Cellar Smarts

Chicago chef and wine expert Gabriel Viti's creative ideas for building the ultimate home wine cellar.
FoodandWine Recipe

Gabriel Viti, an F&W Best New Chef 1991, is a man of many talents. He's not only the chef and owner of Gabriel's Restaurant (and the upcoming Miramar wine bar) in Highwood, Illinois, but a designer of custom wine cellars as well. He recently built a 2,022-bottle room for a client and offers these tips.

1 Use the highest quality wood for racks—preferably heart redwood, which won't warp from humidity and doesn't need staining ($30 for a 32-bottle rack from International Wine Accessories; 800-527-4072).

2 Allow for air flow around bottles to help keep a uniform temperature. Racks with open sides are ideal.

3 Make room for cases by building deep shelves. In the cellar shown here, the bottom shelves are twice as deep (26 inches) as the upper ones.

4 Display prize bottles by creating a tilted shelf on top of the lower cabinet, so the labels face upward. This row is also perfect for wines you want to keep accessible for tasting.

5 Create shelves for big bottles such as magnums (twice as large as standard bottles) or jeroboams (four times as large). Collectors buy them partly for show and partly because wine ages slower in large bottles. In this cellar, oversize bottles lie sideways, with their labels facing out (on 5 1\2-inch-deep shelves).

6 Control temperature and humidity. For wine to age properly, the temperature must be stable—preferably 55 degrees Fahrenheit—and humidity should be about 70 percent, so corks don't deteriorate. A Cellar Teller accurately measures temperature and humidity ($40 from Tabletools.com; 888-211-6603).

7 Install one central light. Multiple fixtures, especially those directed at bottles, may warm the wine.

8 Hang plastic tags marked with the winery and vintage on bottle necks so you don't have to remove wines from the shelf to read the labels ($13 for 100 tags from California Vines; 866-469-9463).

PUBLISHED October 2003