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Like a Fine Wine

Aug 02, 2011 09:01PM ● By Anonymous

Tom and Brenda Anderson weren’t wine connoisseurs when they purchased their waterfront home in Annapolis’ prestigious The Downs on the Severn community. However, their luxurious house came with an incredible wine cellar that beckoned to be stocked with fine wines, so the couple heeded the call and soon found themselves becoming knowledgeable about and collecting wine.

If you’re a wine lover but your home doesn’t happen to have a wine cellar, why not consider installing one? They provide wine novices the opportunity to taste-test a variety of wines—serving as a personal lab, of sorts. They’re also convenient for storing a large selection of wines right in your home. In addition, as most wines get better with age, installing a proper home wine cellar is essential for preserving the integrity, quality, and taste of fine wines.

“The tannins will naturally fade the longer a wine is stored, leaving the flavors introduced by the winemaker,” explains a local expert who designs and installs wine cellars. “Tannins are the residue from grape skins and vines not fully filtered in the wine-making process. Some wines may take 10 years or more to fully mature. These particular wines tend to be on the expensive side and need optimal conditions to ensure maturation.”

The optimal conditions our expert speaks of would require the installation of a wine cellar, or perhaps a smaller “wine closet” inside the home. And while the vast majority are located in basements, they can be installed practically anywhere in your house, except in the attic. If installed on a main floor, however, the weight of the wine and bearing locations need to be taken into account, our expert cautions.

Wine and Design
No matter where it’s installed, only a well-constructed wine cellar or wine closet can properly store a collection of wine. The most important factor is that it must be located in an area of the house where the temperature is constant so your wine will age properly and not be subjected to damage due to temperature fluctuations.

According to our expert, ideal conditions include a temperature kept at between 55 and 58 degrees Fahrenheit and a humidity level somewhere between 50 to 70 percent. The somewhat high humidity level ensures the cork won’t dry out and the label won’t come unglued. If the humidity is too low, he says, oxygen-rich air may seep into the bottles, resulting in a spoiled vintage collection.

Other “musts” are proper racks (the bottles need to lie at a specific angle) and lighting; good insulation; a sealed, exteriorrated door (1-3/4 inches thick); moisture-resistant sheetrock; and redwood, brick, or stone for the interior veneer, as all three are moisture resistant. If the room is not constructed correctly, you run the risk of mold, says our expert, who also recommends that the room be “overinsulated.”

Lighting also plays a big part in preserving your wine. “Wine, like food or drink, is tainted and/or altered by light,” explains our expert. “Its color, taste, and smell may be impaired principally by ultraviolet rays after a few weeks of being stored in a brightly lit room. Storage areas shouldn’t have any kind of opening that will allow for a constant stream of daylight to enter. Artificial light should only be used when necessary.”

Selecting the right wine racks is also important for helping wines age properly. Many companies manufacture these racks, and most offer the options of “standard” or “custom” and metal or wood construction—if wood, mahogany or redwood are the best choices because they’re rot resistant and also repel moisture and mildew. While wooden wine racks are attractive in a wine cellar or wine closet, they also serve a functional purpose. Unlike metal, wood racks prevent temperature changes from being conducted through the rack into the wine, so your wine will age properly.

The design of these racks also varies. For example, there are single-bottle column racks, corner racks, magnum racks, cubes, and diamond-shaped racks. Diamond-shaped wine racks allow you to place the bottles into individual compartments, making it easy to locate the one you’ve chosen to open and enjoy. There are a variety of reasons people choose a particular rack system, such as appearance, ease of storage, or ability to keep track of their different wines. It’s best to review your options with a professional and take into account the types of wines you plan to store.

Wine cellars vary in size. Some homeowners opt for one that’s more akin to a closet than the larger size we tend to think of in a traditional wine cellar. Wine closets are about two feet by eight feet and store up to 350 bottles. Once that space is outgrown, or especially if someone is already a serious wine collector, installing a wine cellar is a decision that will need to be made—it’s a much larger space and can hold thousands of bottles. (Our expert designed an impressive 12,000-bottle cellar for a homeowner in Potomac, Maryland.)

The Andersons’ glass-enclosed wine cellar holds 3,000 bottles of wine, but the couple hasn’t completely filled it yet. The redwood racks inside the cellar were custom built for the previous owners and can store 750-milliliter as well as magnum-size bottles. An arched doorway leads into a section with additional racks and an area for storing wine crates. There’s even a small tasting area. “The cellar was added in 1992 when the house was renovated for the previous owner,” says Brenda. “It’s the easiest thing to maintain and a pleasure to have in our house.”

Installing a wine cellar or wine closet doesn’t come cheap. Wine closets can run from $9,000 to $20,000, while wine cellars cost anywhere from $20,000 to $80,000 (and up). However, if you’re serious about collecting wine, the importance of having a wine cellar or closet in your home can’t be overstated—and the benefits are tremendously satisfying. Just ask the Andersons.