As we head into the warmer months, now might be a good time to take a look at how we’re storing our wine. On top of the kitchen cupboard or even in a rack against the dining room wall may not being doing your wine any justice, especially if you’re planning to keep it a while.
Of course, the very best way to store wine is in a purpose-built cellar or refrigerated wine cabinet, however these days, particularly for high-rise city-dwellers, those pushed for space, or those on a budget, it can be difficult to find ideal conditions for wine storage. But if you’re serious about cellaring your wine, considering a few vital storage conditions can go a long way towards optimising the wine you ultimately get to drink.
This is the biggy. Whether your wine is under cork or screwcap, overall temperature is going to be the single biggest factor in determining long-term wine quality. Temperature affects the rate of certain chemical changes that occur during maturation and each 10°C increase in temperature can effectively double the rate of change. Ideally, the temperature for long-term storage should be about 13°C to 16°C. As a general rule of thumb, the cooler the better, though not so cool as to hasten the rate of sediment and tartrate deposit.
Cooler temperatures will mean slower ageing but warmer temperatures do not, unfortunately, equate to a fast-track to perfectly matured wine. Fast ageing does not mean favourable ageing. Wines aged in warm conditions will age gracelessly and will deteriorate rapidly. Dignified, gracious ageing and ultimate wine stability require long, slow, cool maturation.
While fluctuations in temperature can be particularly disastrous for wines bottled under cork, this is less of an issue for wines under screwcap. Fluctuations in temperature cause pressure changes within the bottle and cause corks to expand and contract. This can compromise the integrity of a cork seal. Oxygen can seep into the wine, resulting in oxidation, or alternately wine can leak out, allowing yet more oxygen to move in to fill up the gaps the lost wine has created. Not to mention all sorts of unsightly mess!
While screwcaps are vastly superior for withstanding temperature fluctuations from the perspective of seal integrity, all wines will suffer from extreme temperature fluctuations over prolonged periods, as this will also affect how gracefully, or otherwise, the wine matures. Best not to leave that box of wine in the boot of the car!
Humidity is an important consideration mostly when it comes to wines bottled under cork. A humid environment (ideally around 70 to 80% relative humidity) will prevent corks from drying out and wine from evaporating. Too high a humidity, though, and you risk labels going mouldy and peeling off, and cardboard cartons deteriorating. Screwcaps, however, will be unaffected by the level of humidity. Similarly, it is wise to keep cork-sealed bottles lying down to prevent drying of corks, though screwcapped bottles may be stored upright with no detrimental effect.
Light is another factor that can cause wines to deteriorate, particularly ultraviolet light from the sun, which causes free radical development in the wine, resulting in rapid oxidation and premature ageing. Sparkling wines are especially susceptible. Even the light going on and off in your refrigerator can affect wine quality, so keep those precious bottles in the fridge wrapped in foil. Keep wines in the dark if possible, or in their cartons, and use low-wattage light-bulbs, or traditional candles, if you need light to make your dinner selections.
Vibrations and movement can also affect wine quality, unsettling deposits and potentially re-integrating sediments back into the wine. Long-term vibration can also detrimentally change the chemical composition of wine, affecting the balance of maturation reactions and diminishing aromas and flavours.
Finally, adequate ventilation will help prevent any build-up of odours in the storage space. An odour-free environment is essential for cork-sealed wines as corks are porous and will allow odour molecules to move through the cork into the wine. Screwcaps are impermeable to odours so this problem is alleviated, if not entirely eliminated.
So it may be time to rethink the top of the kitchen cupboards for a cool, dark and quiet space to allow your wine a dignified progression into maturity.