Basically, to enhance your enjoyment and get the best out of your wines.
Wine will always take a while to settle down after bottling. After the wine leaves the vineyard it is shipped to a wholesaler then on to a retailer and finally to you, the customer. In the process the bottles are subject to a great deal of vibration and shaking.
Because the supply chain shakes the wine around so much in the bottle even in the very short term wine can be enhanced with minimum cellaring. To demonstrate the benefits of even short term cellaring we did the following experiment: A bottle of red that had been with us for three months under careful cellaring was opened alongside a bottle of the same wine, same vintage, that had just arrived to us on the back of a truck. We didn't even mask the bottles but just asked our clients as they approached to try the wines.They asked "why? They are two bottles of the same wine!" We insisted they try a taste of each wine alongside each other. Everyone, without exception, could taste the difference. Some went away scratching their heads not too sure that we had not been playing a trick on them!
The cellared wine was simply much more drinkable, the flavours much more integrated. The new arrival was all over the place and had nowhere near the depth of fruit that the cellared wine had.
Many people will buy a minimum of six to a dozen bottles of an individual wine to 'lay down' or, with the advent of screw caps, 'stand up'! By purchasing in quantities rather than a bottle or two you are always going get a better deal from your wine merchant.
A wine cellar must incorporate, darkness, a constant cool temperature, lack of movement and vibration (see above) and humidity.
Darkness is a necessity, as light, especially direct UV light, will prematurely age your wine, as it does humans.
A temperature of around 15°-16°C is the optimum. Your wine hates heat - especially fluctuations. Wines stored at a constant higher temperature say 20°-21°C will age a lot quicker, that is not to say that is a particularly bad thing. You will just have to drink it earlier! Humidity of around 65-70% is optimum so your corks don't dry out, on the other hand you don't want it too humid or you will have bacteria growing which will be disastrous for your wine as well as causing labels to go mouldy, which will have you guessing as to what is what and from where.
If you don't have the space or inclination to build a cellar the alternatives are wine fridges, or wine storage facilities.
Seek advice from a reputable wineshop or friends and family who have an interest in wine and wine reviewers. We are blessed with some very fine wine scribes who usually when reviewing a wine will give their appraisal of its cellaring potential. Another place to look is at public wine forums on the net.
Also look for wines that have a proven track record for ‘safe keeping’. Steer clear of reds that have an extremely high alcoholic percentage, this usually points to a lack of natural acidity which is one of the most important elements needed in a wine to age gracefully.
Look for the better vintages - one of the luxuries of the vast Australian continent is that you will always find some wine regions where the vintage is good when others may have been poor.
What to cellar
Coonawarra and Margaret River for their reds, in particular Cabernet Sauvignon, and the latter for some sensational Chardonnays. Shiraz from Central Victoria, the Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale. The Mornington Peninsula, Yarra Valley, Adelaide Hills and Tasmania for Pinot Noir. Be careful with this variety, short term is best. The Hunter Valley is renowned for Semillon and this variety's potential to age gracefully. The Marsanne from Central Victoria also has a great track record in the cellar and Rieslings from the Clare Valley and Great Southern Region of W.A. are always safe bets.
Things to remember
Don't let your wines go past their optimum drinking time. Keep records and tasting notes of your cellared wines, try different ones and write down your thoughts on where they are at - for your palate. For example, I have a friend with a wonderful cellar who loves his Rieslings but with a lot more age on them than I care for. It is a matter of personal taste. If on the back label of a Riesling bottle it states cellar to six years, have a taste well before - say at three years. Note your thoughts at the time and remember your preferences.