Starting your wine cellar

Have you ever planned dinner knowing in order to enjoy wine you’ll have to stop at the local wine shop? Yes, causally perusing the shelves when you have the time is enjoyable. However, on this occasion you’re already running behind. You don’t have time to contemplate the enormous selection. Nor do you have the time to consider what will go nicely with dinner and match your guest’s preferences. Suddenly, enjoying a glass of wine with dinner doesn’t seem quite so enjoyable anymore. If this sounds familiar, why not consider starting your wine cellar?

Starting your wine cellar at homeStarting your wine cellar at home can alleviate this hassle and be a major benefit for the wine aficionado. Enjoying a bottle of wine at the drop of a hat without stopping at a store is an accessible luxury. A wine cellar does not have to have 2,000 bottles. As a matter a fact, you only need 100 carefully selected bottles for a nice wine cellar. Besides, how many bottles do you need for an evening?

Bristol Bar & Grille Scott Harper gives two easy steps to starting your wine cellar, plus tips on which wines you should select when just beginning.

Starting your wine cellar: Finding the right space

Having an appropriate place to store your wine is paramount when starting your wine cellar. You can invest in beautiful racking, art, trim work and marble flooring. I will leave this up to the designers and your personal taste. What you do need is a place that will remain cool. It should have good humidity and no direct light, vibrations or off-odors. The space must also have the ability to keep the bottles resting on their sides. Wine will age best at a constant temperature. Large swings in temperatures (50-degrees one day 70-degrees the next) will harm wine. The temperatures make it mature faster causing a loss of delicate fruit qualities.

Experts will say 50-55°F is ideal for long-term storage. However, most of us will not store the same bottle for a decade or more. I have had great success with storing wine for years at the natural temperature of a finished basement wine cellar. My cellar runs from 52-60°F in the winter to 60-68°F in the summer. Remember, the temperature change takes weeks, not days, so it doesn’t negatively affect the wine.

A very useful tool to test your wine cellar area is a thermometer with a hygrometer. Purchase one with a memory function that displays both the minimum and maximum temperature. This allows you to be sure the temperature does not change rapidly. You will also be aware of the high and low temperatures of your cellar. Check the temperature regularly. If it stays in a 60-68°F range in the summer, you should be in great shape. Humidity should be around 50-to 75-degrees. While not as important as temperature, a dry cellar can make the corks contract. This allows the wine to oxidize. An overly humid cellar will cause the labels to mold or fall off. You can purchase a thermometer with a hygrometer for around $12 online or at any electronics store. It’s a small investment considering what it is monitoring.

Direct light and vibration will also negatively affect wine by prematurely ageing it. It enables off odors to seep into the wine and adds an undesired order to the wine. A wine rack should allow the bottles to lie easily on their sides. This keeps the wine in contact with the cork to prevent it from contracting and allowing the entrance of air. Too much air will damage the wine by oxidizing it.

Starting your wine cellar: Stocking up

Now that we have a suitable place to store the bottles, we have the enviable task of filling it. You can spend one day purchasing the wine or do it over the course of time. When purchasing, remember most of the world’s white wines should be consumed one-to-four years from the vintage. Most of the world’s red wines should be consumed two-to-five years from the vintage. A great tannic wine is an exception to the rule. It can age for decades. For the most part however, it is better to drink a wine that is too young rather than too old.

The first thing to determine is what styles of wine you want in your cellar. Expand your age-worthy and special category selections over time. This serves two purposes. You save money by purchasing a wine that in a few years will be more expensive or possibly unavailable. Also, the flavors of these age-worthy wines continue to be enhanced and develop complexity over time. This is the area of your wine cellar you want to invest in wisely. You will also want to increase over time for extraordinary drinking in the future. For the rest of the cellar, consider what wine you and the people you will be drinking it with like. Once you get the initial 100 bottles, you only need to worry about monthly maintenance purchasing. This means you must purchase an amount equal to or greater than the quantity you have consumed.

You can easily keep track of 100 bottles when starting your wine cellar on a simple computer spreadsheet. As you get, started, consider the following eight styles for a well-rounded wine cellar:


Dry and Light-to Medium-Bodied

15 bottles of wines such as: Albarino, Gruner Veltliner, Pinot Grigio, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc

Dry and Full-Bodied

15 bottles of wines such as: Chardonnay (Burgundy), Viognier

Off-Dry and Medium-to Full-Bodied

Five bottles of wines such as: Gewurztraminer, Riesling, and Chenin Blanc (Vouvray)


Dry and Light-to Medium-Bodied

25 bottles of wines such as: Barbera, Gamay (Beaujolais), *Nebbiolo (Barolo & Barberesco) Pinot Noir (Burgundy), *Sangiovese (Chianti & Brunello) *Tempranillo (Rioja & Ribera del Duero), Merlot

Dry and Full-Bodied

20 bottles of wines such as: Cabernet Sauvignon (Bordeaux), Grenache (Chateauneuf Du Pape), Malbec, Syrah/Shiraz and Zinfandel Age-Worthy/Special

Ten bottles of wine such as: Cabernet Sauvignon (Bordeaux), *Nebbiolo (Barolo & Barberesco), *Sangiovese (Chianti & Brunello) *Tempranillo (Rioja & Ribera del Duero)


Fortified & Non-Fortified Dessert Five bottles of wines such as: Port, Madeira, Sauternes, Late Harvest Riesling, and Ice Wine


Five bottles of wines such as: Champagne, California Sparkling, and Spanish Cava

*Some examples may go to the next style in body.