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Wine Enthusiast Podcast: The What, Where and When of Cellaring Wine

In this episode of the Wine Enthusiast Podcast, we dive into our annual Top 100 Cellar Selections and learn what it takes to land on the coveted list, plus we tap a cellar expert for tips on making sure your storage specs are up to snuff, and two Northwest chefs, Tom Douglas and Thierry Rautureau, take us into their cellars and share some of their favorite collector moments.

Listen to other episodes of the Wine Enthusiast Podcast

Read the full transcript of “The What, Where and When of Cellaring Wine”:

Jameson Fink: Hi, I’m Jameson Fink, Senior Digital Editor and wine enthusiast. Welcome to episode two. When you purchase what you know will be a delicious wine, it’s hard to be patient, but sometimes for a good wine to become great, it does take time and patience. Often the best way to make that happen is to put the bottle away somewhere you don’t have to think about it.

Lauren Buzzeo: My name is Lauren Buzzeo, I’m the Tasting Director and Senior Editor at Wine Enthusiast Magazine.

JF: We’re in the cellar room too, which is amazing. We’re in our tasting room at world headquarters for wine enthusiasts. This would great opportunity to talk about wine, and specifically wines to cellar, very specifically our top 100 cellar selections. I think it’s really interesting to look at the list and compare where the wines are from, countries, grapes, it’s a really fascinating list. I guess my first question is how do you decide what becomes a cellar selection, and specifically one that gets in the top 100?

LB: Well this list, from a technical standpoint, is culled from all of the wines that are designated a cellar selection throughout the past 12 issues. From there, we start with again, all of those selections, we widdle it down to the top 100, the crème de la crème, and how do we do that? It is definitely not an easy process, but it is one that is very rewarding and very fun to go through. Basically, we take a look at the production sizes, we take a look at the availability, but mainly for the cellar selection list we take a look at the reputation and the providence of those wines, of those wineries, and really this list is about those iconic, world-class, world-renound wines that you know are just going to cellar mature, evolve just so beautifully.

JF: When I look, it’s a list that’s dominated by red wines, but there are a lot of sweet wines and dry white wines that I think in my mind … In the mind of I’m starting to collect wine and cellar wine, I think a lot of people are thinking red and they’re not thinking white and dessert wine or sweet wines. Do you you agree?

LB: I absolutely agree, and it’s actually funny that you bring that up because I just had my first born child who was born in 2015, and of course I’m starting to look to buy wines to open on his 21st birthday, naturally. Although he does enjoy a pinky dip now and then currently-

JF: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

LB: I know he’s going to be ready for it.

JF: Yeah.

LB: Absolutely, immediately I turn to the sticky wines. The first wine that I purchased was [inaudible 00:03:11] straw wine out of the Swartland Region of South Africa. I have a good history with that wine, and I know that it will certainly last well beyond his 21st birthday, so I might need to buy I don’t even know how many cases, and we can have one every year after his 21st birthday. Certainly second to that, I will absolutely turn to white wines, some of my favorite wines. First of all, let me say generally, the American public drinks white wines far too young. There’s a lot of wines I understand that might be at a certain sweet spot price that might be best drunk young, but generally we as a nation consume white wines far too early. They develop much more complexity, much more balance, much more finesse with even just a year or two more in the bottle. We’re always obsessed with finding the freshest, latest vintage on shelves and that’s not always necessarily the best thing to do. Definitely cellaring whites is something that we do try to include on this list obviously, but something that I definitely turn to personally, especially white burgundy I know I’m going to be buying some of those from Rilo’s birth year-

JF: Uh-huh.

LB: To cellar away for a long, long time.

JF: What about if you’re kind of trying to value hunt, are there regions that you think, “Hey, there are great wines from this region that you can cellar for a long time and you don’t have to spend …” The value is there?

