By: Lynn Ogryzlo

I used to have these incredible dreams:  I’d walk down a set of concrete stairs, and at the bottom was a massive, polished, wooden door with a large iron lock on it. I and I alone had the key to the treasures that lay within. I’d open the door and behold an endless dark, cool room filled with dusty bottles of wine stacked tall on all four walls with dim candlelight flickering all around. I have no idea what is all in there, but whenever I need or want something, the perfect bottle of wine magically appears; wine for casual evening sipping, choice vintages for mealtime entertaining, sparkling to tickle my many moods and aperitifs for late evening nightcaps.

But, as always, I’d wake up, shake my head and run downstairs to the empty bowels of my own basement – alas, there is no massive polished wooden door to be found, just a small corner of mismatched wine racks and half empty cardboard cases turned on their sides. No, I don’t know what’s down there either so it’s no wonder the perfect wine doesn’t magically appear to suit my many moods.

So I pull back my shoulders, straighten myself up and decide its up to me to make the first move in managing my wine cellar. It’s a daunting task because, well, wine costs a lot of money!

First, I’ll need some wines for aging. Many reds need anywhere from a few years to several decades to achieve their mellow, multifaceted maturity. By the time they’re ready to drink, they’re almost impossible to find and if you could, you wouldn’t be able to afford them. Besides that, when you age wines yourself they’ll probably be in better condition than most older bottles you’ll find withering away on LCBO shelves.

Think about it, you’ll save money by getting good wines when they’re young, relatively inexpensive and readily available. But long term cellaring for red wines is not the only reason for a wine cellar. Most of the wine in your cellar should be for drinking, not aging, especially in your first year of enjoyment. You’ll need to stock wine for spontaneously sharing with friends, for drinking privately during quiet times, you’ll need wines to marry with foods and for those times when you’re just plain thirsty.

April Kitpatrick is the Sommelier that manages the 2,500 bottle, glass wine cellar at Windows by Jamie Kennedy Restaurant at Sheraton On The Falls Hotel in Niagara Falls. April is a fickle wine drinker who admits to “dropping all the rules when a sip of a new wine has me turning cartwheels.” April is skilled at recommending wine with the restaurants different dishes but when it comes to facing her own glass of wine, “if you like a wine and you like a dish and it breaks all the rules together, I say go for it – chances are you’ll love them together. And if in the slight chance you don’t like them together, well, tomorrow is another day.”

There is definitely a different wine for every occasion in April’s wine cellar. She talks of the way Sauvignon Blancs play on the palate for summertime drinking and how well it goes with lighter styled seasonal dishes. A thick, juicy, barbecued T-Bone steak has her excited about a medium Syrah or rich Cabernet.

As the summer winds down Aprils thoughts run to Pinot Noir and for hearty winter drinking when braised meats and heavier dishes find their way onto the menu, April begins to uncork bottles of full bodied Hermitage.

Throughout spring and summer April delights in every kind of rose, “A few bottles of both still and sparkling rose will go great with asparagus dishes, a thick pork chop or anything rhubarb and it’s fun, like the season.” When it comes to sparkling wine April has a long list, ““you can never go wrong with sparkling. It’s light, refreshing and a great company greeter. It starts things off right and if it happens to last into dinner, serve a salad first. The CO2 bubbles are bitter and take the edge off a viniagrette salad. Rare to find a wine that stands up to a salad.”

Late Harvest Riesling is April’s favourite dessert wine. “There are so many great examples from Niagara and around the world that you really can’t go wrong. It’s great value, elegant and not over the top sweet.”

If you’re building your own wine cellar, consider stocking drinkable reds such as a few juicy black cherry, chocolatey flavoured Syrahs for barbecue season or perhaps a full, baked berry Italian Barbara for roasted savoury meats. You’ll need a few crisp Niagara Rose’s for refreshing summertime sipping; full bodied, creamy French Chablis or searing New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc’s for dining excitement; Italian Prosecco wines for drinking whenever the mood strikes and Champagne for decadent moments.

Never forget to stock a few dessert wines to make the end of a meal spectacular or fortified wines for hearty winter sipping and of course, don’t overlook half bottles and magnums. You’ll find magnums age more slowly and, many would say, more evenly. Also, serving a magnum at a dinner party makes the event much more special and festive.

To keep your cellar growing you should set a monthly budget for wine purchases and stick to it. Plan your monthly purchases in two groups. About three-quarters of the wine budget should be for everyday drinking and the rest for those wines that need to be aged. Label the bottles you’re going to lie down with an approximate date for drinking. This will help with selecting a bottle of wine further down the road.

It’s best to never stock more than two years supply of white wines, except perhaps for some Chardonnays and sweet dessert wines. Unless you’re a white wine lover, a good rule of thumb for stocking a cellar is three reds for every one white.

When you’re selecting any wine, whether it’s for every day drinking or aging, be discriminating. If you’ve never tasted a wine, don’t be swayed by a wine that was rated high in a magazine or a medal winning wine, a wine that technically goes well with your favourite food and never buy a whole case of wine because it’s a bargain. The one and only hard and fast rule for stocking your cellar should be to taste, taste and taste before you buy.

As you get into wine drinking and wine collecting, your tastes will change and evolve with experience and confidence. Make sure your cellar has room for new discoveries, new regions and new styles of wine and don’t stock your cellar too heavily in any particular region. Learn as much as you can about wines and your own personal preferences by attending tastings and take notes. Don’t forget to replace bottles, adding to your cellar as wines are consumed.

Well, my incredible dream has become a reality since my wine cellar is now in order and I can look forward to many pleasurable surprises and mood satisfying sips. Recently I served a 20-year Borgogna Barolo and it was perfectly aged; luscious and velvet, we swooned over every sip. I served it with a savoury Piedmontese Eggplant Timbalo. A marriage made in heaven! I checked my wine notes and found I bought it over a decade ago for only $45.00. I wonder how much it would retail for today, if I could even find it! And here it was sleeping in my very own magical wine cellar.

Lynn Ogryzlo is a food, wine and travel writer, international award winning author and regular contributor to REV Publications. She can be reached for questions or comments at lynnogryzlo.com.