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Gonna Drink That Wine? Better Store It.

Posted July 31, 2012 in Storage

A good wine has been carefully aged to allow the grapes to do their magic work.  The flavor will develop and mature, and you get those hints of oak and spice instead of a nice glass of grape juice.  Likewise, when you purchase a bottle of wine, some care needs to be put into how you store it.  When we conduct our exhaustive tests on wine here at Wine Is Life, our bottle lasts about…

…About this long.Image: Clifford Wong

You may choose to purchase bottles of wine for future use, so here are some tips on proper storage:

There are really only three things that have a negative impact on storing your wine:  light, humidity, and temperature.  Well, four if you count thirst, but we’re not talking about our wine – we’re talking about yours, so we’ll stick to the big three.

UV rays and florescent lights can cause a wine to “turn” or give it a funky smell.  There is a very good reason that people began to make dark glass.  It was to protect their wine.  Many wines still come in clear glass, so take particular care of those.  Some vineyards will wrap their bottles in plastic or cloth to protect them during the aging process.  Your kitchen window, while great for growing a chia pet and watching the neighbors argue, is a horrible place to store wine.

Now, you may not live in a castle with a ginormous dungeon to use as a wine cellar, but any dark place would do.  Except the attic.  That’s for storing your freaky antiques and the box from Hellraiser.  Your wine should have a nice “quiet place” to rest before you tip it back, and it likes it a little dark.  A small area in your pantry would work, unless you’re storing on an “Imelda Marcos/I like shoes” sort of scale.  Even a box or paper bag would work for short-term storage.

We used to wrinkle our noses at screw-top wines, but that’s starting to change.  Labels are also using synthetic corks with more frequency, so the Cork War is starting to lose ground.  Humidity still plays a role in how stable your wines remain.  If you have a bottle with a real, live cork, it will require some humidity to keep it moist.  Cork is kind of a living organism, even after you take it from the tree.  Think of it kind of like a sponge:  When it’s wet it swells up.  When it gets dried up it sucks for anything.  When you go to a big, commercial bottler that is aging its own wines, there is often dirt or gravel on the floor.  This isn’t just so you feel like the wine is old.  They will occasionally wet down the floor to maintain a degree of humidity.

Even storing the bottle on the side won’t protect your cork.  One side will get nice, delicious wine while the other gets nothing.  Too much humidity will lead to the development of mold, and your labels will rot away.  “What’s this?”  “It’s…umm…either a ’29 Lafite or one I picked up at the Gas-N-Go.”  Everyone thinks that keeping things in the refrigerator will extend the life.  Have you looked really closely at the nooks and crannies in your fridge?  Things do actually die in there.  And, surprisingly, a refrigerator will suck the humidity out of things.  Toss it in the fridge to get it cold, but not for an extended stay.

This isn’t to say that temperature doesn’t play a role in wine storage.  Did you ever get into your car on a really hot day?  Made you mad, didn’t it?  Wine is the same way.  We like a good Madeira because it’s pretty impervious to temperature.  They heat it up to make it, so it can hold its own in a picnic basket.  But other wines are a little more sensitive.   You might think that there are different preferred temperatures for wines, but you would be wrong.  The ideal temperature for storing wine is in the middle 50’s, like 52 degrees.  That might be a little cold for your kitchen, so you can feel comfortable with anything under about 80.  The important thing is that the temperature remains consistent.  Wine, like all things, is composed of billions of tiny atoms, and these little buggers get excited when there are fluctuations in their environment.  Like all things in nature, they will expand and contract as it gets hotter or colder.

You may not have a 1,000 pound robot to protect your wine.  You may not have a need to secure your collection from earthquakes.  You may be like us and just drink them as quick as you buy them.  If you’re not, put a little thought into where you keep those lovely bottles of life-giving wine!

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