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Growing Old Gracefully

Here is my patent guide to making a modest wine collection, and most importantly keeping it in an environment where it will mature as Nature intended.


French Wine Tours Cafe Cigale Blog

Growing Old Gracefully – Part One: Storage

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away I became friends with a guy name of Johnny Ego. Least that’s what he called himself, and with a name like that I guess he should know. He was acidic, acerbic, not easy to get acquainted with. But we did, chance throwing us into the same job and choice into playing in the same band and football team.

Life and time part but they also bring back together, and so a few weeks ago Ego and his wife of soon-to-be 25 years and I sat down at a table at La Cigale restaurant in Nantes. We ordered fine food and fine wine and no one, not those around us not even ourselves, batted an eyelid. No pile of squashed beer cans or ashtray overflowing with stabbed fag ends in sight (we knew how to party back in the day), but a white linen tablecloth, coupes of champagne and amuse-bouche on a porcelain spoon. How does that happen?

“I’m thinking of buying some wine. You know, for maturing, to keep for a few years,” he says. I am nothing if not helpful, so for him and for those of you, my dear readers, who might be thinking similarly, here is my patent guide to making a modest wine collection, and most importantly keeping it in an environment where it will mature as Nature intended.

I assume at the outset that your ultimate aim is pleasurable consumption, not investment. Investing in wine, ie buying bottles to sell at a profit, is for a) the experts, the kind of guys you used to see in old movies with green eyeshades and expandable bands to hold up their shirtsleeves, b) millionaires/tinpot dictators/fraudsters who’ve run out of suitcases to stash cash, or c) idiots. You’re none of the above, right?

If you’re going to buy serious wine with serious money then you will want to keep it in a safe environment that is conducive to its development. There are companies around who will do this for you for a fee. They will have temperature controlled facilities, perhaps even real cellars, and their spiel will be convincing, of course it will. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of such companies who are trustworthy, but there are others… well, there are others. For me, I would like to see my stash, touch it from time to time, be able to share such precious moments with friends, much as I might bore them with holiday snaps. To be blunt, I would want those bottles under my own bloody roof.

But how to provide the best environment? First, know your (ie the wine’s) enemies. Arch villain number one is light. There is a reason above and beyond olde worlde quaintness why wine is stored in cellars. Cellars are dark. Cellars also maintain a consistent temperature whatever is happening in the outside world. Consistent is the key word. Wine is an old shire Conservative, it doesn’t like change. Even if the temperature is above that of a normal cellar, that is 12°C or so, as long as it doesn’t buck like a bronco then the wine will be fine, it will simply mature more rapidly. That’s enemy number two dealt with. Number three is vibration. I hate to labour the point, but cellars don’t vibrate unless they’re lying next to the Northern line. How would you like it if you were jiggled up and down day in day out? Not much, I’m guessing, and you would grow up to be a maladjusted adult whose only friend is Facebook. Coming in at number four, odours. (I was tempted to say smells but it’s such a gross word, don’t you think?) Your wine is breathing through the cork, just a lickle bit, but just enough to help it change, mature. It takes air in, and if the air is rancid with fried onions or gasoline then that’s what you’ll get traces of when you eventually open your prized bottle – certainly not what the maker intended or you were expecting. Finally, humidity. Not really an enemy, in fact more of a friend, like the aunt you never liked but who left you 500 quid in her will. If the air is dry the cork will shrink; when the cork shrinks more air than necessary will invade the bottle; more air than necessary + wine = vinegar. Maintaining humidity around 60 to 70% keeps the cork snug in place and avoids all of the above.

But what now? I know my enemies but with what do I gird my loins, forsooth, you ask. I ask you what ‘forsooth’ means, you say you don’t know, and we call it quits. Anyway. I’m assuming you don’t have a real cellar – if you do that’s a completely different article. I’m also assuming fewer than 200 bottles. So we’re talking a wine storage cabinet. If you’re looking for long-term ageing (which you are) then you need a ‘cave de vieillissement’ or ‘aging cellar’. There are umpteen makes around, but you won’t go far wrong if you take a look at Eurocave, Climadiff, or Artevino.

Let’s take a specific example, the Artevino OXMMT177NPD (auditioned for Star Wars but the name was too long). It looks like a biggish fridge, 148 cms high, 68 cms wide and 70 cms deep and will hold 177 bottles. It provides a consistent temperature conducive to aging; it has a solid door meaning no light intrusion (some models have glass doors which are supposed to be anti-UV rays, but as far as I’m concerned, no light means no light); it maintains humidity between 50 and 80%, your choice; it has an anti-vibration system (in the old days vibration was a problem for all models, now solved). It’s also energy efficient with an A+ rating meaning an average annual bill of around €18. It looks pretty nifty too, in a looming Darth Vaderish way. All your enemies vanquished. Yours for €1299.

Now all you have to do is fill it. I will expound on wines suitable for aging, nay, I will exsanguinate the subject in Part Two. Can’t wait, but for now I could kill a can of Heineken and a fag.

JS

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