Cellar Math

“[Cellars] only work for people who intend to drink just a handful of wines from excellent vintages.”

Some people disagree with the above statement I made. Here’s my reasoning.

Let’s assume you drink 5 bottles of wine a week 50 weeks of the year. That’s 250 bottles consumption.

Let’s further assume you want to lay down the following basic cellar
– a chardonnay/Chablis to age 10
– a Riesling to age 15
– some kind of sauvignon blanc/young white 0-3 years
– a rose for 3 years
– a good rose for 8 years
– vintage blanc de blanc champage for 10 years
– vintage rose/ b de noir champagne for 10 years
– young bubbly for 0-3 years
– a decent medium red for 10 years
– a big red for 15 years
– an easy drinking red for 0-3 years

Now let’s say you drink
– 24 bottles of champagne a year
– 24 bottles of aged white a year
– 24 easy whites a year
– 48 easy drinking red a year
– 96 medium red a year
– big red 36 bottles a year

I’m going to assume the young whites, young bubbly and easy reds don’t need to be cellared.

Now your cellar only has to hold
– 11 years of two cases champagne, 264
– 16 years of one case Riesling, 192
– 11 years Chablis (and this is likely to short) times one case, 132
– 11 years of medium red has eight cases, 1056
– 15 years of big red times three cases,540

This gets you in at a 2184 bottle cellar. (and BTW this more or less describes my consumption)

Even if you assume every case above equals a single label (e.g 8 different varieties of medium red) you are only drinking 15 different labels per year. Frankly very few of us would get the vintage variation without that kind of specialization. What’s more if you only cellar a single bottle of Screaming Eagle for 15 years you have no idea if that wine is better younger or older. And call me an old cynic but a relatively few people, should they cellar a mere dozen bottles of a single vintage will recall what the bottle they drank 2 years ago tasted like.

I WANT to drink a MUCH larger variety of wine than that. The only way I can cellar wine AND drink a big variety is to drink vastly more AND to give away or sell broken cases of wine. (Or just let it go bad and pour it down the drain, something I’ve seen done in a few cellars of deceased winos.)

If you want to cellar wine, I’m all for it but explain to me with real numbers
– how much you drink
– the quantity you cellar
– the time you cellar for.



  1. I’m afraid I won’t explain with “real numbers”, because that’s not how I approach cellaring wine. In my opinion, there is no rigid right or wrong way to cellar, aside from maintaining good conditions, and that is what bothers me about seeing such a thing written in print. Many people will just take it at face value that you know more than they do about wine and, as such, you have subtly reinforced the idea that a wine cellar (and wine itself by proxy) is an elitist and mysterious venture limited to those that know the greater implications about the effects of time and wine. I do not believe that to be true. There are no actual hard, fast rules about quantities of varieties, or how long wines must remain in a cellar to be considered to be a part of the collection. I definitely do not believe a “cellar” has to be a massive showcase piece created via formulaic oenological reasoning; especially not a private one.

    For me a wine cellar, especially for someone of my needs and means, is more of a playful endeavour taken on out of simple curiosity and enjoyment. While I understand that many people have no interest in keeping a bottle of wine more that the evening they bought it, many novices may be put off by a suggestion that it is an all or nothing effort. If someone were to express to me a keen interest a wine, I would encourage them to put a couple bottles of something that they are familiar with away for a few years and see what happens, consider how it evolves, so that they may witness a wine change firsthand, whether it be in an obvious or nuanced way. I would push them to consider wine from a vantage point of wonder and curiosity, not rigid structure or pretense.

    For myself, I enjoy young crisp Riesling, but I like to put some away from time to time because I also enjoy the integration and tertiary character that shows through in a few years, for example. But I don’t fret a whole lot if I have too much Riesling in my cellar and not enough Pinot. And if it doesn’t happen to make it that long…oh well. If there is a wine that I know to be well made but overly tannic at present, I throw it in the cellar and forget about it for a while. I keep some special bottles in there too, not necessarily to hang onto for 15 years, but also because sometimes it’s a good idea to keep them out of arm’s reach. I, like the majority of people, drink most of my wines young, but why not put some away and see what happens?

    I suppose that you could say I don’t get too swept up in the traditional idea of a cellar as a stoic, stern noun; rather I would prefer to approach it as an inquisitive and lighthearted verb.

