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Ageing Well

By Neil Munro | Wednesday | 02/04/2003

To see the best natural wine cellar in the world, you'd have to visit the dank, dark dungeon of a Scottish castle. Now modern technology replicates that same environment - but without scaring you witless.


Some experts say better to drink cheap wine that's been properly cellared, than an expensive drop that's been poorly stored. But just how delicate a process is wine maturation and what do we need to keep in mind when we store our precious vino?

Certainly wine maturation is a delicate process that requires a carefully controlled environment to achieve the best quality characteristics. According to Léonie Simart, importer and distributor of Transtherm and Vintec wine cabinets, stored wine requires two prime constants - constant temperature and constant humidity.

"Just a fluctuation of five degrees is enough to take your wine out," Simart says. "So even in a penthouse with reverse cycle air conditioning, without proper storage you are going to cook your wines in winter and freeze them in summer."

How to preserve your wine

If you don't have the space, the budget or the wine collection to have a custom-designed wine cellar, then smart wine cabinet storage will solve the problem.

Top-of-the-line cabinets, such as the French-made Transtherm units, bring to-gether the five criteria that you need for optimal wine preservation:

· Reinforced insulation made up of several thermal barriers.

· Automatic temperature control of 10-14°C driven by a slow cycle compressor.

· Adapted humidity between 50 per cent and 80 per cent to prevent corks from drying out.

· Natural filtered ventilation to prevent odour and mould.

· Absence of vibration from a balanced compressor mounted on silent-blocks.

Ashley Williams of Wine Cabinets Australia (Choice Refrigeration) also sells Transtherm cabinets and says he has seen customers converted to proper wine preservation after suffering the loss of just one valuable bottle in their collection.

"Just a week ago a customer told me that he lost a $300 bottle of wine. It's such a shame to keep something like that for five years only to find it has gone off for want of proper storage."

Apart from Transtherm, Williams also stocks imported wine cabinets such as Vintec and Liebherr brands.

"But being a refrigeration mechanic by training, I only stock those products in which I have confidence," he says. The high-profile Liebherr wine cabinets he sells are made in Germany by the family-owned engineering company of the same name.


Multi-zone cabinets

While all wines are stored at the same temperature during maturation, it is prior to serving that temperature requirements change. To savour the full flavour of the wine, experts recommend that reds be served at 18-20°C and whites around 8-12°C.

To facilitate this, Liebherr also manu-factures multi-zone wine cabinets that are designed to keep each wine at its correct serving temperatures.

From the heaviest reds to the lightest whites, each can be stored at the ideal serving temperature in one of the cabinet's six temperature zones.

For small wine collections, some manufac-turers offer 'store and drink' facilities within the same wine cabinet.

In the middle section of the cabinet, wine is kept at ageing temperature. The top section is reserved for reds at drinking temperature and white wines are held for drinking at the bottom of the unit. Eurocave offers such a cabinet, as well as a large range of storage-only cabinets.

In fact, according to Blaise Vinot of Australtech, it was the French company Eurocave that pioneered the concept of temperature controlled wine cabinets over 35 years ago.

"Eurocave has had a presence in Australia for eight years now, and its products offer excellent design features, including roller-mounted sliding shelves," Vinot says. "All of the cabinets in the Eurocave range can be personalised with different colours, glass doors and various combinations of shelves."

Custom-designed cellars

For wine connoisseurs or investors who want all or part of their collection stored off-site, some specialist companies can provide managed storage and do-it-yourself self-storage facilities.

But costs associated with the long-term managed cellarage of a large wine collec-tion can make this option expensive. A more cost-effective alternative might be to have your own custom-designed cellar installed.

Egan Corporation custom designs, con-structs and installs wine cellars for both business and personal collections.

"Your cellar can be as functional or as mag-nificent as you wish," says the company's cellar expert Eamonn Egan. "And it can be built any-where - if you have a spare room or garage space in an underground car park, then we can facilitate a customised wine cellar.

"The cost would start at around $10,000 plus GST for installation and climate control mechanicals alone. But unlike an off-site stor-age facility, having your own cellar means your personal wine collection is close at hand and available to you at any time," says Egan.

According to the manager of Wine Cellar Designs, Tim Webb, some of his clients have built truly beautiful wine cellars that have added enormous value to their homes.

"These are lovely showpiece cellars in which you can sit and uncork a bottle of wine and enjoy it with friend who will truly appreciate both the wine and the environment," he says.

And Webb says that as fragile as wine might be, there is nothing fragile about the growth in popularity of professionally designed wine storage facilities.

"With people now using wine as an invest-ment as part of their superannuation fund, we are now seeing $250,000 worth of wine going into some of these private wine cellars."

In vino veritas!

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