How to Start a Wine Cellar
A food lover's guide to building a 12-bottle wine cellar
So you love to cook and you love wine, but don't have a wine cellar. Except now you find yourself with a little extra cash, or maybe you're tired of not having the right wine when you need it, or you've just moved in with someone to share a bottle with at dinner and it's time to finally start that cellar.
Here's the beginning strategy: Buy a mixed case of 12 bottles to cover all possibilities. Spend less than $20 a bottle and ask for a mixed-case discount — you're shooting for between $150 and $200 total. Select a wine for each cooking or entertaining need.
Take this list to your friendly neighborhood wine shop and ask for some assistance (and the discount):
• For celebrations or with appetizers: a sparkling wine such as a brut (dry) cava from Spain.
• Simply-prepared shellfish and grilled white fish: light, crisp white such as a Muscadet from the Loire Valley.
• Salmon and meatier fish: a lighter Pinot Noir from Oregon or Sonoma.
• Chicken salad or pasta with white sauce: Sauvignon Blanc that isn't too vegetal.
• Poultry and cream sauces: Chardonnay from California or the south of France.
• Pasta with red sauce: Barbera (fruitier) or Sangiovese (leaner, citrusy) from Italy.
• Spicy Asian dishes: Riesling with just a touch of sweetness.
• Hamburgers and steak: Cabernet Sauvignon from Chile, Meritage (Bordeaux blend) from California, or Malbec from Argentina.
• Stews, chili, and root vegetables: an earthier red such as a Syrah-based blend from California or France.
• Lamb: less-fruity Merlot from France, ideally from one of the more-affordable areas of Bordeaux.
• Cheeses: Port is an idea wine for most bleus and cow's milk cheeses, but if that has too much alcohol for you (20%) or costs too much, buy a fruity (but not nouveau!) Beaujolais.
• Light desserts: late-harvest white (sweeter grapes) that has good acidity to pair with ripe fruit, fruit tarts, and other pastry finishers.
Bam! You have a starter wine cellar. Be sure to keep it in a cool closet away from high heat if you don't have a basement. Also, two keys to building a new wine collection: One, buy more than you drink, so grab a couple for every bottle that disappears, and two, don't get in the trap of only purchasing your favorite wine. You need the variety for your cooking moods and entertainment needs.
Vegetarian? The same principles apply — choose different wines according to the cooking method (sauté, bake, boil), the sauce you use (tomato, cream, cheese, or soy), and the spices you prefer (from Provence dry to curry spicy).
Case — a mixed one — closed!