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Four Tips on How to Stock That Wine Cellar

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We just finished another cellar management project, and it's a job well done if we do say so ourselves.

It took is a little over 40 hours, but we organized, inventoried and catalogued 600 bottles of wine in an impressive collection that contained cases of super Tuscans, Lafites, and Barolos from the outstanding 1961 vintage.

But as grand as this collection is, there were unfortunately a number of duds laced throughout the bottles. Bottles that were once fine, or even very good, but after being buried in the back of an ever-growing stock, had now fallen the victims of time.

As we blogged a few years ago, it's important to keep on top of you wine collection, otherwise you are in for heartache -- and possibly wallet ache too -- as those once-precious gems that made your cellar so resplendent are now dark spots on an otherwise carefully constructed masterpiece.

If you have a cellar in your home, or are thinking about starting one, there are a few things you should think about when purchasing bottles to fill it.

Do you even like older wine?

Sure, there's a certain prestige that comes with having a vertical of Chateau Mouton Rothschild dating back every vintage to 1945, but most of the people we meet don't really like older wines.

That's because wines of some serious age start to lose their fruitiness and develop instead tertiary flavours of leather, nuts and earth. While some may find this very enjoyable, others do not. We were once at a professional tasting where they brought out a "ringer" of a wine. It was a Bordeaux dating back to the early '80s, and a number of people in the room questioned if it was still good, including yours truly. It tasted like an old library: dusty, dried out leather and a bit of faded ink and yellowed paper. But those in charge insisted it was still technically good, and was just the way the wine develops.

Now, of course, not all aged wines will taste or smell like that particular one did, but you should ask yourself when buying a wine for cellaring, will you enjoy the wine more in 20 years, with all that it brings, or do you prefer the fresh and fragrant wines that are ready to go now?

Do you want to put in the time to maintain your cellar?

Not everyone does, and thankfully that's why we have jobs. But almost every cellar we've organized has suffered some neglect and ultimately, because of that, more than a few bottles have been wasted. If you can't or don't want to keep your cellar organized, consider hiring a professional (hint, hint).

Research

As they say, a stitch in time saves nine. Okay, that may not be the best cliched metaphor, but you're picking up what we're throwing down. Talk to the agent or sales person and ask about the producer, and the vintage. Even the best wine makers can't escape mother nature, and some years are better than others.

Everything has a shelf life

Some wines are made to see their 40th birthdays and beyond. But understand that wine is a living thing, and just like humans, it can't go forever, not matter how good the cellar. Push it past its prime, and you're in for disappointment. When you're asking about the producer and the vintage, also ask about expected ageability, and if you can afford to, buy more than one bottle. Open the first bottle up when it's ready to drink and take notes as to how you think it's progressing. Based on what you taste, open another the next year or maybe at the midway point or and test it again. You should be able to refer back to your original notes to see if the wine is improving or fading.

What's Your End Goal?

Would you like to have a look-but-don't-touch collection worthy of Sotheby's envy, or would you like a cellar built for consumption? Decide what you want and buy based on your own wants and needs.

For what it's worth, our personal cellars are a mix of the two: about 80 per cent of our wines are for consumption sometime between now and the next 10 years, and 20 per cent are for long term aging that we wouldn't even consider opening for at least another decade, and will likely sit on for 20 years or more.

Probably, as our cellars grow, that ratio will start to even out to a 70-30 mix, or less, but at this point we know that we're impatient hedonists at heart, and knowing thy self is more than half the battle in building a successful cellar.