Cellars and ledger books

There are many methods that can be used to store an inventory on what wines you have. The traditional approach has been to use a "Cellar Book", a simple Ledger which is usually just a basic list of the wines in your cellar. Computer based systems offer a number of advantages over a book and Spreadsheets and general Data Base programs have been used by the more intrepid wine collectors for years.

There are also specialised "Wine Cellar Programs" including these days online (Web based) systems but all of them are rather basic and don't tell you what you really need to know when it comes to the wines in your cellar. Whilst it's certainly nice to know what you have, what you paid for it and where it is, proper Cellar Management goes way beyond that and WineBase is a proper Cellar Management tool.

And a very good one at that because what you really need to know about all your wines are things like...

How are they all going in terms of maturity. When should I be drinking them. Will I have enough Cabernet Sauvignon wines at their best in 2016 to supply my needs?

WineBase answers all these questions because it just doesn't look at what you have now, it analyzes your cellar in terms of what it will be like in the future. This is what cellaring wines is all about, is it not. Putting wines down for future drinking. Sort of makes sense to use a tool that is designed with this in mind.

It's also nice if the program is easy to use and this shouldn't be confused with just quick and easy data entry by relying on inbuilt lookup tables, ratings and other information from who knows where.

When is a wine at it's best

Way back in 1992 would you believe I developed the simple graphic shown below (Figure 1.) to show the maturity stages of a wine. I did intend to update the shape of it to a nice curve but never quite got around to it. The basic wedge shape does work though to highlight that a wine improves, is stable and then declines and that these periods can be roughly chopped up into 1/3rds.

Very few winemakers or should I say the marketing department provide a single best drinking year for a wine on the label. For a start and with the possible exception of very short lived wines like a Rose or Sauvignon Blanc which has a best drinking date of Now there is no single best drinking year for a wine. You usually get a range of years quoted such as you'll be rewarded by cellaring for 7 - 15 years with of course the just about always there recommendation that it's also excellent to drink now. Helpful.

People who write about wine and provide ratings guides will usually interpret this data and provide a more useful narrower range or a mid point year. Along with the usual caveat about it depending on your cellaring conditions, cork or screw cap and even personal preferences on how you like your wine.

WineBase sorts all this out by using four dates.

The Vintage (which you obviously have), a GoodFrom (the earliest you should really drink the wine), a BestAt (the midpoint of it's stable period) and lastly a GoodTo (near death). We only have to provide the Vintage and the nominal BestAt date as the program will calculate suitable GoodFrom and GoodTo data.

Figure 1.

The BestAt year in this example is 2014 but as hinted to above wines don't suddenly evolve and become best to drink in a single year so below the graphic is a row of glasses.

2014, the nominal BestAt year has a Yellow one but either side of it are Burgundy coloured glasses.

WineBase calls this the BestAt Tolerance. The default and highly suggested you use setting is Auto.

The other item of interest in this menu is the Danger + Decline option which is by default turned on. Works in a similar way to the BestAt Tolerance but gives you a bit more warning of wines that are nearing the end of their useful life. Again I suggest you leave this setting turned on.

This is fuzzy logic at work because WineBase whilst allowing you to nominate a single year actually looks at the spread between the Vintage and/or GoodFrom and the BestAt year. It then works out that this wine will rightly be just fine to drink for a few years either side of this date. So if you were to search for Wines best to drink now and now was 2012 then this wine would rightly make the list as would all the Improving wines in this example.

All in all a clear and concise, simple, effective and easily understood way of handling wine maturity because you nominate a nominal BestAt date for a wine and the program does the rest. Well I've always thought of it as simple and effective. It's certainly been copied often enough to suggest it works but there was once a rather baffling non review by someone with apparently a far better grasp of the English language than I have who found it all a bit confusing. Not to mention the misuse of the Queens English with made up words like BestAt. Can't have that.

Looking at the future

It's been said that a picture's worth a thousand words and it sure is when it comes to turning data into something easily understandable and meaningful.

A "TimeLine" of Wines. So simply but so effective.

All wines at their "Best" in future.

Or just Cabernet Sauvignon.