Your New Year Wine Clean-Up

Unlike the vanity in your bathroom, your wine storage area isn’t necessarily something that you look at every day. Yes, people may drink wine frequently but usually, they will get a bottle out of the fridge or pick one up at the store on the way home.

The wine that people generally store is usually something special, wine they likely don’t check on every single day. In the absence of anything unforeseen (vibration, change in temperature or increased lighting) these bottles will just sit happily in the cellar until you choose to drink them.

However, the New Year can be a great time to take a step back and check where you are with your wine world. Making sure that your storage is in order so that you can find specific bottles easily.

Wine cellar storage

Once I had an order for some wine. I knew I had that wine and that it was in my storage but I could not find it for love nor money. I was pulling everything apart, searching through all the wine racks, the entire storage, and I couldn’t find it. It wasn’t until three in the morning that I finally found the bottle of wine in the last box in the corner of the storage.

We all go to wine tastings at cellar doors, get wines shipped in, and when the wine arrives just put the box in a corner to take care of later. “Suddenly” you have a stack of boxes in the corner. That’s why it’s a good idea, at least once a year, to go through your boxes and your wine racks and make sure that everything’s in order and easy to find and access.

Have a good look at what you have, how many bottles of each wine you have, and make sure that correlates with your records. There is nothing worse than discovering that you don’t have the wines you thought you had (remember that late night cellar raid when you neglected to update your records?) This applies to 12-by-12 wine cellars, 36K bottle cellars, digital records, under-the-house storage, and all sorts of wine storage systems.

It is a good idea to pull your wines out and re-evaluate your wine-drinking plan for the next year or so. Work out which wines you’re going to drink this year, what wines can be stored for longer, and even which wines need to be thrown out.

Do you need more storage?

If you’ve got a 12-by-12 wine rack and now you’ve got 16 dozen, you will need to build a bigger rack, store it offsite, look into another storage solution, or...drink it.

We're conscious of our bank accounts. We're conscious of our mortgage payments and our health payments. We're conscious of rates, payments, and everything else that affects our day-to-day life so why don't we organize our Shiraz as well?

It’s all about making a plan. If you know the wine’s lifespan, what is it? Are you planning on drinking it in the near future?

A good rule of thumb is to keep all of the wine you’re planning on drinking over the next year in your main living or dining area and store everything else offsite whether that be in a wine cellar or a dedicated space in the basement or garage. A basic six-by-three or 12-by-12 wine rack is perfect for near-future drinking. A wine fridge is also a great idea.

Wine bottle in a storage rack

I've got some clients who are very, very happy to drink young, amazing Shiraz but in my experience, it only gets better with age so it’s best to place that into the offsite pile.

When it comes to storing wine, it’s best to store corked wine bottles horizontally so that the wine touches the bottom of the cork. If under screw-cap (Stelvin) it doesn’t matter too much but you do get greater storage capacity with horizontal bottles so that may be something to consider when planning your wine storage solution.

Another good idea is to keep wine varietals together. For example, to start with you could keep your red wines on the left side and your white wines on the right side. You may even want to dedicate an area to your rosé wines. This isn’t absolutely necessary but it’ll save you time hunting blindly through your bottles and can also make your life that little bit easier when you’re short of time.

You could have your wines in alphabetical order or vintage versus non-vintage with your non-vintage wines on the left for easy access and your vintage wines that you want to keep a little bit longer on the right. There's no hard and fast rule. Use a system that works for you and that makes your life easier. It’s not about making the perfect wine rack, it’s about making your life easier.

Once you’ve settled on a system and reorganised your existing wine bottles, it’s important to think about the expected turnover of your collection for the next year.

We tend to drink more than we intend to so your wine rack may empty faster than you expect. Conversely, you’ll want to think about any existing wine orders that you have or wine subscriptions that you’re a member of. How much wine do you need to order to keep your rack and cellar stocked and how much should you buy to help build your collection?

For example, say you are a collector and like to drink your wines between 5-8 years of age (assuming you drink 2 bottles of the same vintage twice a year over three years - one every six months). Your current cellar holds 30 dozen (360 bottles) and you (your household) consumes 18 bottles per month (conservatively.)

Uncorking a wine bottle

Let's assume that about 20% of the wine you consume annually is the “collectible” wine and the remainder is everyday drinking. So at current consumption that’s roughly four dozen per year. You need space for this…and for the next four years also. Your storage now has space reserved for 20 dozen, with the remaining space (10 dozen) for everyday wines. At current consumption, you will need to top up your cellar by 18 bottles every month plus your “future” purchases.

This is a simple example, it does not factor in celebrations or alternate drinking tastes of partners. It serves to highlight that you need to plan to avoid your cellar going backwards.

Again, make sure that the plan and schedule that you're on, that you created for yourself, works for you.

Should you rotate your wine bottles? No. There is no great reason to rotate wine bottles in a cellar. Champagne is usually rotated as part of the “Riddling” process when the wine is being made but you don’t need to bother with this for other varietals.

Now, what about throwing wine out? You should take a Marie Kondo sort of attitude towards your wine. If it doesn’t spark joy… Our palate’s change as we move through different stages of our lives and sometimes you can have too much of a good thing and this can turn you off some of the wines you are holding.

Maybe that wine that you were really excited about two years ago doesn't spark joy for you anymore. Or maybe that Cabernet that you've been collecting for the last 20 years that you fell in love with when you visited Margaret River and then fell head over heels in love with Cabernet. Now, all of a sudden, you don’t like Cabernet so much anymore. Or, maybe there are some other wines that you want to experiment with, but you don’t have space because your cellar is full of Cabernet.

Be conscious of the way your palate’s developing. Where you're going in terms of what styles of wine you are enjoying…and what you have sitting in your cellar.

Most importantly, if you are looking for an occasion to drink wine, don’t wait. Create an occasion, Sunday Lunch is usually good enough. Just make sure you enjoy it with someone.

Of course, another reason to toss some wine out is if it goes bad or spoils. Usually, you can spot a spoiled wine by inspecting the cork, the wine’s colour, and or its smell. 

If the cork is too dry and crumbly you may potentially have an issue. Conversely, if the cork is soaked with wine, this can also be an indicator. A good cork will still be firm when pulled with maybe a millimetre or two of wine soak at the bottom.

In regards to wine colour, white or red wine that has oxidised significantly will turn a shade of brown. Although this does not necessarily mean it has spoiled, you still need to try it to make sure.

While you have the bottle open, you will want to check the wine’s smell as well as notes of oxidation can highlight exposure to oxygen during the cellaring process. Notes such as vinegar, sherry, or nail polish from a relatively young wine can indicate faults from the winemaking process.

So, with the wine, you’re no longer interested in,

Gift it,

Drink it, or if it’s good enough,

Sell it.

There’s no point in having something in your cellar that’s just taking up space and shouldn’t be there. If in doubt, throw it out. If the wine has gone bad, definitely throw it out.