hen the weather finally started to brighten and February’s dampness receded, I launched into the arduous task of seasonal turnover in my small Rome apartment. The annual ritual usually involves rummaging around my closet while hunting for nonexistent space where I can store my stash of this winter’s scarf acquisitions (the ones that I just can’t live without). It also involves countless hours of rearranging in hopes I can make (or discover) a semi-empty shelf for my Imelda Marcos-like boot collection.
This year, to tackle the not-so-pleasant task of cleaning out my wine cellar — excuse me, closet — I had to dump everything out on the floor. Opening my mammoth IKEA armadio and seeing the disaster inside, I knew I had to start from scratch. My solution was to start making random piles.
Here’s some of what I found: A long-forgotten bicycle helmet, a sleeping bag, a two-man tent, a friend’s dusty old fondue pot and my mother’s crocheted doilies (that I had sentimentally brought with me all the way from Washington, D.C. as a good luck talisman when I made Italy my home). A lifetime supply of dust bunnies had also moved in uninvited.
Digging into the deepest recesses, I found several boxes. Inside one was my best friend’s complete collection of Madonna vinyl LPs — yes, all 114 of them; collector albums that I promised to help him sell.
Box Two held a Mount Etna-sized pile of rumpled pants, skirts and blouses (that need sewing) to which I have been steadily adding over the last five years. Folded between the layers of clothing, scattered sacredly among more flotsam and jetsam, I came across a few bottles of special wine — they were sentimental old friends I once enthusiastically purchased and stashed in with the mending for “safekeeping” after moving in from my previous apartment in Testaccio.
That said, there’s a point at which you have to decide if the wine you’ve brought home and stashed is the kind you intend to pull out for a memorable dinner six months from now or the kind you intend to hang onto for a longer time. If the latter, they’d better be kept properly. Eyeing my own stash I found nine neglected bottles that should have been consumed a year or more ago, as Rome’s hot summers won’t have treated them kindly.
Wines need cool conditions with no sunlight and very little change in temperature. While my closet consistently satisfied one of the criteria, the second put a dent on my beloved bottles. Rome’s variable winter temperatures and often blazingly hot summers will do that.
My wine-lover’s sin has been costly. Tallying my losses, I realized that in leaving these wine to die at the hands of three Roman summers I had lost more money in spoiled or damaged wine I would have by investing in a small wine storage cave.
So if the inner ferret in you decides to acquire more wine than you can realistically drink over a year, and if you live in a city with warmer-than-civilized household temperatures, consider talking to a collecting veteran about how and where to store your bottles. It doesn’t matter if your goal is to protect six sentimental bottles or to start a 200-bottle cellar. In either case your wallet and sentimental side will both thank you.
Also sign up for “CellarTracker”, an online database and wine forum where you can log and record what you already have. That way, when you find that long forgotten special bottle you purchased to remind you of that romantic night in Bergamo, you won’t cry when you pop the cork and realize it’s ruined.