Proper Wine Storage -- It's Starts at the Store!

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A lot of people are concerned with ensuring that they store their wine properly. And, that’s important. But to ensure you are getting a wine that’s at its best, you also need to take into consideration the store where you’re buying your wine.

Sure, there are potential storage issues between the winery and the store. Like the method of shipment and the time of year (e.g., getting too hot). But, how your local wine shop or store handles your wine is very important because it may sit on the shelf for a longer period of time.

While visiting the eastern U.S. last winter, I took a short snowy walk to a place where I’ve purchased wine before. While it was below freezing outside, the store was nice and warm. But, that caused me to pause. As I took off my layers to be comfortable while shopping, it struck me that it was probably in the high 70s F in the store, if not 80 degrees. While that’s a comfortable temperature for shoppers on a cold winter day, that’s not anywhere near an ideal temperature for a wine.

Maybe you’ve noticed that most grocery stores are kept quite cool. That’s intentional to help keep their merchandise as fresh as possible. And that’s especially true for wine. While most guidance for wine storage is in the 50s F, even a “cool” temperature in a store will be in the high 60s. While that’s fine for short amount of time, finding an older bottle of a nice wine that been sitting at nearly 80 degrees F for who knows how long, could be an issue.

So, just keep in mind that while you may have the ideal wine storage system at home, you also must ensure that the wine you’re putting into it has not been damaged while in the store.

Oh! And also consider where the wine is placed within the store. I’ve seen too many wine shelves in direct sunlight. That’s not good either!


The Factors that Make a Wine More Capable of Bottle Aging


We've now worked our way through how a wine gets its flavor - from the grape, the skins, seeds and stems, fermentation, barrel aging and last time we touched on bottle aging. There we learned that most wines are not meant for long-term bottle aging. But, what does make a bottle of wine age worthy?

It may seem obvious, but the color and the type of grape are very important. Red wines are best at bottle aging because of their natural tannin from the grape skin, seeds and stem as well as from barrel aging. This is most common in Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah.  White wines generally don't age well and should be consumed young.

The vintage, or the year the grapes were grown, can significantly affect a wine's ability to age well. The balance of tannin and acid in a particular year may lend the resulting wine to better aging prospects.

Where the wine is from can also affect its ability to age. There are key regions, such as Bordeaux France and Napa California that produce very age-worthy grapes.

And finally, storage conditions are also key. Wines must be stored in cool conditions (~58 degrees F) and away from light.  Even a great wine will quickly be damaged by heat and light.

Next time, we'll take a look at specific regions and wines for their age worthiness. You may be surprised by some of the guidelines. Until then, Cheers!


Are Older Wines Better?

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It's commonly believed that older wine is better. And that can be true. But often, it's not.

If you've read some of my past blogs, you know that one of my favorite lines is that a wine cellar is not a wine hospital -- it doesn't make a bad wine better.

Today, most wine is meant to be enjoyed right away. When it's bottled, it's ready for consumption. Ageing doesn't make it better.

What you will find is that older wines do indeed change. On the positive side, tannins in red wines will mellow making the wine feel smoother in your mouth. But, on the down side, the big fruit flavors and aromas also fade. You'll begin to get different smells and tastes in older wines that you may not expect from a young wine. Especially if the wine is oxidized, you'll detect a distinct nutty flavor. Also, as red wines age, the red color changes from deep red to a much paler red and can even begin to take on orange colors.

A good rule of thumb is that most wines will being to fade to the down side in as few as five years and after 10 years they'll generally have lost most of their character, if not out-right spoiled. And, remember, this aging must be done properly in a cool, dark place.

So, older wines can be better. But, you don't need to age wines to be able to drink great wines.

Next time we'll look at old wines and their appeal. Cheers!


How Long Should You Age a Wine?

Last time I mentioned buying a rosé that turned out to be more than three years old, that may not have been properly stored, had turned a brown-orange color and had nutty flavors that a fresh, fruity rosé should not have.  And, several years ago I discovered a bottle of Chardonnay that had gotten stuck away at home and was re-discovered after a couple of years. It too had become a golden-brown color and lost all it original flavor.

The general rule of thumb on rosés is to drink them right away while they are fresh. And with white wines, they can tolerate some aging but most should be consumed within a couple of years after their vintage date. And, with red wines, the assumption is that they just keep getting better with age. But, this is not generally true.

Most wines today are meant to be consumed immediately.  Wineries bottle their wines when they are ready to drink. You should feel confident in opening a bottle of red wine immediately after you purchase it.  If you do choose to put away some wine to let it age, you have to be a bit careful. The line I love is that "A cellar is not a wine hospital, it doesn't make a bad wine better."  So before you put some wine away for aging, ensure that it's starting out as a good wine.

You also really need to be careful of how and where you age your wines. You need a cool (50-55 F), dark place with something around 75% humidity. If your basement fits these criteria, you are good to go. Otherwise, you really need a wine refrigerator. Not a standard refrigerator. They are too cold and have little to no humidity.

Then, the question becomes "How long should you age a wine?"  Well, you may be surprised by Wine Enthusiast's recent 2015 Vintage Chart (February 2016 issue).  Interestingly, their recommendation for Napa Cabernet's (considered a top U.S. wine) is that anything older than 2001 is either past its peak, in decline or may be undrinkable!  And that's with all the proper storage techniques. Reviewing all the rest of the U.S. made wines shows that they are past their peak if they were vinted in 2003 or earlier. And something like a Syrah, produced in the South Coast of California, is questionable if it's older than 2009.  So aging has its limits.

If you do choose to put some wine away, first ensure that it's a good wine to start with, store it under the proper controlled conditions, and don't let it go too long.  A common practice, among those who have wine cellars, is to purchase a case of a single wine and open a bottle each year to see how it's aging. You'd hate to put a case of good wine away for a dozen years, then pull out a bottle and find that they have all gone well past their peak.

There are many factors that affect a wine's ability to age, and we'll touch on those next time.  For now, I'm going to pull the cork on a nice 2010 Sonoma Zinfandel that should be at its peak maturity now. Cheers!

Behind the Cork™ Wine of the Week - Sextant Wheelhouse Zinfandel ($15)

This is a nice Zinfandel with flavors of blackberries, dark cherries and some toasted flavors that finishes well. It is a bold, somewhat jammy wine that works well just sipping by the glass or enjoying with a meal.