By Kathy Flaxman
The idea to put a wine cellar in Don and Pam Cowan's new home seemed as natural as installing a kitchen sink or a shower in the ensuite. Due to their modest collection of 60 bottles of wine already stored in their wine cellar, the couple is planning to place a wine fridge in their kitchen.
"We're not serious collectors, but we appreciate the subtleties of a good bottle of wine," says Cowan. "Our daughter Jennifer is a chef living in London, England. She and her husband - who is also a chef - have given us special bottles of wine, which we have kept."
In some circles, wine is an objet d'art, prized for its age and aura. The sleeper hit film Sideways showcased the humourous side of the life of the oenophile, but for many, wine worshipping is a reality.
The Cowan's at-home wine cellar is hardly uncommon. Wine cellars and fridges are becoming increasingly popular in people's homes and condominiums. There are numerous wine coolers available with limitless climate control options and 'iciness' variations. Many up-and-coming condominiums already have wine cellars drawn up in their floor plans, and they can easily be installed in any new home.
Having a wine cellar or wine cooler is a personal acknowledgement that wine is delicate, and worthy of respect and care. Cindy Wilkes, of the Wine Establishment in downtown Toronto, points out that custom wine cellars are the norm in fine restaurants around the world.
"A custom wine cellar can be an entirely separate humidity, and temperature-controlled room built with proper insulation levels of R20 on the walls and R30 on the ceiling. It will have a vapour barrier, be fan cooled and vented on the outside," says Wilkes.
The 'R value' is a technical term for the amount of insulation. It indicates the measurement of heat reduction provided. So, imagine that a piece of paper would measure zero while four inches of pink insulation would measure about 20. "The wine cooler, or wine fridge, can be any size, and can be moved when the home is sold. The larger units are often referred to as
cellars, and come in attractive styles, sizes, and finishes."
The overall advantage of a wine cellar, cooler, or fridge, is that it maintains wine at a constant temperature, the official optimum being 13 degrees. Storing wine in the basement is often inadequate.
"Temperatures in a basement can fluctuate over a year, going up and down on a seasonal basis," adds Wilkes. "This can shock the wine and result in it being undrinkable. The proper humidity is critical because the wine corks will get moldy if the humidity is too high, or oxygenate and dry out if the humidity is too low. High humidity can also damage labels. People who have valuable bottles of wine prefer to cellar it. They are protecting their special possession and their investment."
Wine can be a great investment because it is a substance that grows in value as well as in taste. Murray West, a wine connoisseur whose cellared collection amounts to approximately 200 bottles, once spotted a classified advertisement listing 98 bottles at $28,000. "Investing in wine is serious for some people," says West with a laugh.
Oenophiles typically purchase young wines expected to improve with years. They rely on wine newsletters, tastings, and consultants, for advice. The purchases are lovingly stored and cellared until the right occasion or even the right entrée.
"I've visited the wine countries of Italy and France, and bought a number of books." West says, "I like robust reds and am quite interested now in new world wines from Australia, South Africa, and South America. The wine cellar is important because wine is alive; it's changing all the time."
Wine: Quench your thirst for information
Getting started is easy!
Thinking of making your own wine? There are many books, newsletters, and websites available. Murray West suggests World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnsons.
Consider using specialized glassware.
Brands such as Riedel offer specific glasses for every wine and grape. They claim that using the proper glass for your fine wines will actually take your wine experience to another level. "The design takes into account factors such as the amount of surface area of crystal exposed to the wine," say Don Cowan.
Want to make your own wine?
This can cut the cost of consumption considerably, and will also eliminate a number of taxes. There are a number of establishments with the proper equipment and expertise to help you. Bob Cobban makes his own Cabernet Shiraz, but it's not something he would take to a dinner party. He appreciates the process, the taste and the price point: "It's not meant for keeping," admits Cobban, "But it's fine for everyday use."
Is investment your interest?
The right wine can be a good investment, and it is also possible to buy and sell wine 'futures'. Of course, it can also be fun to drink!