How To Store Cabernet Sauvignon


All wines made with the intent to gain complexity from aging should be carefully stored. If a wine starts out with all the components to age gracefully for many years it is a shame to see that cut short by poor storage conditions. Let’s start at the beginning…

WHY BOTHER? Wines taste good on release so why bother with aging them anyway? This is a reasonable question. It’s worth exploring if you like the taste of older wines to begin with. If not, then this gets really simple – buy it/drink it. There are many places you might get to experience a properly stored older wine. There are a very few restaurants that sell them and if you know of one you have a treasure! I’d suggest going in with a friend and buying a few highly regarded wines from an online website like to explore the diversity and possibilities of older wines. An older wine at its best it quite different from its younger version. It sheds some of the fruitiness of a young wine for a more complex set of aromas and flavors that include, spices, exotic wood, earth, roasted meat, pencil shavings just to name a few along with overtones of that original fruit. For those of us who savor these older wines the aged version is the ultimate reflection of the wine.  Let’s assume you’ve tasted enough to know you would like to lay some bottles down to age for the future.

DO I NEED TO DIG A CAVE? Probably not, if you plan to store hundreds of cases and have the resources to dig caves then, have at it! For those of us who have less extravagant means there are some really good options. The key things are – consistent cool temperatures – dark – minimum vibration. The ideal temperature for aging wine is open for debate. Some say 55° F is the best and others will say 60° F. If I had my way I would store the wine much cooler! I’d prefer it at 45° F. The temperature matters because cooler/colder slows down the aging process for wine and gives the wines longer life but also a bigger window for you to drink them at their apogee (whatever that is for you). There’s great example of how much better and how much longer wines can age at the Tampa, FL restaurant Bern’s Steakhouse. This is the Mecca for wine lovers of OLD wine. Their storage is below 45° F and they have a lot of storage. Every wine I have had at Bern’s has tasted much younger than you would expect but the added complexity and dimension that storage in a proper environment has given them is remarkable. I’d suggest no more than 55° F. Dark is usually easy and so is vibration but it does make you consider the storage unit to make sure it doesn’t hum/vibrate while cooling. We keep them dark because light can actually create chemical reactions in wine and produce less than favorable results. There’s a name for this “light struck”. It’s part of the reason that glass bottles today are often much darker than in the past. We are trying to prevent UV light from attacking the wine. There are bunch of different manufacturers of wine closets as well as cooling units to convert a small room if you like. Have it done professionally because in the end you are likely to have a lot of money riding on it working properly. I note that there are a number of professional wine storage facilities springing up around the country. If you have access to one then that’s a great way to maintain a proper environment to protect the wine and allow it to develop. Or dig a cave.

OK I HAVE STORAGE; HOW DO I KNOW WHEN TO DRINK THE WINES? This is one of the fun parts. If you buy single bottles of wine then you may have to rely on vintage charts or wine personalities to tell you when to drink your older wines – especially Cabernet Sauvignon. If you buy a case however, you can track the progress yourself and decide when you favor it. I used to joke that I bought 3 bottles of any wine I thought was interesting so I could drink one too young, one too old and then not know what to do with the last one! Really, this is personal taste – when you like it then it is ready. In a really good cellar you might be pleasantly surprised when you get to your last bottle and it’s still improving. Let’s give some basic suggestions for Cabernet Sauvignon. I would suggest you drink a bottle early on at or about the time you buy it. If it has plenty of future ahead of it – tannin, balanced acidity, intensity – then give the wine 2-4 years before drinking the next bottle. Then every couple of years after that unless you suspect that the wine can really stand the test of time then bury them deep and see what happens. For me Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon typically hits full stride at about 10 years of age and for the next 20 or so will gently change possibly getting better. The most age-able wines can run for decades with new nuances coming to the fore each time you drink it.

BE SPECIFIC, HOW LONG WILL THE SECRET DOOR WINES AGE? I am expecting the Secret Door 2014 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon Lot: Secret 1X and Lot: Secret 1Z to age in stride. I’d suggest that if perfectly stored these wines will go more than 20 years and possibly a lot more. I’d try them when they arrive but the next ones for me will be in about 5 years. I hope to drink them all in my lifetime but we shall see! We have two 2017 wines in progress right now. They are currently in barrel and I think I may have produced wines that will greatly outlive me. Both the 2017 Stags Leap District and the 2017 Napa Valley versions seem to me to have all the components to get better and more interesting for 30-40 years assuming proper storage. It’s interesting to think that the grapes I saw come in to our winery and get converted into wine can still be pleasing wine drinkers long after I am gone.

A note on temperature and wine – Please, do not drink great wine at 70-80° F. I highly recommend you serve all red wines at about 60° F and know that they will be cool to the taste but certainly over time in the glass could warm a bit. Cooler red wines – not room temperature – are more refreshing and harmonious than their warmer versions. Warm wine shows more alcohol heat and less of it’s pretty perfume in my opinion. If I am served a bottle of red wine in a restaurant at “room temperature” I promptly request the wine bottle be placed into ice for 5-10 minutes to cool down. No kidding. I know a cooler wine can warm but a warmer wine will never cool down in the glass.

HELP! I HAVE TOO MUCH CABERNET SAUVIGNON IN MY CELLAR!! I suppose that’s possible. If you feel you have troublesome Cabernet Sauvignon buildup then there are always auctions you can put them in or sell the cellar to a restaurant that likes older wines. Or call me.

Young or old – however you prefer them – make sure you share them with friends and family as they were always meant to be shared. (Note to self – I think I need more magnums in my cellar if I have to share.)

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