October 22, 2011

The Empty Cellar

There is a wine cellar not far from where I live, in a home that is nothing short of spectacular.  The landscape of natural rock and mature trees seductively conceals this estate’s grandeur from those who pass by on the quiet street. I was shooting some pictures of cellars in the Toronto area when someone mentioned this particular example.  As luck would have it, I know the architect who designed the cellar and so with a quick phone call, I found myself standing beneath the vaulted ceiling in this underground cavern.

The story goes that the owner in question hob-knobs with movie stars, film producers, and others with questionable judgement in terms of personal spending.  But the house truly is spectacular.

We entered this monstrosity of a home through a side door, arguably the service entrance, arriving in a foyer that would dwarf most people’s living room and dining room combined.  My chaperone opened a door that revealed a hallway exposing part the main house. 

“Check this out Tyler.”

“Holy shit! Can you imagine?” I stuttered. 

“They had a bunch of celebrities here yesterday from the film festival for a big function.” 

Stepping through the doorway, “Really, well I can’t wait to see the cellar.”

“We can’t go in there man, people like us don’t make the cut; there’s a service hall that will take us to the cellar and bypass the main living area.”

… “Cool.”

Below this mansion is another home, or at least it would appear that way.  We passed by a full-size kitchen, a games room, and a lounge that looked like it belonged in a French hotel.  Did I mention the bar and gymnasium I saw on our way to … where was I going again?   Right, the wine cellar.  

The décor changed rather suddenly from drywall, plaster mouldings, and tile floors to stone and ironwork that created a seemingly medieval theme.  

“Whoa, look at these doors!” I gasped for the words.

“Nice aren’t they? They’re imported from Europe; $7000 each.”

“What’s behind them, the guy’s exotic car collection?” 

“Open one, let’s take a look”…

Sometimes I lay awake a night dreaming of what I might do if I were to miraculously win the lottery:  I figure I’d pay everyone’s mortgage in my family, then take them all on a round-the-world vacation after which I’d start my own vineyard and watch the grapes grow from my hammock sipping Champagne… Suddenly I had a new plan – I want what’s behind door number one!

On the other side of these fairytale doors was this guy’s wine cellar.  “You must be joking!” I exclaimed.  “This is unbelievable.”

This cellar was only a few months old but looked as though it had existed for centuries.   The stone and iron continued inside where it cradled a maze of distressed wood neatly organized to hold literally thousands of bottles in a sea of cubicles. I setup and took a few photos but not before my curiosity got the best of me.  Let’s see what this guy drinks, I thought:  a rack of $8 Aussie Shiraz; must be for the in-laws when they come over.  On the other side of the stunning granite-top tasting table, I found a bin of cheap French plonk and literally a wall of Fuzion and ready-to-drink tables wine of no particular description.  Drink what you wish I say, but essentially there was nothing in the cellar actually worth cellaring.  But more concerning was the fact that no person, I don’t care how much they entertain could ever consume all this ditch water before it spoils.     

Not the cellar in question, just a great shot I found online. 
It’s probably safe to assume that if you can afford a home and/or a cellar of this calibre, then likely you also associate with people who dabble in the same level of luxury.  I dare to point out the inevitable embarrassment that will result if you fill your new custom cellar with plonk to create the appearance of an elite collection of wine. 

Amassing a collection of fine wine takes many years of research a great deal of preparation and planning.  But I can think of no greater feeling of satisfaction than to share with friends a bottle that I purchased the decade before and have nurtured to maturity.  I don’t boast about these bottles; if they ask, I will gladly explain but normally, their expressions are all that I need in return.  The history and passion contained within a well kept bottle alone will tell a story that does not necessitate words.

I encourage you to carefully consider what bottles to buy for your cellar.  Most wine available on the store shelves is for immediate consumption and has little if any ageing potential beyond 2-3 years.  Conversely, there are a few regions and grape varieties that produce wine that will benefit from a few years spent lying on their side in your cellar or wine cooling unit.         

I’ll conclude with a list of the wines that can potentially improve with age:

 Reds to hold
    Better Cabernet Sauvignon based blends                  
    Classed Growth Bordeaux        
    Grand & Premier Cru Burgundy  
    Better Rhône Syrah & blends                              
    Amarone Classico                               
    Barbaresco Riserva                 
    Brunello di Montalcino 
    Premium Australian Shiraz                   

  Whites to hold
    Quality German Riesling
    Grand & better Premier Cru Burgundy
    Sweet wines and Botrytized
    Better Chenin Blanc from Loire
    White Hermitage

  Fortified Wine to hold
    Vintage Port

  Sparkling Wine
    High-end Champagne (as a matter of personal taste)



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Tyler is a member of the Wine Writers' Circle of Canada and the Guild of Sommeliers. He writes about and reviews wine both online and via a variety of circulating publications. In 2009 Tyler founded North of 9 Fine Wine, a free public wine education resource where he publishes his Thoughts, Theory, and Recommendations. For additional vinous related information and learning, follow on Twitter @TylerOnWine