When It Comes To Cellars, Size Matters

A beautiful nose

A very good friend of mine asked me for some advice about building and designing a cellar for a house that he is building. I personally don’t have a showcase cellar like many collectors, but I do know a thing or two about the requirements that a proper cellar should have. Although in its simplest form a cellar need only keep wine at a certain temperature and humidity, without light there are a few more considerations to take into account.

Size does matter. Whether you are just a nascent wine enthusiast or an avid collector, you are going to want more room. It is exceedingly rare that I have met or heard of anyone downsizing their collection. The only two times I have ever heard of this happening was when a friend and noted collector decided he needed to “thin” his 50,000-case collection, and when another friend and collector had some health issues that prevented him from drinking. The former still has an estimated 30,000 cases, and the latter eventually was able to overcome his challenge and is now drinking again. You will always want more room for the bottles you are given, or there is too good a deal to pass up, or even just everyday drinkers that fill up space you wish you could use for something better. So never skimp on the size of the cellar that you want.

Size also matters in terms of the type of racking that you install for your cellar. There are plenty of racks that hold the “traditional/standardized” wine bottle. But if you drink more than just a dozen different wines in a year, you will quickly realize that not all bottles are the same shape or size.

Burgundy bottles are different from Bordeaux, and Champagne bottles are typically much thicker and wider as well. Judging on the types of wines you like most, you should accommodate for those styles of bottles in your cellar.

And let’s talk about those big bottles. Magnums (1.5 liter equals two standard 750ml bottles) and Jeroboams (3.0 liter equals four standard 750ml bottles) are more prevalent than you may think. I’m sure you see them in your local fine wine shops. Big bottles make spectacular showpieces, and the wine within ages more slowly, many say better than in the 750ml bottles. They are fabulous for larger gatherings, and they are blue chips when it comes to wine investing because of their rarity and smaller production quantities.

There are a host of details when it comes to woods, materials and finishes that you use on your cellar. But the one thing that is most commonly overlooked is the flooring. In some cases, it is never even taken into account, so the cellar ends up not maintaining its temperature. First, it must be sealed. Second, I recommend that the finish of the floor be soft or cushioned in the event that someone might mishandle and drop precious cargo. Subterranean cellars can be covered with pebbles to cushion the fall of a bottle as well.

Now that you have your cellar designed and built, what are you going to fill it with? That’s really the fun part.

Recommendations: 2010 Viticoltori Alto Adige Pinot Grigio ($15) Let me preface this by saying I find most Pinot Grigios quite boring, but this wine made me sit up and pay attention. It has a beautiful nose of citrus and wet stones, and when you taste it, you think, “shouldn’t all Pinot Grigios taste this good?” It is quite delicious. 2009 Coppola Director’s Cut “Cinema” ($26) This blend of Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, Franc and Petite Sirah is quite provocative. It smells like a super juicy Cabernet, drinks like a ripe Zinfandel and has the body of a Napa Valley Cabernet. All told, it is quite a hedonistic wine that packs a lot more punch than its price tag would suggest.

Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier. rviernes@ southernwine.com Twitter @Pinotpusher