A version of this article first appeared in Decanter magazine, 2006.
Wine storage cabinets for long term maturation have been around for ages. At a time when private household physical cellars are a diminishing resource, these cabinets enable wine lovers to mature wine at home knowing it is in a consistent environment with a temperature of around 10-14°C. To check how a wine is evolving, a bottle can pulled out, then either refrigerated or allowed to warm to serving temperature, before being tasted.
More recent to the market are cabinets that allow fully matured and ready to drink bottles to be stored at their recommended serving temperatures. These cabinets have nothing to do with long term storage for maturation. They’re all about keeping wine, that’s ready to drink, at the right serving temperature.
These cabinets are ideal in upmarket restaurants which have a strong wine focus. In the home, wine lovers who already have a cellar, either a physical or a cabinet one, may also want to have wine ready at the right temperature, rather than keeping whites and bubblies in the fridge, which might be too cold by a few degrees, or keeping reds in a cupboard, which might be 3-4° too warm.
Wine service cabinets are those from which to pull and pour. Immediacy is key, so when you have an impromptu dinner party, or unexpected guests, you have a range of wines, sparkling, white, red, sherry, port and sweeties, all at the right temperature and ready to pour. In the hectic lifestyle of modern wo/man, these cabinets seem a god-send. And for the wo/man who has everything, they could be the new thing in seriously luxurious wine accessories.
What are the options?
The ideal long term maturation temperature for wine is 10-14°C. But service cabinets have a cool section between 6 to 8°C, possibly a warm section at 15-18°C, as well as a section at the maturation temperature.
Two-temperature models combine a separate cool section at the bottom of the cabinet with an maturation section above. So whites and bubblies can be kept at a drinking temperature, while the other part allows young wine to mature in the 10-14°C range. With this model reds must be taken out to bring to drinking temperature. Brand leader Eurocave‘s 2-temperature model starts from £1,990 for a 192 bottle capacity.
The three-temperature cabinet offers full red and white serving temperature flexibility, plus a section for maturing wine. The chilled section is at the bottom, the red wine serving section at the top, and the middle provides the maturation section. Insulating shelves may separate the sections, and some manufacturers highlight that the warm and cool sections are closed off from the front as well, so when the single door to the cabinet is opened, they are not subject to an in-rush of ambient air. The Eurocave version, which holds 188 bottles, starts from £2,040.
Competitor Vinosafe are bringing out an all-singing, all-dancing three-temperature cabinet. They’ve linked up with a well-known French sommelier, Olivier Poussier, the 2000 ‘best sommelier in the world’ (a rigorous competition indeed), who helped design their ‘Precision’ model. The cabinet has been redesigned to hold decanters as well as bottles and is ideal when wines need to be decanted prior to service. Decanters can be returned to the cabinet between pours rather than leaving them on the dinner table to ensure that the wine warms up only in the glass. The price for this starts from £3,350. Their standard 3-temperature model starts from £2,175, and is capable of storing 306 bottles. The manufacturer emphasises the special humidity and temperature control mechanisms in their models, which, they say, set them apart from other brands.
A third type of cabinet creates a gradient of temperature within the single-space cabinet. The temperature at the bottom of the cabinet is set usually between 5 and 8°C, and the temperature at the top between 15 and 18°C. A temperature gradient is created between the bottom and top of the cabinet. The manufacturers advise bubblies and dessert wines be kept in the coolest part, with rosés and lighter whites above then full-bodied whites and lighter reds, finishing with full-bodied reds at the top. Somewhere in the middle will be a decent temperature at which to mature wine, as well. Eurocave’s version of this, with temperature graduating from 7°C to 21°C, costs £2,430 to store 196 bottles.
Whilst all of these models can be found on the market, getting to grips with the various options appears to require a PhD. Without a long list of questions it would be easy to end up with something that doesn’t suit all your requirements.
Can the size of the various compartments be altered? If you like to drink a lot of white, but red only rarely, can the cool compartment be twice the size? If you only buy wine when it’s in its drinking window, can the two-temperature cabinet be made to work just at 6-10°C and 15-18°C?
Humidity is vital for long term storage, and it is thought somewhere between 60 and 80% is about right, but one of the likelihoods of having a service cabinet is that wine may be left in for longer than you imagined, maybe up to a year, in which case humidity in the service cabinet is important. You want to be secure in the knowledge that corks won’t dry out in that time.
How is the temperature and humidity controlled in each section of the cabinet? Even if you’re expecting to drink your wine within six months, you’ll still want optimum conditions at your chosen ready-to-drink temperature. And what happens when the temperature or humidity go out of the range you’ve set? Is there an audible warning?
Running costs and energy ratings will undoubtedly be a consideration.
Shelves may vary from a wire grill to a beautifully manicured cherry wood; doors may be glass or solid wood. Capacities are usually based only on Bordeaux bottles, so for Burgundy bottles, flutes or heavy Italian bottles, magnums and larger formats, these figures need revising.
If you’re drinking habits change can your three-temperature switch to a two-temperature or a single temperature?
Are these multi-temperature cabinets worth it?
In a cellar-less home, single temperature cabinets are great. Reds need to come out at during the day for the evening’s drinking, whites to the fridge. Given that fridges will be full, especially on dinner party evenings, a two-temperature (cold and ‘maturing’ sections) cabinet could be a good idea, as well as for those unexpected guests who turn up for aperitifs (most likely to be white/bubbly). I reckon getting reds up from 15°C (keeping) to 18°C (pre-central-heating ambient) will take about as long as it takes to enjoy the aperitif, especially if you pre-pour your red into trendy bulbous red wine glasses.
But in the home environment multi-temperature cabinets seem an expensive piece of kit just for not engaging the brain to put a bottle in the fridge or on the worktop before you go to work. And if you do forget, I suggest pouring half a glass of white wine from your single temperature unit at 14°C, and stick the rest of the bottle in the fridge to cool down. Drinking whites a bit warmer releases the aromas. Too cold and the aromas stay shivering in the wine. We all know that ice-cold milk has much less flavour than warm milk.
But for restaurants, which are, after all, their main target market, these pieces of kit look great. It is key to have a wide selection of wines, red, white, bubbly, fortified ready and waiting at their various serving temperatures, as well as to keep wine list inventory in top condition. Perhaps we’ll soon enough ask about a restaurant’s wine storage conditions as an essential element in the provenance of wine.
Overall, these cabinets certainly seem to offer flexibility and comfort knowing that wine will be on hand at the perfect temperature whenever you need it. They do seem to offer choice in today’s fast-paced lifestyle. Imagine a warm, anticipatory feeling after a long day, knowing you have a glass of Champagne or sauvignon blanc chilled to the temperature you love, just waiting for you. And you don’t have to make up your mind what to drink until you get home!
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