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How to Purchase the Perfect Wine Cellar

By Charles Hopkins Published 05/27/2007 | Food & Drink

The term "wine cellar" often conjures up visions of grandeur and luxury. After all, don't the finest European villas pride themselves on their extensive wine cellars? Don't the finest restaurants in the area crow about the elaborate processes for keeping their expensive wines in very ideal conditions?

All of this focus on wine cellars can leave the average person a bit uncertain about what a wine cellar is for, and, more importantly, whether his or her love of wine is sophisticated enough to actually purchase or build a wine cellar at home.

Let's start by saying that most wine lovers do not need fancy storage systems for their wines. Most wine drinkers will focus on carefully selected bottles, and will drink them in regular, but small quantities. For this kind of consumer, creating an at-home wine cellar may be unnecessary.

For the wine lover who enjoys stocking many different kinds of wines, or enjoys collecting wine, a dedicated wine cellar may be essential. A wine cellar can be placed in any convenient location within your home.

When purchasing a wine cellar, there are certain factors you must consider, among them: size, light, vibration, humidity, and temperature. Size refers to how large the wine cellar will be, and to how many bottles of wine it can hold. This may be related to the amount of space you have available for your wine cellar, as well.

Light, vibration, temperature, and humidity controls are necessary to maintain your wine in its highest quality state. Too much light (especially sunlight or fluorescent light) is thought to damage wines. Your wine cellar should offer a darkened storage space.

Vibration is another enemy of wine: too much vibration will disrupt the sediments in wine, causing it to change color or taste. The more delicate the wine, the more susceptible it will be to vibration and light.

Humidity is a third factor to consider, as too much humidity may cause the wine to mold, and too little humidity may cause the corks to shrink, leading to wine spillage and spoilage. The optimal humidity for wine is about 70%.

Finally, temperature is another important factor, as temperatures that are too high will decrease the flavor of the wine, and temperatures that are too low may cause the wine to freeze.

The easiest way to create a wine cellar in your home is through the purchase of a self-contained wine-cellar unit, which can range in size from 2x3 feet to 10x12 feet, and up. (If you are considering a very, very large wine cellar for your home, it may be less expensive, in some cases, to have it custom built for you.)

Wine cellars range in size (some hold as few as 24 bottles, all the way up to 2500 bottles) and the prices rise to match. Prices for small models may begin at about 500, and rise up to 4000 for the larger ones.

You will also find that wine cellars come in a variety of exteriors, ranging from super sleek stainless steel to rustic oak or pine. Additions such as interior lights, locking doors, glass panels and the like will typically add to the price.

When deciding to purchase a wine cellar, you should first determine a few things.

- How many bottles you'd like to store.

- How much space you have available for your wine cellar.

- How much sensitivity you need in terms of controlling for light, temperature, humidity and vibration. Again, if you are planning to purchase very expensive wines, you will need more sophisticated controls.

- Whether the wine cellar will be tucked away in a room or placed out in the open. If its the latter, you may want to invest in a higher end finish so that it matches the rest of your house.

Ultimately, the purchase of the perfect wine cellar comes down to the best balance of features for the price and space. Know your wine drinking habits, and purchase the best wine cellar you can afford which meets your current needs, and gives you a little room to expand.