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Snooth User: Craig Bilodeau

Is it worth it to cellar wine?

Posted by Craig Bilodeau, Apr 17, 2012.

With so many good wines out there that can be had for under $30 (especially since most of the wine purchased for under $30 is best consumed within 5 years of release), is it worth the expense and the effort to cellar wine?  I LOVE the concept of cellaring wine, but living in a hot climate like Texas poses some obstacles when it comes to creating a wine cellar.  Namely, a passively cooled cellar is out of the question.  I am just trying to determine if the benefit clearly outweighs the process of constructing an actively cooled cellar in the middle of a house where the ambient temperature in the house during the summer can get up to 85F or more since A/C units are typically only able to lower the temperature of the living space 20 degrees below the outside temperature, which can get north of 110F.

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Replies

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Reply by outthere, Apr 17, 2012.

It all depends on what kind of wine you like to drink. If $30 drink me now wines are what float your boat then there isn't a need to build a cellar. If your palate shifts (and it will eventually) then you will need tomake a decision at that time.

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Reply by Craig Bilodeau, Apr 17, 2012.

So it sounds like I need to go out and find myself a well rated old Bordeaux wine to see what the fuss is about.  I certainly have never tasted a well aged wine, so that would explain why I am struggling with the question.

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Reply by JonDerry, Apr 18, 2012.

It doesn't have to be aged bordeaux, but the fact that you can go out and buy aged bordeaux tells you something about not cellaring. If you'd like to splurge occasionally, there are wine shops who can store it for you, though you pay for it in the bottle cost.

Storing wines can pay off when you buy age-worthy wines on release (usually in quantity) that become more popular or acclaimed over time, so by the time they reach maturity they're going for a much higher price. 

There's some personal satisfaction to know that you've properly stored a wine, so when it's ready to pop you're more confident in how the wine will show. If you have an active cooler, it can also become a trophy case of sorts. Empty space motivates one to plot out the best possible purchases.

I'm a collector/consumer (storer of wine) myself, and though it's fun to think about how much such and such a bottle might be retailing for in x number of years, but in the back of my mind I have a pretty good idea that means I'll just be drinking more expensive juice when the time comes, and hopefully I'll be able to share the wines with family or even some wine friends who'll be able to repay me with treasures of their own. It's just a fun, consumable hobby that I happen to take more seriously than most.

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Reply by Craig Bilodeau, Apr 18, 2012.

Good post, Don.  Thanks for the info.  I guess the "net net" here is that I will have to content myself with the options and prices I find on the wine shop shelves until I can find a way to create a effective cellar in an environment that does not lend itself to cellaring.

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Reply by Bsberlin22, Apr 18, 2012.

I love to drink good bordeauxs, and in my opinion, there is nothing better than a 10-15 year old bottle that had been properly cellared. If i didnt live in NYC, the first order of business would be to build a cellar (fist get a car, then cellar). Its exciting to be able to purchase a case of wine and try one bottle every year to see how the wine matures and changes with time and care. The trick is to forget you even own those bottles, or they will be consumed ( i have no self control). I agree with outthere thought. if you enjoy less expensive bottles, it may not make sense to go through all the time and effort.

 

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Reply by Craig Bilodeau, Apr 18, 2012.

Of course I enjoy less expensive bottles.  The question is, would I enjoy more expensive bottles more?! :)  I will go through the process of creating a cost estimate for converting a 200 sq. ft. closet into an actively cooled cellar.  The inside walls will need to be torn down,insulation and vapor barriers added, and paneling installed.  I have already determined that I can install racks that will accommodate about 500 bottles.  In my mind, that is not very many bottles for a long term cellar.

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Reply by Bsberlin22, Apr 18, 2012.

500 is plenty in my mind. My grandmother built a 1600 bottle cellar and she has trouble filling it. in fact, i dont think it has ever reached maximum capacity. As JonDerry said so nicely, building and keeping a cellar is like having a trophy case. at that point it becomes something you love and cherish. when i go to my grandmothers, I always show off my favorite bottles. even if no one is there, its so much fun to look at. And if you arent using that closet and are handy with tools, i honestly dont see why you shouldnt build a cellar. 

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Reply by outthere, Apr 18, 2012.

If you plan on cellaring for long term 500 bottles will accumulate pretty quickly seeing that you will need room for your daily drinkers as well. The question really should be "Am I ready to cellar all that wine and do I have the self-control and/or budget to leave it alone." My answer is no. There are a few bottles I am trying to keep my hands off but for the most part everything in my cellar falls victim to primal urges.

 

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Reply by Craig Bilodeau, Apr 18, 2012.

