Before writing this article, I began to remember the wonderfully amusing conversation between Alan Partridge and Tony Hayers, the fictitious Commissioning Director at the BBC, as they sat down to lunch. The chat turned to fine wine – Hayers, clearly the connoisseur with his own cellar, effectively bludgeons Partridge with his own ignorance surrounding wine, who ends up revealing he too has a cellar – filled with bikes, smokeless fuel and gone-off cement.
It got me thinking about my own basement and why in the name of Coogan had I stuffed it with as equally pointless junk as Partridge? Could I clear out the clutter, ditch the decaying boxes of my useless hoardings and create space fit for a collection of fine wine?
As it happens, there is a growing trend for doing just this. Basements and cellars across the UK are slowly undergoing a grand transformation; from the resting place of things one should have taken to the tip a decade ago, to fully climate-controlled, state-of-the-art homes for the very best vintage claret and port.
Richard Brierley, Head Of Fine Wines at Mayfair’s Vanquish Wine thinks there’s never been a better time to develop one’s own cellar. “From around the globe we have some sensational vintages and some excellent vinification techniques, which are giving us an unprecedented run of great wines, perfect for laying down.”
The conditions of the humble suburban home basement are a fine starting point for storing wine correctly.
The benefits of developing a cellar at home are perhaps impractical, given the premium on space we all seem to incur, but the conditions of the humble suburban home basement are a fine starting point for storing wine correctly. As Fine+Rare Wines’ Joss Fowler points out , “The ideal temperature to store wine is about 12ºC or 13ºC, on its side, in the dark, so cellars can be a perfect environment. Some home cellars are slightly higher in temperature than this, but as long as it’s consistent, you can store wine perfectly well. Quick deviations in temperature and excessive heat can be hugely detrimental.” Joss also points out that lower temperatures can add longevity to the maturation process of wine. “The colder your cellar is, the slower your wine will develop. For example, if you had a wine stored in perfect conditions in London for 20 years and the same wine stored in a very cold cellar in Scotland, in theory, the Scottish bottle would taste younger.”
Family-run business Tanglewood Wine in Surrey have capitalised on the renaissance of the home cellar, making bespoke wooden racking, either from traditional pine blocks, sizeable from normal bottle dimensions to magnums, or for the larger cellar (and arguably the more serious wine buff) beautifully crafted shelving, made of reconstituted limestone rock from the quarries at Comblanchien, in the Cotes de Nuits region of Burgundy. For those who fancy a more high-tech cellar, Eurocave have come up with a range of climate-controlled cabinets and cellar conditioning units, which aim to provide a perfect, consistent temperature for one’s collection. But the ultimate word in luxury – and sheer ingenuity – must go to Spiral Cellars, a company who have overcome the idea of lack of cellar space by developing a unique subterranean storage system, literally dug into any ground-floor room in your house or garage. “Installation usually takes between five and nine days and the whole cellar can be customised to the individual taste and requirements of the client,” explains Director of Spiral Cellars, Lucy Hargreaves. The finished article looks like a sunken gothic spiral staircase, with the top-end installations having a nifty retractable circular glass door.
Having your own cellar is absolutely wonderful, but only for your personal consumption.
Whilst the idea of a home cellar seems hugely appealing if done correctly, the benefits are really solely for the enjoyment of the wine itself, not for the purposes of investment. “The idea of having your own cellar is absolutely wonderful, but only for your personal consumption,” advises Joss Fowler. “If you’re thinking of doing it speculatively, think again. As wine needs to be stored in very specific conditions, you really need proof that it has been stored correctly. If someone offers me wine to buy, I’m very careful about it, because it doesn’t have that tag of provenance as if it would if stored by someone like ourselves.”
What to lay down
- If the aesthetics of the bottle are important to you, consider how damp your cellar is. Damp will begin to affect the labels over time, leading them to deteriorate and in some cases, fall off completely.
- Vanquish Wines’ Richard Brierley suggests starting out with a manageable number of bottles, rather than going mad with your newly liberated cellar. “It’s good to obtain a balance between things that you plan to drink regularly, along side some older and finer vintages for special occasions, so a 50-bottle cellar is probably ideal.”
- Berry Bros & Rudd recommends beginning your home collection with Bordeaux: “2000, 2005 and 2009, (which is just arriving from the region), are all exceptional vintages and well worth considering.” They also point out that non-vintage branded Champagnes such as Louis Roederer or Pol Roger can also develop surprisingly well in a short space of time in one’s cellar.
- Richard Brierley recommends both 2009 and 2010 Burgundy as an excellent consideration for buying now and laying down. “Also from Champagne, I’d recommend the 2002 Dom Perignon and the 2000 Krug which will develop really well over the next five years.”
Taste Of The Underground
Ever fancied your own wine cellar at home? Well it’s time to start clearing out all that junk, because it’s easier than you think, says Neil Ridley.
Photos courtesy of Spiral Cellars and Berry Bros. & Rudd
Epicure, gourmand, bon vivant and self-effacing boulevardier of London Town, Neil is co-founder of drinks-industry consultancy Cask Strength Creative, and considered a leading authority on whisky and other spirits. He writes regularly for Whisky magazine and sits as a judge on the World Whisky Awards, Independent Bottlers Challenge and the Whisky Masters. He also contributes to Bentley magazine and indulges his dandyish whims by deputy-editing The Chap magazine.
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