Shannon's Tips & Tricks for Cellaring Michigan Wine
You’ve heard that wine improves with age. At restaurants, sommeliers talk about special vintages from their cellar. At the winery, you overhear the winemaker waxing poetically about how beautiful the Cabernet Franc from 1996 is drinking right now. It sounds sexy, and as a wine enthusiast, you probably want to get in on the action.
You may be confused and excited at the same time. Will the bottle you bought at the winery or wine shop last week stand the test of time? Should you save it for a few years? How many? Where do you even store it? Do you need an expensive wine cellar? When will it be ready to drink?
Cellaring wine — even Michigan wine — is not rocket science. With a few tips, you can start cellaring wine right away with confidence, and can avoid the pitfalls that many of us have made when we first started out.
First, let’s debunk the myth that all wines improves with age. Over 90% of wine is meant to be enjoyed immediately — meaning over the next year. There is nothing wrong with young wine that is meant to be consumed without aging. The winemaker often makes decisions in the cellar to make it drinkable immediately upon release. The majority of wine that I drink is the current vintage from the winery.
Fruit wines should be consumed within the year they are released. There is no benefit to aging them, as they will turn to vinegar if held too long. Wines made with hybrid grapes, in my opinion, are not the most age-worthy candidates either. In addition, most white wines should also be enjoyed when they are young.
Some wines, however, will improve with age. The added time will help integrate the oak treatment, soften the tannins, mellow out the acidity, and can make the wine even more delicious than on release. The key is finding the right wines to age.
In Michigan, I would recommend looking for well-made Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Pinot Noir. Blends of these types also tend to age well. Typically, I’d look for reds that were aged in real oak barrels, as opposed to wines that were treated with oak chips, staves or dust.
The big bold tannins (think of the sensation that dries out your mouth when you drink red wine) help the wine age. Higher alcohol content also acts as a preservative. Trust your palette. If you think the wine exhibits complex flavors now, it is a good candidate to lay down.
2005 and 2007 were great red wine vintages in Michigan. The weather cooperated and the grapes had an opportunity to ripen to perfection. Those wines can be held up to wines from across the globe as world-class. In recent years, I also really like 2012. Everything I have heard from the winemakers is that the wines from 2016 are also looking excellent. Only time will tell.
Although I wouldn’t age most Michigan white wines for longer than a couple of years, the exception to the rule is Riesling. Riesling, the undisputed champion of white wine in my household, will often age beautifully. As Riesling ages, the sugar drops off a bit, and it develops more butterscotch and honey flavors. The best Rieslings in the world exhibit a healthy dose of petrol notes (yes, petroleum). As Riesling ages, these notes tend to become more pronounced, adding depth and character to the wine.
Riesling ages so well because it is naturally a high acid grape. The high acidity is an important component in the aging process. The sugars also act as a preservative in the wine. Last year, we opened a 2002 Riesling from Gill’s Pier Winery that was gorgeous. I still have a couple of bottles from 2006 that I am holding onto.
Now that you have picked up a few bottles that you want to cellar, it’s time to find a place to put them. You don’t need an expensive wine cellar. You just need a place that is consistently cool, out of direct sunlight. Basements are ideal. Closets can also work well. Stay away from places that fluctuate in temperature or are too warm.
Wine with real corks should be laid on their side or turned upside down. It is important to keep the wine in contact whit the cork so the cork doesn't dry out. If the cork dries out, it will shrink and air will get in the bottle and spoil the wine.
You can buy or make inexpensive wine racks. I’ve even been known to store wine upside down in cases. It is not the best presentation, but it just as functional. If the wine has a screw cap, there is no need to store it on its side.
The tricky part is figuring out how long to age wine. There is no definitive answer to this question. Unlike many chateaus in France that have been making wine for hundreds of years, most Michigan wineries are too young to have a proven track record. My suggestion is to ask for advice from the winemaker or from someone at a wine shop. This is why developing a relationship with a good wine retailer is important. I doubt the guy who just got off the forklift at Costco is going to have any experience in cellaring wine.
My best advice is that when you find a wine you like, buy six to 12 bottles of it. Put them away for a year, then open one every six months. If the wine continues to improve, let the wine continue to age. Once the wine starts leveling off, you can consider it time to drink the remaining wines. It’s all personal preference.
Collecting and cellaring wine can be a great hobby and can be a fun way to get more out of your wine drinking experience. With a little self-restraint (for not digging into them too early), you can start growing a wine cellar in no time.
Article by Shannon Casey, MichiganByTheBottle.com. We strive to be your definitive source of information on Michigan wines; therefore, we welcome you to link to this page or print an excerpt that leads back to our site. However, as our work is copyrighted, we kindly ask that you do not copy and paste this or any other portion of Michigan By the Bottle in its entirety on another site. We appreciate your cooperation. For reprint inquiries, please email email@example.com.