Bsberlin - You're probably right.  After all, I don't plan on living in this house forever since I will likely move farther north once the kids are in college, and a 500 bottle actively cooled wine cellar would be a nice selling point for the house.  Whether I am handy with tools is yet to be seen.  The construction of a wine cellar would certainly be the most ambitious construction project I have ever tackled.  It would probably be a good idea for me to enlist some more experienced help.

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Reply by Craig Bilodeau, Apr 18, 2012.

Outthere - Damn those primal urges!  :)

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Apr 18, 2012.

To find out if you like old wine, go to a few tastings that offer old wines.  You won't get a ton of each wine, but you will get some idea of what happens to wine as it gets older. Or try to be in NYC for some of Greg dalPiaz's "wine philanthropy" (or, cellar cleaning events), and finagle a visit with GregT who needs more drinking partners to keep his cellar from loneliness. Any excuse to have wine with them is good, and that's a great one.

Or just buy one of those 10-20 yr. old Gran Reservas from Spain, and let them do the cellaring for you.  No risk, no electricity bills.  Look for our thread on that topic to see what I mean.

500 bottles is actually a lot of money tied up in wine, imo.  I agree that you might easily fill it up if you put your daily drinkers in it, but my own approach is that I don't "cellar" stuff I plan to drink relatively soon, like within 6 mos to a year. Granted, my house doesn't get very hot very often (Oakland, CA is close to ideal for storing wine and growing all kinds of plants), but I'd apply that rule.  The "daily drinkers" turn over fast, even bought in volume, so they never account for a ton of space at any one time.  I'm not crazy serious, but I'd consider my 100-150 bottles of long term (3-20 years) storage pretty adequate.  Another 50-80 bottles I expect to churn every six months.  I generally don't buy cases of things except daily drinkers, just because I don't want to taste a wine 10 times before it hits its drinking window to see "how it is evolving," I want to drink it 3-4 times during its probable peak.  And I want to have lots of "verticals" and "horizontals" of wines I am interested in.  Like, 2-3 bottles each of every Roar Pinot for a few different years, or a couple bottles each of all the Huet dry wines for a top vintage.  Twelve bottles of Stags Leap Fay Vineyard doesn't mean anything but that I like that wine--it doesn't teach me a ton.  But those are just my inclinations.  If you have the money and room for 500, go for it, but it sounds too early in your "career" to go there.

For now, I would consider 1) buying a decent wine fridge because your environmment suggests that you need something and it will suffice as you collect more slowly--something in the 50-100 bottle range is adequate.  It would also make explicit the amount being added to a bottle in electricity bills and storage costs. It will also put the brakes on as your palate evolves.  2) Find reputable merchants who sell older wines and buy a few, maybe some mixed cases.  Make sure they are shipped only when the weather is cool.  BPWines has lots of cellars they close out and good prices, just to mention one of many.  Someone else stored it for you, and BP goes to those cellars and looks at conditions.  Since they aren't "collector wines" in most cases (unless you want to spend hugely), there's little incentive to counterfeit, and good merchants should be dealing with known quantities anyway.  If you find out you don't really like 10 year old Pinot or dessicated Bordeaux that other people call "classic," you will have saved yourself time and money in the long run. 

Although the wine cellar might be a selling point, I seriously doubt that you get back the investment you put in. 

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Reply by edwilley3, Apr 18, 2012.

Good points, all around.  I wanted to throw out a few additional suggestions for the person in this position.

(1) If you don't want to invest the $$$ required both to build  the cellar (or buy a Eurocave or 2) and to buy case after case of wine, you can still drink fine wine, including aged bottles. But it takes additional inside knowledge. For example, I have a retailer in Dallas where, today, I could buy a 1993 Chateau Latour a Pomerol that is absolutely terrific along with a remarkably well preserved 2000 Georges de Latour BV. The next day I could buy a 1990 Cuvee Louise (flagship of Pommery) and it would be stunning. (Actually, I have already done it! The Louise was AMAZING.)  The trick? I know the owner and feel that I can trust his care of the wine. By contrast, I bought a hard to find bottle of one of my favorite wines from Centennial in Dallas a few months ago and was very disappointed. Why? It was a store transfer and had not been taken care of properly.  What only some people know is that RELATIONSHIPS with retailers and collectors will enable you to find good wines, get advance notice of shipments, and obtain nice discounts. There is effectively an underground society of connoissuers for wines and whiskies. 

