How to Stock a Wine Fridge

Wednesday, 9 January, 2013
Ray Isle, Food & Wine
Avid wine drinkers often have a common dilemma—a chaotic wine fridge. F&W’s Ray Isle has a solution: Start drinking, then restock using his smart bottle-buying ideas.
Here’s my latest enological dilemma: My wine refrigerator almost never contains exactly what I want to drink. But it’s not as though some bottle-laden lunatic snuck into my apartment late at night and stocked the thing with Boone’s Farm while I was sleeping. I’m the one who’s to blame. That’s because, like almost everyone I know, my approach to filling a wine fridge has been to just chuck bottles in there at random. Gifts from friends, casual purchases, samples I need to taste; wines I plan to drink soon, wines I plan to drink later; wines I love, wines I like, wines I don’t really have an opinion about one way or the other. But consider this: One bottle taking up space in there is a magnum of 1977 Graham’s vintage port. It’s a spectacular wine. I’m thrilled to own it. But it’s a magnum of port. You could intoxicate a moose with that much port. It’s not exactly what I need for a weeknight dinner.

So, for my New Year’s resolution this year, I decided to drink up the contents of my wine fridge and start over. But I’m starting over with a plan. For me, that means stocking a lot of crisp, non-oaked whites (particularly from northern Italy, because my wife loves them); leaving space for wines I need to taste for work; devoting a shelf to older wines that I’ve cellared and are ready to drink; and having a minimum of four bottles of red Burgundy at all times, lest I fall into a state of existential despair and start questioning the meaning of life. But that’s me. Other people have different likes and dislikes; different overall needs.

Even so, I’d urge anyone who’s in the same state of wine-fridge chaos to follow the same general path. To make planning a little easier, I’ve divided the world of people who regularly buy wine to drink at home into three categories (leaving out the serious collectors). They are incredibly broad groups, but even a rough sense of what your wine needs are can help you put together a wine fridge that, when you open the door and peer in, actually contains bottles you want to drink.

For the Home Cook, wine is mostly as an accompaniment to family meals, which translates to bottles you can open without worrying about the price. If you fall into this category, think about what you like to cook. If you’re obsessed with Italian cuisine, for instance, it would be smart to keep on hand two or three Chiantis, a southern Italian red or two, whites from the Alto Adige or Friuli and a few Proseccos.

For the Host, entertaining is key, whether it’s dinners for six or parties for 60. If this sounds like you, stock your fridge with a trio of “house wines”—one white, one red and one sparkling—and buy them by the case (12 bottles), since most stores offer a case discount of 10 or 15 percent. Having go-to wines on hand means less pre-event planning; also, you can refill people’s glasses without having to figure out what they were drinking.

For the Aspiring Wine Geek, novelty and variety are incredibly important: new regions, new grapes, wines that teach something rather than reinforce the familiar. People like this are usually interested in cellaring wines, too, to learn what happens to them over time. My suggestion here is to have long-aging wines (five-plus years), such as southern Italian Aglianicos or Rhône Syrahs, on the bottom two shelves of the refrigerator; shorter-term wines, such as village-level Chablis or cru Beaujolais (to keep from two to five years) in the middle; and a wide variety of wines for drinking now on the top shelves.

And one final note: No matter what kind of life you lead, leave room in your fridge for at least one bottle of Champagne. Bottles of Champagne are like umbrellas: The day you don’t have one on you is always the day that you absolutely, positively need one.

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