History of wine cellaring

The history of wine cellaring dates back to ancient Greece and Rome where straw wines were used for their high sugar content. The most famous wines in early Rome were Surrentine and Ferlanian. Ancient Romans were the pioneers of Bordeaux wine made in the Bordeaux region of France that is revered for its world class wines even today. The Romans cultivated and nurtured vineyards in Bordeaux, formerly known as Burdigala. The Romans used different styles in producing wine which led to three distinct types of Bordeaux wine;
• The Left Bank whose wines included Haut-Medoc, Margaux and St. Estephe
• The Right Bank whose wines included Cheval Blanc and Ausone
• Petras Leognan whose wines are known for their earthy character.

Early days of Aging wine

Naturally aged wines were prized possessions and they fetched a hefty sum in the market. Early wine producers in Europe aged wine in underground caves where consistent storing conditions allowed wine to mature without disturbance. Wines produced in northern Europe were light bodied and had low alcohol content. This type of wine was not good for cellaring as its life cycle was just a few months. The practice of aging wine took a hit after the fall of the Roman Empire as the people’s interest in aged wine dwindled. This was devastating news for wine merchants who were thereby forced to dispose of their aged wine at a throw away price. Actually, the older the wine got, the cheaper it became. By the 16th century, the Mediterranean region was quickly establishing itself as a wine producer with sweeter and more alcoholic wines that were ideal candidates for aging. Great examples of these wines were Sack and Malmsey. Germany threw its hat in the ring with the introduction of Reisling, a wine that had a great combination of sugar and acids qualifying it for cellaring.

Corked bottles and Fortified wines

The practice of cellaring wine continued to evolve in the 17th century with new inventions that changed the game completely. For the first time ever, wine producers could store wine in glass bottles that were shut airtight with a cork. Corked bottles were a major shift from the traditional barrels winemakers used to store their wine. Another advancement came to play with the introduction of fortifying wines namely, Sherries and Madeira. This process involved adding alcohol to wine to act as a preservative while in transit. This way, wine made in ancient Europe and the Mediterranean could make it to England and to other far flung areas such as the Americas and the West Indies. The demand for fortified wine brands such as Claret and Port increased as more English citizens became fond of it. The English got their vino and business was good. These two inventions radicalized the wine trade and as the demand for wine increased within Europe and overseas, wine producers increased production to satisfy this demand. Increased production meant more space to store barrels and suddenly, production became an expensive affair. This prompted smaller merchants to take on the responsibility of storing wines in a bid to offload stock from the producer’s custody. Seeing an opportunity to create wealth and raise their social status, merchants rented warehouses where they could age wine then sell it for top dollar across the pond.

The plague of Phylloxera

As the wine business kept growing in strides, the proverbial plague struck. The plague in this case came in the form of Phylloxera, an insect in the family of aphids. This insect caused mass destruction of the grapes across vineyards in Europe. Thankfully, help came from America. Albert Macquin, among others, discovered that the American rootstock was resistant to these insects and they started grafting. European grape varieties responded differently to this grafting solution with the best success seen in Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. These three varieties of grapes remain the dominant varieties used in the production of Bordeaux wine until the present day. This success marked the beginning of Bordeaux dominance throughout the late 1800s as it went on to produce a series of vintages.

Fast forward to the 20th century, the wine industry was declining as the World Wars lingered and wine consumers lost interest and the pockets of winemakers were running out. Things only got worse at the height of World War 2 as Germans forcefully took over the wine industry. By 1945, Bordeaux wine was slowing rising back to its feet with a few sublime vintages throughout the 1950s. The wine industry went through several upheavals throughout the 80s with the occasional vintage and the introduction of Bordeaux wine futures. This concept required wine buyers to pay for their preferred choices two to three years in advance.


Today, Bordeaux wine remains the most sought after wine in the world with collectors clamoring to get their hands on the best bottles for cellaring. Buyers from emerging markets like Asia have acquired refined tastes and they have the resources to purchase these wines.