Steve Morgan, wine director at Italian hot spot Formento’s in Chicago, built his career working at restaurants that include Alinea, Tribeca Grill and Del Posto. At Formento’s, he has crafted a wine list of more than 600 selections, focusing on wines from Italy, France and the U.S. More than 50 of the wines are priced at $50 or less.
It’s no secret that the job of a sommelier or wine director is to create a restaurant’s wine list and keep its wine room or cellar stocked with inventory. But what about maintaining your own cellar at home? Unless you plenty of extra space and maybe a dark, cool basement, you have to get creative.
Sure, you can invest in a 400-bottle wine refrigerator, which is the easiest way to get a quick cellar. But Morgan offers plenty of tips and to put together your own cellar—even on a limited budget.
Follow basic rules no matter where you set up your cellar.
“Simply put, you want a place that has consistent cool temperature—in a perfect world that’s 58° [Fahrenheit]. You don’t want any sunlight to hit the wine. You want wine in a cool, dark place. You ideally want it to be kept on its side as well as having the wine in a remote enough place it doesn’t get jostled or moved around a lot.”
Use a basement if you have it, and keep the wine cool.
If you have a home with a basement, that’s often the ideal place for a wine cellar. Many wine experts swear by a “passive” cellar—one with no artificial cooling. Below ground level, the temperature hovers around 55 degrees.
“If there is a cool basement space you can trust without light, you can definitely keep wine at a fairly good temperature throughout the entire year. Sure, there are times in summer you may want to move it into an air-conditioned apartment. When wine gets to a certain temperature, it can accelerate the aging process. If you keep your home at a cold temperature all the time, around, like, 60°, you can keep your wine in a dark room or in the bottom of a closet. The cooler you can keep it, the better.”
Repurpose old furniture for storage.
“If you can work within those guidelines set before (cool space, on the side, little movement), you can put wine in anything. You can use cheap, stacked cinder blocks. You can use old furniture. I’ve done it before. I’ve used a chest of drawers. That looks great. The best and cheapest is to get Metro Shelving. It’s all-purpose, cheap metal shelving. You can buy as many shelves as you want. The bottles can slide in easily.”
Keep track of your collection online.
“CellarTracker.com is by far the best, and it’s free. It’s a really easy system, and it’s really popular. You can see what other people say and offer their opinions about wine. It’s twofold: You can put all your info and your tasting notes up there, and you can look at other people’s points of view.”
Remember: Not everything needs to be cellared.
“There are many wines you want to drink fresh. There are people who like wines in their youth, and don’t want wine with five to 10 years of age. Many producers make wines in that style, and you’ll find that in every category, even Napa Cabs. If you keep your home at a good temperature and keep wine away from sunlight, you can keep it on a small rack, but it depends on your long-term goals.”