(2) If you are currently drinking wine that averages around $20-25, you probably should expand your palette before investing thousands in a wine cellar and collection.  Even if you had all the money in the world, it would make little sense to buy lots of wine that you think is just ok, but not really special.  Try  signing up for email lists at your local package stores (that's what they are called in Texas - crazy laws down here!).  Attend the free tastings they host. Go to wine dinners. MEET the winemakers and winery owners. Learn about the smaller producers making knockout cabs.  Here's the deal: ANYONE with money can buy a case of Opus One.  Of course it's tasty.  How many people know that Anthony Bell of Bell Wine Cellars was one of the makers of BV's fabulous Georges de Latour?  His cabs are terrific and cost way less than Opus One.  Have you ever had a petite sirah port?  What about the really amazing Nectar de Moncontour dessert wine from famed Vouvray producer Chateau de Moncontour?  Are you well versed in farmer fizz? What about the very fine Roederer Estate tete de cuvee bubbly?  The 2002 should be drinking really well now.

(3) Get beyond Costco.  I don't mean to run down Costco and will admit that the West Plano store here in town has a pretty fab collection of wine, including multiple hundred dollar Spanish wines, high end Bordeaux, and even items like Velvet Glove Shiraz.  But the selection is nevertheless much more limited than the selection at large package stores like Spec's. 

(4) If you are starting out collecting, don't limit yourself to building a full cellar that you will be forced to leave in that house when you sell it. Try out a Eurocave or Vinotemp unit first.  You can even find used units that still function.  Keep buying the "drink it now" wine for everyday drinking and start to put aside a selection of really great bottles or wines that need a few years.  There are many 35-75 dollar wines from California that would benefit greatly from a little age.  When your "special" collection outgrows, say, a 160-bottle freestanding wine cellar, evaluate your options and priorities. 

(5) Lastly, we in Texas need to be careful as to how we store our wine.  If you do not get some sort of climate controlled cellar (countertop or freestanding), you do run the risk of harming a small collection of wine designed for a 3-month drinking window.  Imagine what would happen if the AC went out for a day...in July. I bought a lightly used (display model?) Eurocave 283 for 2 reasons: (1) I didn't want the good bottles I had to cook; and (2) I wanted to start buying bottles to age for a few years.  I have a good friend with a nearly 300 bottle collection. When he hosts a party, he is able to pull out a steady stream of well preserved, very tasty bottles that most of us have not tried. He takes a $45 Bordeaux and turns it into a really fine wine. There is something nice about having the ability to host guests at any time.

All this wine talk has me wanting to drink wine NOW!  :)

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Reply by Craig Bilodeau, Apr 18, 2012.

 

Wow!  Great comments by all!  You have tempered my Type A personality's tendency to run out and do it all... perfectly!  ;-)  The Eurocave option sounds like the most sensible way to start, through it does eliminate the need to tear up a bunch of stuff and create a lot of dust with power tools that I haven't purchased yet.  Kind of a bummer...  :-)

Ed - Where are you located?  I am no more than a mile from the West Plano Costco.

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Reply by JonDerry, Apr 18, 2012.

One point I wanted to clear up Craig. For going the storage route, it can be a lot better and more satisfying to purchase direct from the wineries (sometimes that means joining their mailing list). That way, you know your wine hasn't been mishandled by a retailer. If you do buy from retailers, make sure they're legit.

www.wine-searcher.com has a pretty good rating scale of retailers, which you can look up as you search for wines.

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Reply by Richard Foxall, Apr 18, 2012.

edwilley, thanks for that shout out of Anthony Bell.  Bell makes fantastic wines, IMO, and the prices are fair--less than the BV de la Tour, mostly, which has been up and down during the various corporate takeovers of BV.  Anthony tours a lot promoting his wine, but he doesn't put much stock, that I can tell, in sending it out to magazines. 

The other advice was solid as well, and has been given here a few times in different ways.  Your experience with provenance is far from unusual, sadly.  Gotta know how the bottle got from point a to b... and all the way to you. 

I think some kind of storage in TX (or KS, where I once lived--talk about weird liquor laws!) is a good idea if you have any concerns your swamp cooler is going to quit on you. 

And Craig, if we slowed you down, it's only temporary.  We'll be encouraging you to stock up on Barolo, Brunello, Rioja, Northern Rhones, weird sweet things, vintage Champers, obscurities from the Minervois or the Loire and GDP knows what else, never mind things you are already familiar with.  My guess is thatwhatever  the "classics" are for you will always be a decent chunk of your collection (still the biggest part of my cellar is Cal Cab), but you only have to room to broaden if you haven't rushed in headlong.

 

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Reply by Craig Bilodeau, Apr 18, 2012.

:)  Love it.

Ed - Let me know if you plan on going to the Sigels event.  Would love to put a face to a name and make some local contacts.

Jon - Thanks for the link.  I will be sure to check it out.

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Reply by gregt, Apr 18, 2012.