LB: Right, for the top 100 best buys it’s very focused on the quality to price ratio, okay? All of the wines on the top 100 best buys list are going to be priced at $15.00 or under. For the enthusiast 100, it’s also quite value driven although we looked to other variables. For the cellar selection list, we really don’t put too much of a weight on the price of the wine because again, we’re looking for those best and most iconic examples that we know are going to cellar. That being said though, about half of the list is priced at $50.00 or under, so there’s certainly opportunity for people of any budget looking for wines from any price range to certainly pick up wines to throw in their cellar for drinking five, ten, twenty years down the road.

JF: The old retail wine person in me would say, “Oh, buy a case and I’ll give you a 10% discount.”

LB: There you go, get them for even cheaper! In terms of regions to look for for that great value though, that still represent wines that are perfectly capable of cellaring for the long-term, I’d say that you could find some beautiful reserve wines from Portugal, certainly Spain where you can definitely get wines for upwards of $100.00, there’s still plenty of beautiful selections coming from [inaudible 00:05:51] Toro that are certainly affordable and definitely can last for the long-haul. For red wines, certainly I would go to those two regions to start. For whites, I would probably turn to Austria. You can find a lot of great values for those white wines whether it’s [inaudible 00:06:10], that again can age beautifully and gracefully for the next five to ten years at least.

JF: That’s excellent advice about Austria, I love those. I’ve had some 10 year old [Gruener-Veltleners 00:06:22] that kind of opened my world like, “Wow, these dry white wines can age.” I’d also add Australian Riesling, like Claire Valley Rieslings, when I went to Australia I brought back a bottle of Polish Hill from [inaudible 00:06:34] and it was 10 years old, and I was like, “Wow, this is incredible.” It was still drank very young for a 10 year old dry white wine too. It’s great there’s a lot of opportunity whether it’s sweet, red, or white to start building a collection. You mentioned white burgundy and you mentioned a sweet wine, what are the wines that you personally like to hold on to? What’s in your cellar?

LB: What’s in my cellar? Too much.

JF: I can help you with that!

LB: I’ve had many offers. What is predominately in my cellar admittedly thanks to my history, my background, my heritage is going to be a lot of Italian wines. I am a sucker for [inaudible 00:07:15] and anything from Piedmont, so the majority of what I’ve got is definitely hailing from my motherland. Aside from that, I’d say definitely Spain. Again, those red wines, the value for the quality that they represent is world-class. There’s such a versatility of styles also, you can have some of the more traditional rustic houses that go for a little bit more of an [Austere 00:07:41] tighter, leaner style or you can veer towards the more modern sort of plusher, a little bit more sexy and seductively oaked wines, and just about everything between. If you get to know your houses, you can definitely pick up a beautiful variety of styles from within one wine-making region.

JF: That reminds me, one last category of wine I forgot to mention is sparkling, specifically Champagne, and I think that’s something that people just sort of pop and pour too. I know there a lot of people who like to collect and age champagne, can you talk about champagne as a category as a cellar wine?

LB: The most exciting thing this year obviously is that we have our number one wine as a sparkling wine. It is the Champagne, the 2002 Brute from [Kruge 00:08:27] which was just recently released because the house actually held back the wine knowing that it needed more time to actually continue to come into it’s own. It’s been hailed as one of the finest wines that [Kruge 00:08:38] has produced, the vintage has been lauded as one of the best in recent champagne history, so it’s absolutely a world-class wine that despite being the 2002, is still young and fresh, and fruity and vibrant, and has a long, long life ahead of it. The exciting thing I think about this selection as well is you can certainly drink it now, no one’s going to kill you for it, you’re going to enjoy it, it’s beautiful but again, it’s still a wine that still has so much life and so much potential left in it that you leave it in your cellar for another five, ten fifteen years at least. Aged vintage champagne is a beautiful, beautiful thing. Don’t you agree?

