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Grape Expectations: Tips for making a substitute cellar

Many wine enthusiasts enjoy amassing wine for future drinking and need somewhere to store it.

Years ago, renovating a room in my home involved replacing some floorboards. The builder lifted the damaged ones and my eyes popped out when I realised, not only was there potential storage space beneath, but that the ambient temperature was on the cool side of cool. I couldn't wait for the carpenter to fashion a trapdoor. This is the nearest I'll ever get to owning a real cellar -- the best most of us can hope for is a spare cupboard, a space under the stairs, a garden shed or an attic.

The four main enemies of wine in storage are light, incorrect temperature, insufficient humidity and vibration. Light is easy to keep out; insulation can help maintain a near-constant temperature; and something as simple as a large damp sponge left on a saucer can provide essential humidity. Vibration can be damped with a couple of layers of old carpet or rubber mats under the bottom shelves.

Remember the warmer the cellar, the faster your wine develops -- or, possibly, decays! You should aim for a temperature of around eight to 10 degrees and it's crucial to keep it as constant as possible: a wine will suffer more from a rollercoaster ride from 10 to 25 degrees than from a steady level of 18-20 -- which is why the average kitchen is just about the worst location.

Then you'll need storage. Bottles, certainly those with corks, keep better when flat -- that's why the process is called 'laying down'. Modular wooden self-assembly racking is inexpensive and readily obtainable. If you have trouble with temperature fluctuation then terracotta hoops or homemade shelving fashioned from breeze blocks are a better answer.

You need to keep a record of what you've got, so a cellar book is essential, coupled with a plan showing where every wine is placed. You could, of course, use a spreadsheet or database program, which would also permit you to sort by region, vintage, cost price and 'drink by' date. Remember the game of Battleships you played as a kid? An excellent way of keeping track of your wine is to code the wine racks vertically and horizontally, alphabetically and numerically, so that each 'hole' has a code.

Tech-heads might want the PC program Cellar Tracker (www.cellartracker.com) or the iPhone app Cellar (€3.95) to keep on top of their prized purchases. Remember, it's better to drink a wine a year too early than a day too late.

This week, two Pinot Noirs, both from New Zealand at a time when that country is never out of my thoughts. The first, the gorgeous, savoury Mt Difficulty 2005 came up from my cellar. Given that the Kiwis learn a little bit more every year about the grape some call 'the black bitch' the current vintage (2007, €28.50 from www.winesdirect.ie) should, laid down, be even better. The other Pinot, Giesen 2009 (pictured, €20 Hole in the Wall, Jus De Vine, Martins Fairview), was choc-full of rich, ripe fruit and would also be suited to squirreling away for a year or two.