When I first got into the wine business, classified-growth Bordeaux was relatively inexpensive, and I worked for a wine distributor with some of the best available. Kid in the candy store.
What I quickly discovered is that cellaring that Chateau Talbot 1982 had an enemy--Me (there's no "I" in enemy, but there is a "me" hiding behind the "Y" or why). Now, I'm only slightly schizophrenic--I'm okay and so am I--but, the Cellaring Me envisioned sitting on this wine for 20 years (waiting for that special occasion that never comes, see "Open That Bottle Any Night" below). Unfortunately, the Party-Hearty Me would invite some friends over for dinner and after a couple of bottles of more pedestrian wine, PH Me would say something like, "Oh, man, you gotta try this incredible Bordeaux I just bought." Boom, gone.
So, Cellaring Me devised a devilish plan to thwart PH Me. I obtained several wood wine boxes with lids, and I placed the wines to be cellared in those boxes and nailed the lids shut. I then stacked them on top of each other and put wine racks on top of the stack. Tough thing to do to PH Me, but somebody had to step up if I were ever to have a wine cellar.
I still have the same set up, and it still thwarts what little is left of PH Me. Unfortunately, it also means that I have a fair amount of wine I should have drunk by now. I'm just too lazy to unstack those boxes to get to it.
Cellaring wine is an inexact, unpredictable exercise. When a wine is at its peak is anybody's guess and always just a guess. Cellar conditions affect how quickly a wine ages, and few of us have perfect cellar conditions. Mine is a consistently cool, dark place with little vibration. I don't worry about humidity variations, nor should you. (Here's why.) So far, it's been sufficient. As with any cellar, I've had my surprises, both pleasant and unpleasant.
Corks, for instance, can be an unpleasant surprise in any cellar. Most corks last at best 25 years in the bottle. As they age, they contract even with the bottle on its side and the wine in contact with one end. Eventually, they fail and wine starts to drip out of the bottle--fruit fly nirvana. The contact with air is the wine's demise. This is why several of the 1st-Growth Bordeaux chateaux, Mouton and Lafite, and Australia's Penfolds regularly conduct re-corking clinics throughout the world. Great after-market service.
I've found that any wine older than a decade is probably best opened with an Ah-So, sometimes called a Butler's Friend. These two-pronged openers can often retrieve a dry cork, a crumbly cork, or any other cork in a fragile state.
And if you have a wine over 25 years old, what are you waiting for--Open That Bottle Night? How much older do you and that wine need to get?