Remember the beginning of the old television show, The Beverly Hillbillies, where the family is loaded into a wagon with all their motley possessions? That was me moving down to the Suncoast at this time last year.
I’d shipped the majority of my things ahead, but still, by the time I’d strategically packed what remained into my old Jeep, there was barely enough room for the driver—me. Retrieving anything from the depths required Rubik’s-cube-like maneuvers, sliding things just so. Unfortunately, in the parking lot of the Hilton off of I-95 in Atlanta, I shifted something left when, apparently, it should have gone right. Like a candy bar from a vending machine, a bottle of red wine rolled forward and dropped. Unlike a candy bar, it smashed rather spectacularly on the blacktop at my feet.
My second thought was: I’d better get up every shard of glass so that no one, most likely me, drives over it and has a flat tire somewhere in the bowels of Georgia. My first thought was: it’s just as well that my initial attempt at wine collecting failed so this bottle was nothing special. Collecting wine seemed like it’d be a no brainer. Go out. Buy wine. Bring it home. Boom—done. Well, yes. But, no.
Still, fast forward a year. Happily settled in my new home, with no plans to load up and take to the road any time soon, I’m thinking that it’s time to give the wine cellar of my dreams another try. Of course, this being Florida, an actual cellar is out of the question. I don’t have one. Yet, wine is best stored on its side, in a humid location, at a temperature of around 55 degrees Fahrenheit, in a spot where it will not suffer fluctuations in temperature, direct light or vibrations. This leaves out storing it in the kitchen cabinet over the refrigerator, in the coat closet, under the bed, or even in a decorative rack prominently displayed in the living room. Friends John and Debbe installed a walk-in, closet-sized, temperature-controlled wine room right off of their living room, an above-ground cellar. I could convert the closet in my home office. Think of the convenience! Think of the cost. A wine refrigerator will have to do.
Filling the Cellar
Now for the fun part. What should I buy? The last time, I’d started in Bordeaux—literally. I’d been touring the wineries, called Chateau, in the Bordeaux region of France, and had put together three cases with a mixture of red, white and even some sweet wine, to ship home. It was a good plan.
The structured reds of Bordeaux, blending any of five red grapes—Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot—are renowned for their ability to age in the bottle. If I’d been traveling elsewhere, I could have chosen other age-worthy reds, such as those from Burgundy or the Rhone in France, or those from Rioja, Priorat, or Ribera del Duero, in Spain, just to name a few. Over time, a red wine with good tannins and acid will evolve in the bottle. Its tannins will soften, its color will mellow, its primary fruit flavors will mingle with secondary flavors that could include mushroom, chocolate, and tobacco, among others.
It’s not only reds that are age-worthy. Wines made from white grapes such as Riesling, Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay, for example, can age in the bottle. Where red wines get lighter as they age, white wines deepen in color while still developing complex secondary flavors. The whites from Bordeaux that I’d chosen in the course of my trip, blends of Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, and Muscadelle, were perfect candidates for cellaring.
Collecting Requires Waiting
The problem was that the bottles I shipped back spent so very little time in my cellar. Some returning travelers regale friends with pictures: Look! There I am in front of a Chateau! Me? I pour wine. Luckily, those bottles from Bordeaux were all older vintages, already drinking beautifully, because they certainly got no chance to age once I got them home. In retrospect, I saved them the long drive down to Florida.
This time, I’ll start in Bordeaux again, albeit at my local wine shop. The great vintages of 2005 and 2000, if I could find them, would be out of my price range, but the 2009 and 2010 vintages are reputed to be stellar. I plan to buy three or four of the same bottle, so that I can open one every few years. I’ll also invest in a sizable quantity of everyday wine to open when people come to visit, and I’ll have my photo albums on hand. Look! That’s me drinking wine in Bordeaux! If you come back in five to ten years, we’ll taste some.
Marianne Karas is a local certified wine specialist and a wine educator.