Well, as the others have pointed out, there are many considerations. As to whether it's "worth it", I don't know exactly what that means. You can buy a wine cooler for say $2000 or so and fill it. That's the easiest approach and you don't have to spend a lot on looks if you care more about functionality.  I.e., can get melamine instead of wood, no glass door, etc. It's just a fridge after all and I don't want to hang out in my refrigerator, nor really spend a lot of time admiring it.

You can build a cellar for the same price and depending on how you outfit it, you can save a lot or spend a lot more. If you're handy and can build your own shelves, etc., you can do it for about 1/2 the price quoted above and store many more bottles. If you want expensive racking and lighting and you can't do anything yourself, you'll spend way more.

If you figure 360 days in a year, taking a bottle out each day means you have to replace it each day. But then your wine is only 1 year old. So if you go back several years, you need to multiply that by the number of years. The way I figure, for 10 years, you need capacity for 3600.  Then again, I'm pretty conservative so if you drink more, you'll need a much bigger cellar for sure.

What's the payoff?

Today I was lucky.  Just came from a tasting and they happened to have a 1955 CUNE Imperial GR and a 1957 Marques de Riscal GR open and decanted. Could have been anything but this was all Spanish wine so that's what they opened, to my great satisfaction.

Some guy bought those on release. He kept them in his cellar all these years. I wish they'd been in mine.  If you build a cellar, you could have the equivalent in yours.

It's true that there are lots of good wines under $30.  You can spend all your life drinking those and be quite happy.  You will never find a fifty year old wine under $30 and nothing that you taste is ever going to be anything like those. A fifty year old red wine is as different from the current vintage as the red is from a white.  It's a completely different animal, for better or worse.

No need to buy Bordeaux unless you like it. You never buy any wine that you don't like and the only way you know if you like it is to taste it. So if you haven't tasted much, don't cellar any. And if you taste and don't like it, don't cellar any. If you like it and you think it's worth having, then cellar some.  Alternatively, buy them old - you can find them at auctions, etc., But those are hit or miss. There are "experts" who tell you all kinds of things about the provenance of the wines they're selling at auctions, but all they know is what they've been told and what they see on the outside of the bottle. They can't tell you what's inside, no matter how confident they are. So you can sometimes find great deals.  Then again, sometimes you get screwed.  If you'd cellared the wine yourself, you'll know if it's ever been cooked.

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Reply by edwilley3, Apr 19, 2012.

@ Craig - Yes, I will be going to the Sigel's Pinot Noir tasting event.  You can also find me at whisk(e)y events, as I'm a big fan of those too.  Feel free to email me at: edwilley3@gmail.com

@ Foxall - I just love Anthony's wines.  I could kick myself for not buying more of the 2007 Napa cab when Wine Acccess had a smoking sale on it.  For that price point, it was just about the best thing going anywhere.  I bought some 2008 Napa cab and 2006 Sonnette during the recent Leap Year sale. The 2006 Sonnette is really a great wine, but could stand a couple more years in the cellar. My friend has some 2007 which I would love to try.  For BV, I'm drinking the 2000 Georges de Latour from Perry's in Dallas. I have them pull bottles from the cellar instead of taking the ones on the rack in the front of the store.  It's in flawless condition and tastes great.  About $50 on sale.  We have a much reduced availability of California wine here in Dallas, unfortunately, since the Dallas style is big, flashy, and commercial.  The "importers" (grrr...Texas liquor laws) don't bother to deal with the smaller producers. On top of that, licenses are granted on a county basis, so even if you find someone with a good stock you must DRIVE to them.  Texas is a mighty big state....

@ GregT - I totally hear what you are saying about Bordeaux. I think that some folks believe they should buy it because it's reckoned to be a fine drink.  Honestly, I find that it's often overpriced in relation to some very tasty California red blends.  Plus, some of them are incredibly tannic, requiring gobs of years to be really enjoyable.  That said, I had a tasty if relatively tannic 1996 Chateau Talbot at Easter and greatly enjoyed it.  But what could I have had for $69 from California?  Recently, I could have bought a 2002 Arrowood cab at Sigel's for $80. 

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Reply by Anna Savino, Apr 19, 2012.

Hi guys, interesting posts as always! I had a question about dampness and humidity. I am afraid my natural "cantina" in my 1600's apt. building in Italy is too humid? How do I know?

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Reply by Craig Bilodeau, Apr 19, 2012.

From what I understand, high humidity is not a problem for your wine since a moist cork tends to keep a good seal.  High humidity is a problem for the labels on your bottles as they will tend to deteriorate and fall off over time.  Off course, if you are not "cellaring" wine and keeping bottles for long periods of time, but instead drinking what you buy within 6 to 12 months, then I think that high humidity would not be a problem.  Of course, all this coming from a person who is fairly new to wine.  :)

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