Wine is an investment; make sure you store it right

By / Magazine / January 4th, 2018 / 9

Marc Russell sits on tens of millions of dollars’ worth of wine — but none of it is his. Russell is the proprietor of the Fine Wine Reserve in Toronto, which houses the collections of those who don’t have space at home to store their own wines.

The original 3,500-square-foot underground cellar at King and Spadina, with 170 wine lockers each accommodating 70 to 7,000 bottles, became too small to meet the demand for long-term storage as more and more Ontario wine lovers downsized to condos.

So, Russell opened an even larger facility north of the city for long-term storage — a 20,000-square-foot space that is already nearly half full.

“If you’re storing for six months to a year, you can probably get away with lower-quality conditions. When you’re looking at long-term storage, we are trying to re-create the natural European-style cellar where you don’t have any refrigeration unit. It’s 55 degrees Fahrenheit and it’s always 55 degrees Fahrenheit. There’s no fluctuation and it’s deep underground; it’s usually wet and humid. And those are the best possible conditions for wine.”

That’s difficult to recreate in the classic, artificial North American context — whether that’s in-home or in a commercial cellar. Just a three-degree fluctuation on a daily basis will cause your wine to suck in air and expel it back out again. The second thing is the need for high humidity: you need to keep the top part of that cork moist, otherwise you’re going to lose half your cork when you extract it.

Since most of us don’t have dozens of wines by the case to store, what does Russell recommend for wine lovers who want to build a cellar in their home?

“You need to find a qualified cellar builder. Don’t get your home builder or renovator [to do it] because they just don’t know how to do it. You end up with condensation problems, mould and temperature fluctuations and everything else. If you’re just keeping wines for a couple of years, it’s probably okay but if you’re wanting to age wines for 10, 15, 20, 25 years, you’re going to get off on the wrong foot. So, make sure you get a qualified cellar builder who understands the problems.”

And what about standing units?

“They’re fine for shorter term storage — one or two or maybe three years,” he says, “but you don’t want to age high-quality wine in a wine fridge; they’re just not designed for that. You put it in a properly designed cellar and you bring it into the wine fridge as you’re ready to serve it.”

And if you don’t want to go to the expense of a wine fridge?

“Keep the wines out of the sunlight, out of the heat, free from odours or big vibrations. If you have fine Bordeaux and Burgundy you want to age for more than five years, you don’t want to treat it badly when it’s young. If it’s not being stored for a long time, and you’re going to drink it within two or three years — or four years — just keep it in basic conditions.”


Tony Aspler, Order of Canada recipient, has been writing about wine since 1975. He is the author of 18 wine books, including The Wine Atlas of Canada and three wine murder mystery novels. The best concert he ever attended was Rush with the Tragically Hip as the opening band. His favourite comfort food is milk chocolate and his cocktail of choice is a Kir Royale. At home, he drinks wine (lots of wine).

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