- The Underground Wine Letter - http://www.undergroundwineletter.com -


In real estate, it’s location, location, location. In wine, it’s storage, storage, storage.

You see in real estate, for no matter how bad the building, location wins over development because a better building can always be built. Whereas, a poor location will not support a great building, and may not support a building at all. In wine it’s storage where even mediocre wine will be better if stored properly. And, even great wine will be ruined by poor storage. So, just as in real estate, in wine, location matters. The moral of the story: Never invest in wine, particularly really good wine, without first investing in really good storage. To do so is being penny wise, and pound foolish!

Sadly, I can relate story after story of great wine being spoiled because the owner did not invest in ideal storage. And, I am proud to say that when I began collecting wine nearly 40 years ago, I invested in really good storage first. That left less money to buy wine, but it assured that the wine I was buying would be, in later years, as good as it could be. I have been drinking those wines, including some of the first ones I bought, for many years and have enjoyed the benefits of the investment in storage. And, I have some of those first purchased bottles still left to drink along with many others acquired over the years. Wines from my cellar are consistently at least as good or better than the same wines from other sources. Today, they are resting quietly in a very cold, damp, dark, underground cellar assuring that they will continue to offer the promise of being as good as they can be for many years to come.

Dennis Foley’s article on storage goes into great detail about what is needed for optimum storage. If you have not already read it and are collecting wine I strongly recommend that you read it (to read the article click here [1]).  And, while a lot of people understand light, heat, fluctuating temperatures, and constant movement are enemies of wine, fewer understand the need for proper humidity. But, in my view, high humidity is essential for long term aging. Old bottles are only as good as their corks. If the cork goes, then so does the wine. Humidity helps preserve the corks and also aids in cooling. From a practical standpoint, one should aspire to a level of humidity that is just short of mold creation. This alone is probably undesirable for most people, but mold also destroys the labels on the bottles. However, in many producer’s cellars, wines are stored without labels in marked bins so mold is not a problem. In fact, in many of these cellars (particularly in Burgundy), old bottles are covered in mold. (Then, before they are sold, the bottles are cleaned and new labels and capsules added.) While this type of storage is ideal, it is not suitable for wine collectors who have no way to replace labels destroyed by mold (particularly in this day of wine fraud which makes getting replacement labels all but impossible). Without labels, it would be very difficult for most people to identify their wines.

Albert Givton’s article on the Domaine de la Romanée Conti wines speaks yet again to the point of storage (to read the article click here [2]).  The wines which were opened at his event would not have been nearly as good (and maybe even spoiled and undrinkable) had they been subjected to mediocre or poor storage. So always remember when buying older wine, it is important to know how the wine was stored. And, while appearance may tell you something, it does not tell you nearly as much as knowing the provenance. Some people obsess about “fills” and “perfect” labels, but given a choice, I’d take a lower fill bottle with a less than perfect label from a known cellar with ideal conditions, over a higher fill bottle with a perfect label from unknown provenance. If you are going to pay increasingly large sums of money for old bottles, you need to know their history to know whether they are likely to be what they should be and whether or not they are authentic. Avoid “perfect” bottles of very old, well known, expensive bottles of wine unless you know their history. These are likely to be fakes. But, the same can be said about being careful in buying young wines. Make sure the wine has not been subjected to excessive heat by only buying wine from dealers and producers who ship their wine under temperature controlled conditions.

In short, as with most things, “caveat emptor” prevails in buying wine. And, with old wine the old saying is absolutely true – there is no such thing as a great wine, only great bottles. Optimum storage assures that you have the greatest chance of experiencing a great bottle of a great wine!

In Vino Veritas,

John Tilson