Let's be real...
Granted, it’s difficult to hollow out the side of a mountain, erect a classically styled chateau, and host wine dinners for the who’s who of wine in your personal tasting room for five hundred dollars. It is, however, possible to bring consistent pleasure to yourself and your friends affordably through wine. What follows are some easy ways to store wine, and some recommendations of high quality, high value bottles from around the world.
Cool and constant.
These are the prime requisites for wine storage. While temperature and humidity controlled cellars with cedar racks and torch sconces on the wall are nice, all that’s truly required is a cool, dark cupboard, infrequently opened.
The accepted ideal temperature for storing wine is 55 degrees Farinheight (13 degrees Celsius). This parameter becomes more important the longer you plan to store a particular wine. As storage temperatures are increased, chemical reactions occurring within the bottle become accelerated. This can often lead to undesirable aromas, “off” flavors, and a decreased or non-existent bouquet. Storing a wine at less than 55 degrees will prolong the time required to mature the wine, but typically has no other adverse effects.
Dark is important. Ultraviolet light damages wine by causing otherwise stable organic compounds to degrade. As these compounds are the building blocks of aroma, taste, and body in a wine; allowing them to deteriorate can rob the bottle of its very soul.
Humidity only becomes a factor with traditional cork sealed wines. As a cork dries, its ability to seal a bottle decreases. This contributes to evaporation from within the bottle, “the angels share”, as well as accelerated oxidation of the wine itself. Storing the bottle on its side, allowing the wine to saturate and swell the cork, can solve this problem.
What Wine to Choose?
Given a stable storage environment, we are left with the task of choosing our wine. To build a cellar on a budget:
- Seek out up and coming wine regions,
- Seek lesser-known wineries.
- Try the “second labels” of well-known vineyards.
Fortunately, wine-making techniques have improved dramatically in recent years and the ease of modern communication has elevated overall wine quality worldwide.
Spain is one great option for high value wines:
- Rias-Baxias, in the north west of Spain, produces some very affordable, high quality white wines made primarily from the Albarino grape. These wines are pleasingly New World in style, with fresh, fruity flavors and crisp acidity.
- The Bierzo region, just east of Rias-Baxias, is known for a medium bodied, food friendly wine made from the Mencia grape, accounted by some as the “Burgundy of Spain.”
- Toro, further to the northeast, is crafting full-bodied wines from an indigenous variety of Tempranillo, similar in style to the wines of Ribera del Deuro, but with a more affordable price tag.
- Catalunya is Spain’s inexpensive answer to Champagne with Cava, a consistent and refreshing sparkler.
France certainly produces some of the most expensive wines in the world. First Growth Bordeaux or Grand Cru Burgundy are an option for few but the elite. That said, France abounds with affordable, beautiful wines.
- Look to the Loire Valley for white wines made from Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc or Melon de Bourgogne.
- Chardonnay can be an inexpensive delight when sourced from the Macconais region of Burgundy.
- For both red and white wines, the Vin de Pays D’Oc, from the Langeudoc, shows the potential of French expertise when paired with a little less restrictive French regulation. Look for such varietals as Syrah, Grenache, or Carignan for reds or Marsanne, Rousanne, or Sauvignon Blanc for whites. Some notable (and still relatively affordable) regions in the Langeudoc are Minervois, Corbieres, and St Chinian.
Chile is a fantastic option for high value, New World wines. Big, ripe, fruity red wines, with a notable herbaceous note dominate the region. Look to Cabernet, Merlot, and Syrah for concentrated, pure fruit, and an affordable price tag.
Just across the Andes Mountains from Chile are the prolific vineyards of Argentina. Producing more wine than their neighbor, Argentina has developed a reputation for ripe, juicy, red wines, priced for the frugal budget. Malbec has found a second home in the region and, with Syrah, is responsible for some delicious, spicy reds. For white wine in Argentina, check out Torrontes, a simple, fruity wine with pleasant aromas ranging from apples, peaches and pears to lemon blossoms and fresh citrus fruit; often with mouth-watering acidity.
Another region of the New World providing high value wine is South Africa. With the end of apartheid many individual producers have taken the stage, advancing the quality of South African wine, while maintaining an inexpensive price point. For reds, the quality of Cabernet, Merlot, and Shiraz are well established with their robust, dark berry fruit. Even Pinotage, a notoriously gamey wine, has benefited from modern vinification techniques. For white wine, South Africa produces some very nice oaked Chardonnays, tangy Sauvignon Blancs, and, most notably, delicious Chenin Blancs.
The pleasure of a great meal, fine wine, and good company should be attainable by all. The goal of this article is to help you more easily select and store high quality, affordable, pleasing wines. Please look to future articles for a selection of itemized, suggested buying lists. Remember: every single time you raise a glass or a fork, you are in the midst of a singular, once in a lifetime experience, of which we all have a limited number. Enjoy yourself, enjoy your friends, and enjoy your wine.
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