Columns by John

John Brown has been a wine and food columnist in West Virginia since the 1980’s. His regular columns appear in the Charleston (WV) Gazette-Mail under the title Vines & Vittles and in The State Journal - a statewide business weekly

Storing your special wines

Now that you've received those special holiday gifts of wine from your adoring friends and significant others, you're probably wondering how to store them if you don't own a temperature controlled wine cellar.

Well, fear not intrepid wino's, for today I shall enlighten you.

People are always asking me for suggestions on how to build or establish a wine cellar in their homes. Today, I’ll explain how you can find the proper place to store wine in your home or even in an apartment.

First of all, you needn’t be concerned about a major construction project unless you have the cash, inclination or the requisite carpenter skills to accomplish the task. Actually, folks living in homes or apartments with no basements can effectively create wine cellar- like environments in other types of spaces.

Before you begin, try and think ahead and make a determination on how many bottles you intend to store. It’s probably a good idea to come up with a generous estimation and then double it. That way, you’ll have plenty of room to grow the collection.

Keep in mind, you’ll need to design the area to store wines that you intend to drink in the near term (usually within a year) as well as those for actual aging.

Finding an appropriate place to store your little vinous gems requires paying attention to a few key details that will ensure your wines emerge from their Rip Van Winkle-like sleep mature and ready to enjoy.

If you have the luxury of a cellar, find an area where the basement wall is up against and below the ground. The reason: the temperature below ground is generally constant and usually in the range of between 50 and 60 degrees F. which is approximately the ideal temperature for aging wine.

If you don’t have a cellar, find a closet or other dark place where the wine is not exposed to natural or artificial light. Don’t store wine in the attic or any area where the temperature tends to rise during the day and, if necessary, use Styrofoam or other materials to create a stable temperature in the space.

Don’t be discouraged, however, if your average summer to winter temperature is variable as long as the temperature variation is no more than five to ten degrees throughout the year and the overall average temperature does not exceed 70 degrees F.

This stability (more than a set temperature) is a key factor in providing a good cellar environment. Wines stored in warmer environments tend to mature too quickly and can spoil easier.

Also make sure that the area is odor and vibration -free and that it is not overly dry. Very dry areas tend to cause the corks to shrink and wine to evaporate. (I find it much more enjoyable to use my body as the vessel from which an evaporation of wine occurs).

Actually, humidity in the range of 60 to 70 percent, is good for the wine and you can artificially create this effect by keeping an open container of water around the stored wine.

Obviously, you’ll need to store the wine on its side so that the cork stays moist. I will lay screw cap wines on their sides even though their enclosures don't allow them to improve with age -it's an aesthetic thing with me. You can also turn case boxes on their sides and use them to store the wine.

While you can age some white wines, most people tend to choose red wines for long-term storage. Wines such as Bordeaux, cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir and zinfandel, produced in particularly fine vintage years have the best potential to improve with age.

I’ve had a wine cellar for years and some of the wines I purchased to start the project are still resting there all dusty and cool in my basement. Every once in a while, I sneak down there, stare at them lovingly and, occasionally, bring one up to the dinner table to enjoy with friends and family on a very special occasion.

It's a truly tense situation until you open the bottle because there is a chance that the wine will be disappointing. But when it hits the mark, you will be thankful for your wine storage area.

The bargain wines of winter
Wine and related holiday gift ideas