Practical storage tips to keep your wine at its best until the moment you pull the cork!

How to store

If most wine is made to be drunk within a year or two of the vintage and most of us consume what we buy within days of purchase, what benefits are there to storing wine for future consumption and how do you do it?

The more I have got to know wine, the more I’ve understood a big part of the enjoyment is buying wine and waiting for the right moment to drink it.  My first experience of what a joy this can bring came one New Years Eve and involved a bottle of Leoville Barton 2003.  That first bottle was nothing short of a mouthful of sheer joy!  Blackberry, liquorice, earth and smoky tobacco being common characteristics it was like a Willy Wonka sweet moment!   In contrast, roll forward 5 New Years Eve’s later and the final 2003 Leoville Barton was plucked from the rack and poured.  From the first sniff, I knew the two experiences of this fine wine were not going to be same.  The wine was a shadow of its former self and had acquired a bitter, sour tar like taste –full of rubber characteristics and all flavours had gone. This wine was either stored incorrectly or time had finally caught up with its characteristics. In truth it was a bit of both!

3 golden rules for storing wine

Wine is a simple product. Remember just one thing. It is organic!  Whether its that bottle of ‘90 Chateau Pavie or a plastic bottle of table wine, it will begin to breakdown as soon as the wine comes into contact with oxygen: changing the character and structure of the wine, robbing it of any vibrancy and character.

So good storage is essential. Where possible, store your bottles horizontally, in an atmosphere with a little humidity to help stop the cork from drying out and exposing the wine to oxygen.  Keeping the bottles out of direct sunlight and cool and stable is also important. The wine should be subject to as little movement as possible.

Temperature and humidity

Temperature fluctuation is the probably the greatest hazard in wine storage as the wine matures. Avoid storing wine where there are widely ranging daily temperatures. The recommend temperature is 10°C-13°C (50°F-55°F). The warmer it is stored, the faster it will mature because heat inevitably speeds up all reactions. so the cooler wine is kept, the slower, and very possibly more interestingly, it will develop. Bottles closed with natural cork should always be stored on their sides so the wine touches the cork and keeps it damp and swollen.  Bottles stoppered with screw caps or synthetic ‘corks’ can be stored at any angle. Champagne bottles can also be stored upright.

Vibration

Vibration can shift the sediment in the wine, resulting in a gritty texture. Make sure to avoid dropping the wine, or moving the crates or shelves suddenly

Light

Strong light can adversely affect the taste of wine, particularly sparkling wine, and particularly if the bottles are made from clear or pale glass. (This is why wine is sold increasingly in darker bottles, and why champagne is sometimes special lightproof cellophane (Cristal))

Which wines can I store?

Although there is no definite answer, 95% of wine is not meant for “cellaring” or storing for extended amounts of time. Shelf wines are intended to be consumed while fresh and young in the bottle.

Wines that do improve with age must have a higher degree of concentration of fruit, more body and higher levels of natural preservatives called phenols;anthocyanins, the colouring matter found just under the grapes’ skins) and tannins, the bitter, dry ingredient found also in skins and pips and the wood in which wine is aged.

The best red varieties that age successfully are:

Cabernet SauvignonMerlotSyrah/Shiraz, Nebbiolo, Sangiovese

The natural preservatives help keep the wine fresh, whilst the tannins gradually soften and the colour changes from purple through ruby, mahogany to finally becoming pale and brown. Primary aromas of fresh fruit develop into secondary (aged) and tertiary aromas (added by the winemaker). The bouquet and flavour of fine wine has many nuances and layers of complexity that really make it worth the wait.

When is the right time?

Because of the high tannins, it’s not uncommon for some Bordeaux’s to last up to 35 years and take up to 10 years to be at their best!

It really it all depends on the original quality of the wine (How well is the vineyard regarded); the vintage (lighter years mature more quickly); the storage (a dark place and a steady coolish temperature of 13ºC or so help; see below); and even the size of the bottle (half bottles age faster than full bottles or magnums) but the right age also depends too on personal taste, whether you prefer the accent to be on primary fruit or you look for the added complexity that comes with age.

How to tell if your wine has spoiled?

Look out for a change in the colour of the liquid (usually a cloudy appearance) or a dusty settlement in the bottom of the bottle. If these things are going on in the bottle, then it has most likely gone bad and the taste will not be pleasant!

Storing wine that has been opened

The best way to store an open bottle of red wine is to replace the cork and put it in a cool, dark place. If you don’t have a red wine fridge (set to a specific temperature), you can either:

▪ Re-cork after every glass to limit the oxygen that gets into the bottle.

▪ Better still, buy a wine preserver. The wine preserver sucks all the air from the bottle, reducing oxygenation and extending the lifespan of your wine. (Up to a week)

▪ Alternatively don’t even open the bottle and use a Coravin system – a device that extracts the wine through the cork with a fine needle (i.e. without having to open the bottle) and replaces any air in bottle with argon gas.

▪ And always store in the right place for the wine: Put whites and light wines in the fridge, and keep reds and fortified wines in a cool, dark place away from light and heat If you don’t have a cool, dark place like a pantry then your fridge is better than letting the wine sit out in a 70°F (21°C) room.

Life Expectancy after opening:

In a cool, dark place with a cork, red wine will last 5-7 days.  The more tannin and acidity the red wine has, the longer it tends to last after opening. So, a light red with very little tannin, such as Pinot Noir, won’t last open as long as a rich red Cabernet Sauvignon.

Where to store

So from everything we have discussed so far it follows that the ideal for wine storage is a nice, dark, protected cellar or a room, lined with wine racks.  Alas for most of us it is but a dream so a more affordable alternative is needed.

Whatever you do, avoid the places at home where usually there is spare space  – usually the top of the fridge, or cooker or near the central heating boiler!!! Also avoid the corner of a spare-room near the radiator. If you are serious about wine you could buy an ‘artificial cellar’, a temperature- and humidity-controlled cabinet like a refrigerator or specially excavated ‘spiral cellar’.  The more serious collector-investor will do best using a professional storage company.

And finally, wherever you choose to store your wine, don’t forget to make a list of ideal drink dates for your collection.   If you miss their drinking times you may miss the wine at its best. And if you have followed these hints and tips – it would be a shame to miss the fruits of your labour and mess the best bit!  Enjoy!

Something that you have been unable to answer yourself?  Any advice on hard to find wines?  Please ask away at thegrapewizard@gmail.com

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