One of the more common requests that I get is when friends need their cellars sorted. I just love to delve into someone else’s cellar so I usually always say ‘yes!’ You just never know what treasures you might find, what forgotten pleasures are to be found.
There is really nothing to it, you just need to get down and get dusty and set aside enough time to get the job done – allowing extra for those trips down memory lane.
What you need:
1. A white paint pen that will write on a bottle OR some coloured sticky dots OR print your own! Anything to mark a bottle with the important information.
2. If you cannot remember where and what you have in your hands, a wireless device that will allow you to search for prices and recommended cellar dates is always a good idea … unless you have your enthusiastic wine friend around!
3. You can also use this device to add your wines into a wine database if you have one.
4. Some clean boxes (try your local bottle shop) that you can pack into.
5. A glass of something nice will stave off those cravings to open something that you really want to keep a wee bit longer.
So, what are the tips for sorting out your cellar?
Be neat – either write on the bottle the best year to drink it or stick a dot with a year on it to the bottle. I find that on the shoulder is a good place or on the cap if is a plain screw cap. Just be consistent with your application. Make sure that it will withstand unfavourable conditions that might strike from time to time, which is why I use a paint pen.
You can also write the price or come up with a code for how much you paid for it. I put little dots around the top of the cap or top of the foil. I suggest one for each $10 over $20 or $30. This also helps if you have several wines from one producer and cannot remember whether this was their best or their everyday quaffer. If you have bought wine using several different currencies – decide now whether to convert it or use a different code for each and stick to it.
I have also created some cellar dots if you are totally lacking in inspiration so that you can create your own with a template to suit the dots you want to use.
Be systematic – start with the nearest box or wine off the rack so that you can stay organised. Separate wines out into empty rack rows or boxes according to the year that you want to drink them. If you are only working with a rack you might want to keep like wines together so that they are easy to find.
It is very useful to box wines to be drunk by year so that you do not have to go digging around every box to pull out the wines to drink that year. If you use cellaring software, number the box so that you know exactly where that wine is if you cannot wait to drink it.
If you are using the box technique – make sure you put a year on the box at the very, very least. If I come across very interesting wines, I will also write them on the outside of the box: producer, varietal/region & vintage. You never know when you might need it.
Lastly, when you restack your boxes don’t go too high as the boxes are likely to break from time to time and you don’t want a spill. Also make sure that the boxes with the latest drink dates are on the bottom. No need to do your back in at the start of each year moving boxes around to get to that years goodies.
Be ruthless & honest– seriously, if your cellar is anything like mine, the conditions are not that great. Mine gets a little too warm in summer but luckily it is a gradual change in temperatures. You might want to keep that first bottle of wine that you bought together for old times sake, great. But, you cannot do this with EVERY wine in your cellar. You have to drink them sometime.
If it is ready to drink – DRINK IT! If you leave it till the latest recommended year to drink it could be past its prime. The recommended cellar times are a guide if you have perfect cellaring conditions. If you have multiples of that particular wine, decide if you wish to drink them staggered over years or in one big bang. If you have opened one of them to discover that you don’t want to keep the rest, you will also know where to find them to release them for imbibing.
Be on time – although, if you are not on time, be ruthless and honest and also be prepared to start this process again in a few years! My cellar has wines that were ready to drink 4 years ago and I have not got around to them. I just don’t drink as much wine as I did and we do not entertain as much. Sometimes I pull up a wine and open it and regret that I did not see it in its prime.
It is easy to overcome this:
a) limit compulsion buys – if you have plenty of good wine to drink now, ask yourself do you really, really need to visit the wine store! Easy!
b) have more occasions to open them. In fact, why not make an occasion! Invite friends and family who would love to share that wine with you.
c) move wines in your rack into the drink now section each year and keep filling that section from the year that is due to be drunk. Alternatively bring up a box or two from the cellar at the start of each year and keep an eye on how many boxes are left for that year.
d) if you are buying wines, change your focus to wines to cellar and not drink now.
Be a regular – Do this each year or two so that you can keep control of your wine cellar.
Finally – REWARD YOUR ASSISTANTS. That’s right!! If you have someone helping you, be generous with your thanks. It is hard to sort someone else’s wine treasures without feeling thirsty!
Great post Lisa! Good idea to use a white pen, nice and clear on the bottle. And great point about leaving wine too long – I cracked open a bottle of Penfolds Bin 920 with my father last year and it all went down the sink. Didn’t help that it was stored under the house in northern NSW for 20 years, but a terrible waste none the less..!