JF: Actually, I like to drink champagne on the young side. When it gets kind of oxidized and too nutty for me, and maybe a little bit mushroom-y … I kind of feel the same way about white burgundy. My pallet preference is for the fresher, primary side of things. I’m usually most intrigued by wines when they’re at that point, that kind of sweet spot where there are secondary characteristics, but there’s still plenty of fruit. That kind of tight rope, to me that’s when a wine is at my drinking peak. I haven’t had a lot of pleasure over things that have sort of … Some people love those, especially burgundy would be a great example with red and white, those kind of real intense mushroom-y forest floor type of flavors, and I would rather air on the side of drinking it too young than waiting too long which I think a lot of people would agree with. I’ll probably get a lot of hate mail for saying that. I welcome your comments!

LB: You have enough nuttiness in of your personality that you don’t need any more in your wines? I get it.

JF: Thanks LB, I think the great thing about this list, and you can see it all at looking for the top 100 cellar selections, is that it’s red, it’s white, it’s sweet, it’s sparkling, it’s from the United States, it’s from France, it’s from Austria, Australia, it’s a really diverse list, and price wise too. I think when you look at cellar selections, that people might think it’s some narrow category, but it’s actually a really diverse category just like the top 100 values or the best buys, or anything really. There’s a lot to explore there, so thanks for educating me about the list!

Tom: Hi, I’m Tom Douglas and I’m chef owner of many of Seattle’s fine restaurants, and I’m standing right here in my over-crowded wine cellar, which is better than being under-crowded. I tell my nieces and nephews when they come to visit, “You can go straight away or go to the left, but you cannot go to the right in my wine cellar.” Because that’s where things that are either special to me, or they’re not ready to drink and so I’m constantly kind of going through and picking out the ones that are ready, and then moving them to the left. For me, I like anniversary wines. I think that’s a big deal, so if we go over to the other end you’ll see some 1958’s. I’m 58 years old now, and I have some wine set aside for my 60th birthday, I have a ’58 Port, a ’58 California Cabernet, several ’58 [Burrolos 00:12:00] and [inaudible 00:12:01], so I’m ready for my birthday. Other wines, our wine guys … Just delicious wine, and there’s people that I’ve met in my travels that I collect their wines. I think a super-value in the [inaudible 00:12:15] marketplace is [inaudible 00:12:16] or Cantina Del Pinot, and so I collect those wines. You’ll see I have verticals of those all the way back to the … Well, and the [inaudible 00:12:27] wines I have them back to the 50’s. It’s a fun opportunity.

I’ve been around the world, especially through wine country in France and Italy and Spain, and so I just buy remembrances of my trips, and then I buy what I like to drink. For example, I’m not a big Port guy so you’ll notice in my cellar there  might be a half a dozen bottles of Port and that’s about it. Sweet wine in general, I’ll have a little bit of the [inaudible 00:12:54] or little bit of [inaudible 00:12:55] but outside of that, I’m more of a red wine drinker and again, in large format. You can see I have stacks of Magnums everywhere you look.

Wine loves a good meal, and so one of the things I think about when I’m cooking dinner is I immediately start to think about what it is out of my cellar I’m going to drink with it. Last night, I had the last of my white truffles that I had got from Italy, and I drank a beautiful 2004 [inaudible 00:13:20] with those. I had more truffles than you needed for one person, but I was the only person here, so I had a big old pot of white truffle risotto and a whole bottle of [inaudible 00:13:32]. Sorry you couldn’t make it.

Marshall Tilden III: Marshall Tilden III, Director of Sales.

JF: Marshall, we’re outside the wine enthusiast headquarters in Valhalla, it’s a beautiful day, sunny, 55 degrees. If we were bottles of wine that we wanted to store for a long time, how would we be doing out here today?

MT3: We’d be thrilled! We probably couldn’t find a better temperature that we want to be sitting in. The humidity we might want at a higher levels, but in terms of the temperature and how cool it is, this is perfect.

JF: Except of course, we’d want to be out of the sun.

MT3: Absolutely. These UV rays are no good for us right now.

