I taught a great Ultimate Intro to Wine Class last night … a fun group, great questions, good energy (it’s always the students that really make the class). One of the topics we talked about is the role of the wine cellar in historical context and present definition.
In the past, when many wines were made with traditional methods, it was hard to polish the harsh edges. Tannins were high in many wines, especially those of Bordeaux. Cabernet Sauvignon was notorious for needing years to laying down until it was drinkable.
In other words, the old definition of a wine cellar was a place to store wine until it aged sufficiently to taste better.
Enter modern times, with modern ideas and modern techniques. We have now learned how to calm the tannin beast (thank you Micro Ox!), we have learned how to control acidity, and we have learned how to make wine more drinkable at an early age. Is this a good thing? I don’t know. I’m of many mindsets, and what I ultimately want is variety above all else … please, Bacchus, keep some old-school winemakers with singular visions next to modern shiny beacons of wealth and flash.
What has resulted, though, is the re-definition of what a wine cellar is. The modern definition, as I told the class last night, is to serve any type of flavor profile to any type of wine drinker to go with any type of food at anytime. Presto, you have a wine cellar! You don’t need thousands of bottles, even though that looks cool and gives you more choices. What you really need is to cover some fundamental bases.
The ingredients for a perfect wine cellar are as follows:
Some good cheap sparkling wine like Cava and Prosecco, to pop on a whim when getting ready for a nice meal or to celebrate things like, say, Wednesday.
Some more expensive sparkling wine like ‘real’ Champagne, to pop when the neighbor announces that they are having a baby, then moving away.
Light bodied high acid white like Sauvignon Blanc. Perfect for light seafood meals.
Aromatic whites from lesser known varieties like Gruner Veltiner or Viognier or Chenin Blanc. Pop these when the wine friends come over or when you’re having food that is ‘wine challenging’ like salads and Thai.
Some whites that are a touch sweet but have good acid like good Mosel Valley Riesling from Germany. Perfect with spicy dishes or on a hot summer day.
Fuller bodied whites like Chardonnay. Buy a world variety of Chard, from Australia to California to France. Have at least one ‘serious’ White Burgundy that you spend some extra money on. It will age suprising well and is great to pull out for a special dinner.
A range of Pinot Noir, which like your Chardonnay covers the world. Buy some California, some Oregon, and at least one higher end Burgundy.
Some smooth, soft, ‘fireplace reds’ like Merlot or less expensive Shiraz from Australia. Pop these when you light a fire and just want a bottle of good wine without food.
A range of interesting European wines like Cotes du Rhone, Rioja, Cru Beujolais, Chianti, or Nero d’Avola from Sicily. Spend about $12-$18 a bottle and trust your merchant.
A few ‘big guns’ from the new world like fuller bodied Zinfandels (Seghesio or Ridge in particular), California Cabernet (doesn’t have to be Napa, but sure can be), and more expensive Shiraz from Australia.
At least one white and one red dessert wine. You can often find them in half bottles and make for a great spontaneous dessert when the dinner goes great but you don’t feel like cooking anymore.
And there you have it. A tidy list of what you need to be able to cover any situation anytime. They key, and this is important, is that when you pop a bottle you replace it right away. Don’t let too much time go by, and keep notes on what categories you depleted.
Enjoy your new cellar!