk way too young. Wineries release when they need the space or need the money, not neccessarily when the wine is at any optimum point. The only way you can drink aged, mature wines at a fair price is to have patience and do it yourself.

    Costco sells a nice stainless steel, 4 shelf rack for about $30, that will hold 12 cases. Not fancy, but very workable.

    Apr 29, 2010 at 6:04 PM


  • I have been in the Wine Trade for the last 25 years and have worked as a buyer for many Futures / En Primeur Companies. I am also a Master of Wine and Wine Chemist with my own cellar going back to 1963. Storage of wine is fairly simple if you follow a few basic rules- key of which is storage temperature as this is the "accelerator" on wine maturation. Simplistically, the warmer it is the faster they mature and the cooler it is the slower they mature but within reason as at home you cannot artificially use temperature to speed up or slow development. If anyone wants to ask any specific question on building a cellar or storage of wine they can contact me at info@cellarmaster.ie and I will do my best to help.

    Apr 30, 2010 at 6:06 AM


  • Snooth User: gnnmartin
    373847 8

    I've heard elsewhere that cellars should be free of vibrations, but the big wine cellars in London where wines are stored and matured in bond (ie, outside the country as far as tax is concerned) are mostly in cellars under the railways, and the vibration caused by the trains is said to be beneficial. It does ensure the sediment consolidates.

    May 03, 2010 at 4:03 PM


  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 221,145

    I think only someone with a cellar that vibrates would suggest such a thing!

    In general, the less vibration, the better, as it allows sediment to precipitate out. But in truth vibration ranks far below temperature, humidity, and light as a consideration.

    May 03, 2010 at 4:18 PM


  • Snooth User: gnnmartin
    373847 8

    I've tried to find some reference to quote to back up my post, but failed. However, I have equally looked for and failed to find any justification for saying that vibration is harmful, though it is often stated without justification. Obviously it is bad if the wine is shaken so much that the sediment is disturbed, but gentle vibration should help to get the sediment to accumulate along the bottom edge of the bottle. My cellar is completely vibrtion free, so I can't say either way from first hand experience.

    May 04, 2010 at 8:18 AM


  • Snooth User: admiral44
    250911 117

    My biggest trouble has been controlling the humidity, any suggestions?

    May 07, 2010 at 8:06 PM


  • how much light is too much? occasional indirect light is ok?

    May 30, 2010 at 12:06 PM


  • I am a Master Wine Cellar Builder. I would be more than happy to answer any questions about the construction of wine cellars. http://www.magnumcellars.net

    Jul 21, 2010 at 8:13 PM


  • Snooth User: Budha
    286861 10

    Has any one given attention to the folks that have a wine storage unit 4 X 4 X 6 or whatever size they give you and has to get the bottle in the last case on the back bottom? Lots of movement but controled temps. Champagne gets a turn once and a while..... KB

    Oct 19, 2010 at 1:02 AM


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