The time between when a bottle of wine was purchased to when it is consumed has lessened drastically over the last century.  People used to buy wine and place it in their cellar for years and years with the intention of passing it on to their children or grandchildren.  The turnaround time now? About 30 minutes…

Even so, starting a small collection of wine is a great idea for any wine lover.  Whether you hope to make a little profit off of your nicely aged stash by selling it at an auction or to save it for a special occasion, to let a bottle age on your own accord is a rewarding experience.  A wine that is proper for aging will grow more complex a result of extended time with the yeast and (if red), tannin in the bottle.  The aromas well deepen, the flavor will alter, and the color will change.  There are several things to keep in mind when starting your collection.

Conditions for cellaring are somewhat specific.  The first requirement is that whatever space you use to store your wine holds a temperature of somewhere between 50 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit.  If it is a little above or below this, that is okay, but consistency is key.  Frequent and drastic change in temperature effects the pressure around the cork, forcing it to move and leading to oxidation or the growth of bacteria.  Humidity is also important; humidity in your storage space should be between 75 and 80% ideally.  The cork is made from bark so is the humidity is too low it will dry out, shrink, and again, allow oxidation or bacteria in the bottle.  A great amount of humidity will cause the cork to swell and will also result in cooked flavor in the wine.  Another factor is light.  Keep the bottles out of sunlight.  Your storage area should be a space that is not used very frequently and does not have lights being turned off and on very often.  It is also important that it is a pretty still area; don’t keep your wines in the laundry room where they will be disrupted by vibration or on a wall opposite a sub-woofer or TV.  Keep in mind that these conditions are ideal for long-term aging.  If you want to keep a bottle of wine for 15+ years, these factors are essential.  If you want to keep it for 2 to 3 years, still be mindful but don’t fret if the only space you have is the back of the closet.

Now for the hard part: how do you know which wines will age well?  Generally, reds age much better than whites due to the presence of tannin.  Some special whites, however do have the capability of aging gracefully such as some Chardonnay from  Burgundy.  So let’s just talk about reds.  For a wine to be of good quality after some time in the bottle it must have a balance of four main factors: tannin, acid, sugar and alcohol.  Cabernet Sauvignon has a comfortable amount of tannin, high acid and average levels of sugar and alcohol; it has the potential to age fairly well.  Nebbiolo (a varietal from Italy) holds very high levels of tannin and acid, so high that producers usually require a long amount of time in the barrel and the bottle before release.  Nebbiolo also has potential to age well.  Compare these reds to the typical characteristics of Merlot — high alcohol, low to moderate tannin, juicy wine.  Merlot does not often age as well as other varietals.  Others to consider are Bordeaux high quality producers, Burgundy, Barolos, Desserts wines and surprisingly, Champagne.

Then there is the aspect of quality.  Most wines below $30 a bottle are not going to grow more complex and retain balance after six years.  (Some exceptions, of course.)  A $65 bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon from the North Coast of CA, however will probably taste even better six years from now.  I suggest spending a few extra bucks on a small number of bottles and tucking them away.  On deciding approximately how long you want to let a bottle set — work with the price of the wine.  $100 Cab, go for 8 years if you want something interesting (It’ll still be great after two though).  A $35 Barolo?  Go for four.  A $25 Cab from Coonawarra, Australia, buy two and try one tonight and one a year from now.  Quality wines that you buy today will taste good — today!  But will have a much different character a few years down the road.

I RECOMMEND: Want to start your collection? Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars Artemis Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 from Napa Valley.  Check it out here.