    And with that I will sign off with a glass of vintner aged Anciano. Thanks for the heads up on that one, I hear it’s worth the time 😉

  2. OK, took awhile to figure your logic but I get it. However, you are basing your cellar hold of 2184 bottles on your yearly consumption rate over the lay down period which means you are buying the 2184 bottles in the first year, drinking 252 bottles a year over the span of the lay down period of on average 12.8 years. While that might work, and you get to taste a vintage each year it ages, I like this alternative.

    Using your lay down rates (avg 12.8 yrs) and consumption rate (252 bottles/yr) you might want to only by twice as much wine as you consume in a year, i.e., ~500 bottles, drink half the bottles in year one and cellar the rest to age on average 12.8 years. Given this, you would be purchasing twice your consumption level each year over 12.8 years (6,451 bottles), drinking half along the way and laying down ~3226 bottles at the end of the 12.8 year mark which would equal the capacity of your cellar! If you did this then on year +12.8 you would not have to buy any wine for the next 12.8 years, start drink the year 1 wines which by then would have aged nicely and each year you will have a different vintage year and it will always be 12.8 years old. This however, assumes your consumption rate did not increase and you do not share any wines with your friends or family; who will probably consider you a real dick of a host! 🙂 Also, doing it this way gives you some excellent opportunities for some great verticals if you are sticking to same wines over the life of the collection. I also like the idea of an assured wine consumption over a 25 year period, that would be real fine.

  3. Hi Nicole.
    I realized when you responded that my rather throw-away comment was way too terse, and probably should have been edited out. As you saw by the post it takes a great deal of words to explain what I mean be “cellaring”. Most of my friends who drink wine end up with a small “cellar” of odds and sods of wines they liked or just impulse-bought a case that ended up aging. This is fun and interesting but I don’t think you really learn what old wine once meant nor why people did it. (Near as I can work out it was an accident of slow transport and fear of supply interruption that began the notion.) Which of course is why I encourage folks to try Anciano.

    I keep a “cellar” of about 5 labels two of which are vintage port. The rest were single cases from good years that struck me as particularly built to NOT drink young. (Barolo and Amarone) When I want to drink a wine at it’s peak, I suck in a deep breath and buy it at a good restaurant. This is expensive but costs a lot less than what I think of as a proper cellar.

    Certainly I never meant to discourage people from playing around. I hope I haven’t stopped them. The vast majority of folks don’t cellar but most of them don’t know why you should, hence my pointing them at Anciano. When people ask me about my wine “cellar”, I call it a closet (which most of it is), and I admit that several cases are stashed under my bed. Often they’re surprised as they’ve assumed I have some kind of stash like that described in the post. In effect I cellar in a manner similar to you and I tell people why I don’t (I drink too broadly to have the money for a real cellar); what I do age (vintage ports, big reds and champagne) and how (because wine is tougher than people think. And I tell them about auctions how to buy a cellar and how to sell it if they’re interested.

    I like to point out cellar math because many people who dream of a cellar actually only drink a bottle or two a week. Folks like me who easily push over 200 bottles a year I find work out exactly what you have worked out, and like you, know to take my advice as either something to ask me about when they’re curious or ignore. They read wine reviews the way I do, looking for interesting bottles. Then of course there are the crowd that build actual cellars. They’re playing a different game in a different league. While I’m happy to suggest holdings for them, I find they usually need a more august imprimatur than Dr. Booze.

    All of this is fairly complex. It’s a lot easier to tell people to go out and buy a bottle of Anciano. 🙂


  4. HI Bill.

    Actually, I’d live off young wine and acquire the cases as I went, a first in first out inventory, which takes between 10 and 20 years to fill. Given I’m already almost 60 I’m past the best-before date to start a cellar!

    I have one friend who has a thousand plus cellar and has reached the “no new inventory” point having reached the 25 year drink-it-dry moment… Doesn’t that sound like a decent place to be?

    And I find most people with 4 digit inventory are quite protective of their stash. Yep, dick hosts. I have been at a dinner where the riff raff drank one wine, and the host glowered at the head of the table and drank from his own bottle which was offered to exactly zero guests.

    Truthfully the consumption rate is low, as you noted which is why you really need another 50% for odds and sods you can entertain with. If that sounds like a great idea, go to your nearest wine merchant and have them show you the number of pallets required to hold 300 cases. If you ain’t rich you ain’t building verticals, that’s for sure. As I would likely want to do verticals with some friends when I got excited and they were present, I would probably need a cellar of about 10K bottles. Alack and alas I ain’t that rich. The square footage alone would require I buy a house and commandeer the entire basement from she who must be obeyed. Even for wine that could be problematic…

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