JF: That’s great that we’re outside on this kind of perfect day to talk about how to store your wine, and we’ve talking about here are some great wines to put in your cellar, but now we have to figure out, “Well, what do we do with them.” I’m thinking about my second apartment in New York City this summer, it was sweltering-

MT3: Right.

JF: We didn’t have air conditioning,  we had no air circulation because of my roommate’s allergies, so she kept a lot of the windows closed-

MT3: Right.

JF: She’s a lovely person by the way, but it was pretty miserable. If I lived in this New York City apartment, it’s hot, I don’t have a cool basement, I don’t have anything, what are some of the things that I could do to keep my wines safe when I want to drink it one or two or more years from now?

MT3: Sure. The most important thing is always temperature. There’s a lot of enemies of wine and different issues you can come across that can harm wines for the longer-term storage, temperature being the most important not only to keep around this 55 that we’re sitting in now, but to avoid the fluctuations, high levels, then low levels going between 75-80 in warmer and down to 40-45 is just as bad, it’s like skunking beer. The same effect can happen with wine. Light like we were talking about, so if you’re in a small apartment, a lot of people will keep a blanket or even a wet towel over those bottles that they want to try and store for a little bit of time because these UV rays can really affect the [inaudible 00:15:47], it breaks down the [inaudible 00:15:48] of the wine. The wet towel works because of another one of the enemies, which is lack of humidity. Most of these cellar selections and better bottles throughout the world do have corks, there’s screw tops on some and some other closures are being used but with corks, if that humidity falls too low under 50% for long periods of time, they dry out, oxygen gets in, the wine gets oxidized and you get a lot of problems.

JF: I think that’s one thing I always just think, “Oh, it’s just about temperature. All I have to do is keep it a constant temperature.” I think one thing that people underestimate is that humidity level, especially for the long-term health of the cork.

MT3: Yeah, it’s huge. On the other end, over-humidifying and having higher levels where the corks can actually sweat can also affect the wines and what’s inside the bottle too, so humidity is an extremely important enemy to be aware of. Another one is vibration. Bottles like to be left alone. They like to be sitting untouched and unmoved, and it has to do with the sediment that’s in there, it also has to do with the vibration, the movement can cause heat and actually can not only warm up the wine, but shift the corks over time. These wines, especially cellar selections that are meant to be aged, the best thing to do is to keep them in a dark area as close to 55 as possible, which in a very warm un-air conditioned city apartment is tough, and out of the light. Those are the key elements.

JF: Is there a range of humidity, like a certain percentage humidity that’s best?

MT3: Ideally you want to have humidity above 50% is fine, 50 is kind of the Mendoza line that you want to keep it above, and anywhere from 65, 70 once you start teetering above 75% for longer periods, you start getting to that too much humidity range. Anywhere between 50 and 75 is really safe for a longer time, and people always thing about the four enemies of wine being temperature, humidity, light, and vibration. Odor is actually the lesser known fifth, and in apartments where let’s say there’s a lot of cats or just unwelcome odors, over time it can affect the wine and that’s why a lot of people won’t store cigars in the same areas of their wine, they don’t want that cigar odor to come in and it can happen over time. That’s another thing to think about in small apartments, and really anywhere that you’re holding wine for longer periods.

JF: Let’s say I’ve moved out of my stifling New York City apartment, I’ve hit the jackpot, I’ve bought a big, beautiful house with a basement, it seems like I’ve got it all set. I’ve got a basement, I’ve got plenty of room, but what are some of the things you need to look out for when you’re considering like, “Hey, I’ve got the space, I’ve got the money, I’ve got the time, I want to build a cellar.” What are some of the things that I need to think about that maybe people don’t think about until it’s said and done?

