The value of wine ‘cellars’

There is a crazy statistic that says that something like 92 percent of the wine in the world is bought to be consumed that day.

Bernard BouÏssou, chef and owner of Bernard’s in Ridgefield, in his wine cellar.

The person planning the dinner meal will walk out of the grocery store and go straight into the wine store and buy wine — one bottle. Obviously, these consumers have no need for a wine cellar. But if and when you evolve past this “buy now/drink now” state of mind, two things will happen. You will get to see the evolution of the wine over time perhaps. And you will have a need for proper storage of the wine. And proper storage essentially means being stored in a temperature and humidity-controlled environment, more or less.  

All wines should improve a bit after resting in the bottle, post bottling. And all wines have a life span of optimum drinkability. Well-made wines will ascend upwards for months or years and stay at an optimal plateau of quality drinking for an extended time and then will start to slowly fall off in flavor and experience. Lesser wines typically ascend quickly, plateau for a shorter time and then start to fall off quickly. Having a personal wine cellar will change your world. And by wine cellar I don’t necessarily mean a dedicated walk-in room. In using the term “cellar,” I am essentially referring to a wine storage area. If space permits, racking out a room with shelving gives a great sense of building a lifestyle. But other storage areas could be the space underneath some stairs, the lower level of a closet or an under-counter wine refrigerator. 

The temperature and humidity are key to preserving and storing wine properly. The longer you expect to hold the wine, the more important it is to have a proper environment. Look for a coolish place out of bright light in the home where the temps are between 55 and 65 degrees with minimal swings. Get rid of the incandescent light bulbs and replace them with cool touch LED lighting. Look for some shelving, either custom-made or an online kit or DIY rustic. My cellar is a dedicated room with long thick boards I milled, supported and spaced by 4 by 8-inch solid half-cement blocks. It’s not particularly attractive but efficient and functional. 

I went to an expert to talk to him about the cellar. Bernard Bouïssou is the chef and owner, along with wife Sarah, of Bernard’s and Sarah’s Wine Bar just over the New York/Connecticut border on Route 35 in Ridgefield. Bernard grew up and cut his culinary teeth in the Sud-Ouest (Southwest) of France, moved to New York where he worked with Daniel Boulud at Le Cirque and met his future wife.  Together they pursued a dream and found an underperforming restaurant that needed new blood, new passion and an inspired direction. The food at Bernard’s is wonderful and worthy of a visit. Each bite, each course is a palate-pleasing romp that will make you giddy. But I wanted to talk wine with him.

When Bernard and Sarah bought the restaurant, the cellar had about 400 bottles. Today it contains more than 10,000. I asked what his advice would be to the new home wine cellar collector. 

“First of all, find out what you like,” he says. “I love Burgundy, so my cellar is strong there. I also love Bordeaux and American (Cabernets). And it’s always good to find some larger format bottles. They tend to get aged longer, as you need a larger group to justify opening it.” Bernard also told me, “Develop a relationship with a good wine store owner. They can tell you when something arrives to your liking.  And it’s always cheaper per bottle to buy a case or two.”

Wines coming to a retail outlet or restaurant in Connecticut need to be supplied by Connecticut- licensed purveyors. But private buyers can shop online at stores across the country, directly from wineries that will offer bulk, or receive member discounts from the many wine clubs, such as the Wall Street Journal wine club (WSJwine.com), which offers 15 bottles for $70 as a welcome incentive. Other online sites, such as Wines ’Til Sold Out, (wtso.com) have one at a time deals that are significantly discounted. 

I love to read a recipe and get inspired to cook up something. Or to read a newspaper or magazine wine story and get excited to try a wine I haven’t tried in awhile. Instead of getting in your car, it’s especially satisfying to walk to your wine storage area, grab a bottle and open it.  With a little thought, a little direction and a little money, anyone can start his or her own cellar.  

Reach Doug at doug@dpupatree.com.

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