Famous wine writer Lettie Teague has seen some incredible wine cellars in her lifetime, some of which featured ornate chandeliers, expensive paintings, and detailed marble statues. She says, “Wine in these cellars isn’t so much consumed as it is revered. I don’t have one of those cellars. In fact, I don’t really have a cellar at all. My wines are currently stored in several places — including the basement of my ex-husband’s house.” When she decided to consolidate her 500-bottle collection to a single location, she thought that a wine cellar would require way more work than she needed since her collection was so small. Teague had to make a choice that many collectors face as their collections grow: whether to invest in a wine fridge or wine cellar.
The Benefits of a Wine Fridge
Consider the wine you already have in your collection; do you plan on drinking it within the next five years or fewer? If so, you can safely store your bottles in a wine fridge rather than a cellar. Fridges (sometimes called “coolers”) keep your bottles at a constant 55 degrees, which prevents your wines from becoming “cooked” during hot summer months. These coolers also shield your bottles from the extreme cold, allowing their natural chemical aging to take place without slowing to a halt.
Wine Spectator’s Dr. Vinifera adds, “They’re great for wines that you’re going to drink pretty soon, and they’re handy for keeping your wine at a constant serving temperature — and they’re way better than a standard food refrigerator.” If you’re the type of collector who likes to buy wines that are ready or nearly ready to drink and who hosts tasting parties often, a wine fridge should be your first choice. Without a fridge, it’s necessary to plan hours or even days in advance before you drink your bottles to ensure that they are the right temperature for you and your guests.
What if you own bottles from a variety of regions and styles? Not all wine should be stored at the same temperature, so in this case, a standard wine cooler won’t fit your needs. Instead, you should seek out a dual zone fridge that keeps half of the wines at one temperature, and the other half at a different temperature. Most collectors store their red wines in the warmer half and their white wines in the cooler half. This is what makes some dual zone fridges more effective than wine cellars: you can cater the temperature to specific varietals without compromise.
As for cost, you can expect to spend anywhere from a few hundred dollars to more than $9,000 for a high-end cooler. Invest in the high-end models if this is the only storage method you plan on using, but if you prefer to mix and match methods, go for a lower-end, smaller model. The best way to use a wine cooler is to keep at least one small fridge in your home at all times to store your ready-to-drink wines, and keep the rest at a professional storage warehouse. I use this method with my own collection, sending my finest bottles off to age under the best possible conditions and leaving a handful of wines at home for immediate drinking.
The Benefits of a Wine Cellar
Wine fridges might seem like a no-brainer, but they’re not the best choice for every collector, especially those who own bottles that they plan on aging for a decade or more. Beverage Factory explains, “Wine cellars are superior to wine refrigerators when it comes to aging wines, as they set a constant and ideal humidity, something wine refrigerators do not do.” Humidity is central to any home cellar because it prevents corks from drying out. If a cork dries, it will eventually shrivel, letting oxygen into the bottle and spoiling the wine. You can either build a cellar in your home or store your wine with professionals, but no matter which option you choose, you’ll want the best humidity levels possible for wines that need to age for many years.
Lettie Teague warns that not all cellars are created equal, and that today there are plenty of options for collectors to experiment and find the cellar that meets their needs. Teague says there are two kinds of home wine cellars: natural and custom. Collectors who own natural cellars have to do little, if anything, to safely store their wines. You usually see this kind of cellar in old castles or homes that have basements, where the temperature and the humidity remain at constant, ideal levels for wine. The floors of a natural cellar are made out of dirt or stone, and the walls are constructed out of stone or brick. It’s extremely rare to find a home that already has the perfect built-in natural cellar space.
Instead, most collectors have to build a custom cellar, which Teague says “range from tens of thousands [of dollars] to the stratosphere.” Small wine cellars may cost as little as $10,000 to build, which is on par with the most expensive wine cooler models on the market. If you’re considering a high-end cooler, you might be better off spending a little extra time and money on a full-blown, small wine cellar that gives you the option to store wines long-term.
The Mix and Match Method
The key to a successful storage plan is to have options that will grow with your collection. You don’t want to be stuck with only a cooler if you decide later on that you want to store a particular bottle for decades. Nor do you want to have to maintain a cellar if almost all of your wines will be ready to drink within a couple of years. This is where third-party storage comes in handy: you can keep your drinkable bottles in a wine cellar or wine fridge at home, keeping the excess bottles in a safe space.
Another good option is to use a small, inexpensive cooler for your drinkable wines and build a small wine cellar for the bottles you plan on aging for decades. As your bottles in the cellar reach their peak, you can move them to the cooler so that you know they’re ready for you to drink whenever you want. When you combine these methods, you save yourself a great deal of hassle and get to fully enjoy the fruits of your labor.
Whether you are starting your high-end wine collection or adding to an established portfolio, Vinfolio is your partner in buying, selling, and professional storage. Contact us today to get access to the world’s best wine.
With over a decade of experience in the wine industry, Derek Cienfuegos serves as Director of Collector Services at Vinfolio. During his tenure at Vinfolio, he has had the good fortune to work with some of the most distinguished wine collections in the country. Trained in wine production, Derek spent many years making wines commercially for some of Sonoma’s top producers. In addition, he has designed, opened, and managed two wine bars in San Francisco.