A couple of months ago, Jeff Garneau here at K&L started a discussion about the “Perfect Cellar,” and it looks like I am the first one to post an opinion. This is one of my favorite wine subjects, and one that I have spent a great deal of time discussing with my father, Cinnamon and other members of the staff. I hope you enjoy my take on “Perfection.”
The perfect cellar should always have at least two weeks worth of wine that is ready to drink and that pairs well with the home cuisine of the collector. Keeping a good larder is critical to saving the wines that are meant to be saved. This is an absolute minimum in my mind, more would be better and allow for a more diverse range of occasions. The larder should always have at least a couple of bottles of Champagne in it—even if the customer does not drink it—it is essential to have around for a spontaneous gift or occasion. If Champagne is to the taste of the collector, a good dollop of non-vintage makes sense because of its longevity and instant drinkability.
The meat of a perfect cellar: at least 50% should be “drink or hold”—wines with considerable longevity that are, nevertheless, ready tonight. This saves the collector from running into a pair of traps: not having the right bottle to drink and having too many bottles go past their peak. I think the 1994 Léoville-Barton or 1991 Ch. Montelena are fantastic red examples of this, as are good quality white Bordeaux and white Burgundy. Vintage port from the 1980s and before should be strongly considered, if to the taste of the collector—they taste great now, and will outlive all but the youngest and luckiest person. Top German Riesling and Sauternes are also fine candidates as they show well young and keep for ages. Wines for the very long term, more than 10 years, should never make up more than 25% of the cellar, unless the cellar is quite large and the collector quite young. I would even go so far as to say that long term wines should be wines that cannot be easily acquired old—favorite Burgundy and, again, vintage Champagne.
I believe strongly in opportunistic cellar building; finding undervalued wines and loading up on them can really flesh out a collection. I have been lucky enough to get a lot of great Châteauneuf-du-Pape from producers that I can no longer afford because of this strategy, as well as many fine bottles of Burgundy from producers that have escalated in price tremendously. On a final note, don’t forget your California Chardonnays. The big ones can go south in as little as 18 months! As I like to say, “keep your butter in the fridge!”