I have posted before (Is Old Wine Better than Younger Wine?), about aging wine and the changes that wine goes through over time, and whether all wine will benefit from spending a period in the Cellar. If you enjoy aged wines and decide that you would like to cellar bottles yourself, there are a number of factors you must consider.
Patience is the first and most important consideration for any wine collector; there is no substitute for the time that wine spends in the cellar. There are many gadgets on sale that claim to speed up the aging process, but they often spoil the wine by making it look stewed or cooked. The only way to age wine successfully is with the necessary time...and the will power to allow the wine to mature.
Wine needs to be stored at a constant cool temperature, ideally between 10 and 15˚ Celsius. If the temperature is too hot the wine will mature too quickly, and there is the possibility that it will developed a cooked character. Conversely, storage at temperatures too cold will slow the maturation process. The temperature should be constant, as fluctuations can cause the cork to expand and contract which may result in oxygen ingress that will spoil the wine.
A good level of humidity, around 75% is also an important requirement for cellaring wine sealed with a cork. Without adequate humidity the cork can dry out, which will allow the ingress of oxygen and lead to the deterioration of the wine. This is the reason why long tern storage in a household refrigerator is not advised, as they tend to remove humidity and moisture. An excess amount of humidity on the other hand, will not really harm the wine, but can have detrimental effect on the labels.
The most problematic light comes in the form of UV radiation from the sun, this is why most of the wines that are designed for long term cellaring are found in dark brown or antique green bottles. Sunlight or excessive normal household light (such as in a commerical fridge) can speed up the aging process and ultimately spoil the wine.
Lay wine on its side. This is very important for wine that is sealed with a cork. Keeping the wine in contact with the cork will ensure that it remains moist and forms a good seal that will not let any air enter the bottle. Wines sealed with other closures, such as screw caps or vinoloks, do not need to lie down and can be stored upright
As well, do not disturb the bottle at all. Allowing it to lie untouched will allow the sediment to form naturally, which will eventually make the wine simpler and easier to decant when it is ready for drinking.
How long to Age?
The best way to answer is to buy a dozen bottles and then drink them over time – this way you can watch the wine as it develops and hopefully you will never be caught with wine that is too old to enjoy. Of course it is not always practical nor financially viable to buy so much wine and most of the time a bottle or two is all that will be cellared. In this case it is best to rely on the advice of wine producer or retailers. Both these sources tend to be very conservative when predicting the length of time to cellar a wine, as they would much prefer that the wine was drunk a little too young (and you can marvel at how youthful it looks) rather than drinking it too old when it may have lost a lot of interesting characters (and you will be disappointed).
Where to Cellar
Most wine lovers would like to have an underground cellar that was temperature stable and could hold their wine collection (I know I would). Sadly, however this is not always possible or practical. A good alternative is to invest in a dedicated wine storage unit; there a number of different brands available that vary considerably in capacity, price and quality.
However, if you are just starting your wine collection, then storing the wine in an appropriate environment in the home is the best place to start. Choose a cool area, not on an outside wall (that the sun may warm) and definitely not in the kitchen or the lounge room (generally the warmest places in the house). A spare bedroom or the bottom of the linen cupboard are ideal – dark, undisturbed and not prone to temperature changes.
Finally a word of warning – wine collections have a tendency to grow and proliferate, so don't underestimate the space you may eventually need.