Three ideals of the perfect wine cellar have emerged, and you can now choose the one that best suits your persona, your position in life, or simply the solution that is most practical. Each solution tackles the preservation of wine in unique ways, to varying degrees of success. The modern, mahogany rack indulgences such as the one pictured at right are certainly in vogue; even those on more modest budgets than the builder of this one can get access to the racking systems and DIY a respectable space they would be happy to show off to their friends. Those who wish to pay hommage to the history of traditional wine cellars may prefer the chateau-style cellar pictured below, where the cool conditions of a buildings foundation become a treasure chest of valuable bottles. Wine fridges are the last resort, the most pure combination of function in the tightest package. Apartment dwellars everywhere can say their thanks to the latter. If you are fortunate you can somehow manage to combine all wine cellar styles in an elegant package such as this unique kitchen cellar.
The purpose of all of these cellars is to combat the enemies of an aging wine bottle:
Sunlight, and to a lesser degree artificial light, can rob a wine of its character in an alarmingly short period of time. Akin to paint and plastic fading under the hot onslaught of the sun, the flavour compounds in a wine bottle really show their delicacy when subjected to solar radiation. Even if the bottle is kept cool the light will cause reactions to occur in the bottle. This is of course the purpose of the tint of the wine bottle. You should always be dubious of bottles left for unknown periods on the wine store front windows, or wine fridges left near a bright window. Since most bottles of wine are targeted for immediate consumption light is a non factor for the common wine drinker. If you desire to put wines down and let them evolve gracefully under your own fingers there is no reason to subject them to excess light.
Similar to light, heat, and especially constant variations in heat, can cause a bottle of wine to become “cooked.” This is a high school chemistry type of thermodynamic problem: adding energy to the system increases the rates of reaction. Essentially parts of the wine are forced to age prematurely, while others are left behind and the bottle takes on some distinct flavour imbalances. Pruney or oxidized would be words used to describe the flavours of wines subject to excess heat. Modern type cellars and fridges can maintain the ideal 10 degree Celcius number, although 7-18 is the realistic range you want to stay within. Just hope there are no power outages during the peak of summer.
Dried out corks are a downer. They will inevitably lead to an increased exchange of gas between the wine bottle and the atmosphere around it. Worst case the cork falls right into the bottle when you get around to handling it, best case you lose an inordinate amount of fluid from the bottle (angel share), leaving a shoulder-high fill level. Low fill levels in a wine bottle are a bad sign of a bottles provenance. 60 to 65 humidity is the target for a wine cellar, with higher levels leading to excess microbial growth, aka mould and other label-eating fungi. Someone with a traditional style basement cellar may not be able to adjust the ambient humidity of his cellar, but all cellar owners would be wise to monitor humidity with a handy device like the Acurite. This thermometer/hygrometer has the handy feature of displaying min/max values over a 24 hour period. I use this device in both my humidor and wine cellar.