MT3: Sure, and that’s super common. Someone comes into a basement, they move in in the middle of the fall, and, “Oh, man. My basement is 55 degrees, this is great. I’m putting in the racking, and we’re going to build a cellar.” Then all of a sudden winter rolls around and it’s 45 degrees, then all of a sudden summer rolls around and that basement is 65-70 degrees. Like we were talking about, that fluctuation back and forth really still can happen in basements unless they are all sub-grade, and the concrete is 20-24 inches which these days, houses aren’t built the way they used to be. This whole storage is built off the old French caves, right? People used to bury their wines down below, and it held this 50-60 degrees with this humidity and that’s what storage we’re trying to replicate whether it’s natural in somebody’s cellar, or whether you’re using a cooling system or something to really get the ideal climate for wine storage.

JF: Awesome, thanks Marshall. Thanks for all the tips, and I think whether you lie in a hot, cramped New York City apartment or a large house with a basement, we definitely have some good strategies to think about about keeping your wines safe and keeping them well long-term, so when you enjoy them they’re as perfect as they should be.

Jerry: HI, I’m Jerry Raturo the Chef [inaudible 00:20:03], owner of [inaudible 00:20:04] in Madison Valley and [inaudible 00:20:07] Kitchen in downtown Seattle, Washington. I have a great passion for storing wine and for cellaring it, and for watching it age and most definitely wait for the right day where I’m going, “Not today, not today!” And then, “Yeah, today is the day!” A few days ago, this is a perfect example, I cooked brisket, and I was like, “Oh my god, with this five hour brisket I’m going to have a great bottle of wine. I already know it’s going to be the Rome Valley, it’s going to be aged.” Then I came down here and looked at about 20 different bottles from [inaudible 00:20:40] and I ended up with a 2001 [inaudible 00:20:45] because I’m like, “Oh, that’s perfect. That’s going to be fine. I’m going to decant this for five hours, and then it’s going to be the perfect wine to drink.” And it was incredible!

I have a great passion for storing wine, and for cellaring it. For example, the 1996 [inaudible 00:20:59] Merlot is a great bottle of wine. It’s not quite ready to drink, it’s only 20 years old so we’ve got a few more days to go with that. I’ve got some [inaudible 00:21:08] 1992 …

The one thing I love about wine is that great, great pleasure you have when you’re going through your cellar, I’m so giggly about it. I can spend like an hour in here and go, “Okay, I’m getting cold. Let me get out of here.” Otherwise, I don’t realize time goes by. I pulled this bottle of Asteroid 1998 which is a [inaudible 00:21:32] from [inaudible 00:21:35], there is only six bottles supposedly that came in America that year, and I still have that bottle. I’m so anxious to drink it, and thank God this guy makes beautiful wine and very long-term white wine, [inaudible 00:21:51] valley, and I’m very excited and I cannot wait to drink this, but 1998 half bottle Asteroid, very hard to find. There’s not many that come in this country, so I cherish this little baby very much. I don’t look at it very often, but I know it’s there and I’m like, “Okay, so when is it going to be the perfect day?” And I still don’t know what the perfect day is.

This Magnum here in the box [inaudible 00:22:18], I don’t have too many Italian wines, I always joke about Italian wines with Tom, of course. Tom and Jackie gave me this for my birthday, a nice Magnum [inaudible 00:22:26], very nice of them. I wrote it on it, and of course I wrote the date, 9/26/2015. How’s that? This is going to be in here for quite some time, I’m going to have to look at his name and his signature on my box for a while. This is a three liter which is a double Magnum shot of [inaudible 00:22:50], and I bought this quite a while back, and I just drank one a couple of days ago when I was at Dale and Leslie Schooley’s boat house, we gave a dinner to the Symphony of Seattle. There was 15 people, and this is when you open that kind of wine. A big bottle is what that’s for, when you have a big party you just open a big bottle. It’s very cool.

[inaudible 00:23:15] ’89 Magnum that was given to me by a friend a long time ago, maybe 20 years ago, and I can’t wait to drink this because that friend has actually passed. Eventually, we’re going to have to do a hoo-rah about him and just say, “Hey, we’re drinking this in your honor.” It’s a [inaudible 00:23:38], it’s ’89, so it’s got plenty of life left in it but within the next five years, we’re going to drink that bottle and give him a big shout out.

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