Having a wine cellar means you are well on your way to becoming a connoisseur. However, before you start toasting to success, challenge yourself to locate five random bottles in your cellar as quickly as possible. A properly labeled cellar will have you acing that test in no time.
Sort by the region in which each wine was produced. This can be as broad as “domestic” and “foreign,” or as specific as “Sonoma Valley, CA,” “Champagne, France,” and “Barossa Valley, Australia.” You may have only a few regions if your collection is still growing. For a large collection, an easy sorting might be as follows: Local Wines, California, French Bordeaux, French Burgundy, Australia, Italy and Spain, Emerging Regions, Champagnes, Dessert Wines and Miscellaneous.
Continue your sort by cataloging the reds and whites within each region, followed by the year. For example, in the French Burgundy section, rack all the whites together and all the reds together. Then, rack the vintages by year. There are a few exceptions, but most wine bottle necks are sealed with the color of the wine. White wines usually have a yellow or white top. Champagnes and dessert wines have a silver, bronze, gold or black top. Red wines have any shade of red (it varies greatly). This easy sorting makes labeling easier.
Create region labels. Once you have successfully sorted by region and variety, make medium-sized sheets that mark each section. A good size is 5 x 7 inches. Don’t go larger than 8.5 x 11 inches. Wine cellar categorization should be subtle and classy. You may want to type and print these cards, rather than handwriting them. Label each card with the region (e.g., California) and fasten the card to an area of the cellar wall that does not interfere with your view of the bottles. These region cards should not be the first thing your eye goes to when you walk into the cellar.
Purchase wine tags. A wine tag is the industry name for a label that is designed to hang on the neck of the bottle. Since most bottle necks stick out from their place on the rack, this type of label is easy to read. Wine tags come in all shapes and sizes. The most inexpensive are disposable paper or plastic and come in packages of 80 or more. Some can be purchased with plastic sleeves, while others are designed to be run through a computer printer. For diverse collections of thousands of bottles, wine tags that come with computer software, bar codes and a scanner are the best options. An Internet search for “wine tag” will produce plenty of outlets for online purchase.
Include the wine’s vintage, the vineyard or appellation, and the grape on the wine tag. Don’t worry about labeling the neck bottle with the region. Concentrate on the specifics. For example, a bottle of 1996 Kistler Chardonnay from Sonoma Valley in California would be tagged, “94, Sonoma Valley Chard.” Wine tags don’t provide much room, so print small and legibly. If you have an entire wall of Kistler Chardonnay, there is no need to include “Chard” in your description. On the other hand, if you have a mixed wall of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio, include the grape variety on the label.
Tag every bottle except for the duplicates. If you have 6 bottles of Little Penguin Merlot, you only need a wine tag for the first bottle in the row (usually the one on the left-most side of the rack). However, if you have a Merlot from 1999, 2000 and 2001, each bottle needs a wine tag.
Keep spare wine tags handy. A package of 100 may seem like a lot, but as your collection grows, you’ll need more. Wine tags get ruined, reused and lost. The more wine you rack without tagging it, the more disorganized your cellar will become.
Label wine tags with a permanent black marker. Cellars are usually damp and not well lit, so bold labeling is most effective.