How to start a wine cellar with $250

STARTING a wine cellar or collection can seem a daunting task.

If you're a regular wine drinker chances are that the beginnings of a cellar or collection happen almost organically: leftover bottles from dinner parties, a present from friends or family or perhaps a purchase from a weekend away to a winery.

But how do you go about methodically and consciously starting a wine cellar or collection within a budget? And even then, keeping that budget to a fairly low figure: $250.


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Where do I put the wine?


Regardless of what wine you buy or how many, storing the wine is absolutely critical. Get this wrong and within a short space of time, you'll end up with wines well done before their prime. And with our budget, buying a temperature controlled wine storage unit such as a "Vintec" is out of the question.

Wine likes to sit quite still, in a dark, cool-ish place. It doesn't have to be Antarctic cold and old fridges often have vibrations that'll shake the life out of your wine. Under the house, unless it's deep below street level and a true "cellar", isn't such a good idea either. Australia is a hot country, there's no denying it. So, find a spot, away from light and temperature fluctuations, preferably in the corner of the most south-east spot in your home.

Do I need a fancy wine rack?

Sure they look great and having the labels on display is a good way of keeping up to date with what you've got. Kmart sells a basic six-bottle rack for $6, so we'll take two. You could also ask your local bottle shop (when you buy the wines) for spare, solid empty six-pack boxes or timber boxes. Often they'll give them to you for nothing, but remember the bottle sizes you'll be storing. They don't look as pretty as a rack, but are functional.

How many should I buy?

Buying only one bottle isn't a great way to start a collection. Buying a dozen of one wine isn't great either, so we're going to look at 4 x 3. That way, you can drink one in the short-term, which will give you an idea of how long to leave the other two bottles.

How do I know what to buy?

Look for "regional heroes" and proven performers: Barossa Valley Shiraz, Hunter Valley Semillon, Coonawarra Cabernet Sauvignon, Clare Valley Riesling, Yarra Valley Chardonnay. There are always exceptions to the rule, but if there's an abundance of a grape type grown in that region, chances are it has a solid track record. Vintages are also important. Generally 2011 wasn't great for reds in South Australia, but wonderful for the Hunter Valley. In 2014, there was reduced quantities but good qualities in the eastern states. Western Australia may as well be another country with the great run of vintages they've experienced.

Will I like it in five or 10 years' time?

If you are able or lucky enough, try before you buy. Seek older wines at tastings or if on offer at a generous friend's place. Hunter Valley Semillon starts lean and lemony but, with age, develops deep honeyed toasty qualities. Clare Valley Riesling may start as lime soaked razors across your tongue, but grows rich and broad with lanolin/kerosene-like tinges. Coonawarra Cabernet as a foal is frisky with eucalypt aromas and blackberry, with stallion age comes cigar box and a soy beef stock maturity.

A good bottle shop should be able to give guidance on wines with potential to age, don't be scared to ask. Some wines will have a recommended cellaring time on the label, and this is usually a good guide and having three of each will give you the opportunity to check in on the progress.

Can I buy the wine now?

Now you just need a visit to a reliable bottle shop, or have access to the internet and your credit card. The wines I've chosen are a personal preference and I've given options for one red and one white, but generally speak to the rule of region, variety and price. Feel free to be guided by your own tastes.

How do I keep track of my cellar?

You can use pen and paper; an Excel spreadsheet; or a free website or smartphone app such as CellarTracker. Record the winery, wine, type, vintage/year, number of wines you have and drinking window (if known). I find recording price is optional. Just remember, if you drink a bottle, then take it off the list. Good luck and enjoy.

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