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Sep 05

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The How and Why of Wine Storage

You may wonder why anyone would go to the trouble of buying wines and storing them for 10 or 20 years. It is a good question. You may think it would be easier just to buy the wine you wish to consume and drink it directly. The fact is that fine wines that have been aged in storage will cost you dearly. A wine purchased at release for $20 could increase in value 10 fold over a period of years leading up to peak drinkability. Part of that cost comes from the fact that someone else had to store the wine and storage space is costly. Though cost is not the only reason. Availability is another factor. Suppose you wish to acquire a fine wine that you have heard about from a friend or read about in a food and wine magazine. If it is an older bottle of wine it quite simply might not be available. There is also the issue of the provenance of a given wine that has been stored for a long period of time may be unknown. If you are about to spend a large sum of money on a bottle of wine you certainly don’t want to be disappointed with the quality of the product, because it had not been properly stored.

So, if you have any interest in consuming quality wines and doing it with an eye toward greater value this article will share information on the basics of storing wine for the long-term. It may be 5 years or it may be 20 years, but the conditions will remain the same.

To start we should look at what wines qualify for long term storage. Not all wines fit the criteria necessary to last for many years prior to consumption. In general, the best wines eligible for long-term storage are divided into 3 categories;

A) Vintage, varietal, red wines that have been aged in oak casks before bottling are the first candidates. Some are aged for 12 months and others may be aged for 18 to 24 months. The longer the wine is aged in oak the greater its ability to stand the test of time. Wines that fit this criteria are big reds from the Rhone, Bordeaux and Burgundy regions of France. Italian – Amarone, Barbaresco & Borolo, Chianti. Spanish wines like Rioja and some of the best wines from the South American countries of Argentina and Chile. All of these are among the top choices for long-term storage. These wines are often too tannic to drink when they are young. The aging process helps to mellow the tannic acid and thereby bring balance to the wine.

B) Vintage Port is a fortified wine that has been aged in oak then bottled. Port is specifically made with the intention of keeping for many years. The British have a custom of buying Port for the commemoration of the birth of a male child and keeping the wine until the boy’s 20th birthday.

C) Sweet dessert wines are not aged in oak, but due to their extremely high sugar content they are good candidates for storing many years. Dessert wines like Sauterne from France and Ice Wine from Germany are excellent examples of this class of wine.

Follow this link to learn more about information on wine labels – A.O.C. (France), D.O.C. (Spain), D.O.C.G. (Italy), Q.M.P. (Germany). Wines within these classification levels are usually good for storing.

Now that we understand which wines are best to store over a period of years, let’s look at how to do it.

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The fundamentals of proper wine storage are;

First, all wines must be stored with the bottles on their side. This is to ensure that the cork remains moist. A dry cork will allow for air to reach the wine and thus causing a process called oxidation. Oxidation, just like rust on metal, destroys the wine.

Temperature – A moderately cool temperature between 45 F and 65 F (7.22 C – 18.33 C) and 55 F (12.77 C) is considered perfect. It is also important that the wine not be subjected to wide variations in temperature. Big swings in the temperature during the storage period will have a negative impact on your wine. Of course, it is also essential that wine never be allowed to freeze.

Humidity – Another element of proper storage is humidity. You do not want the cork to dry out, because this will cause air to get into the bottle. Again, if this happens, oxidation will quickly destroy the wine. Somewhere between 50% and 70% humidity is best.

No Light – It is very important that wine not be exposed to light. Just like heat, bright light, especially sunlight or, fluorescent light are the enemy of wine.

No Vibration – The place you choose to store your wines should be free from vibration. So, that rules out keeping your wine on top of a refrigerator, for example.

Under my house is a perfect place to store wine for long-term. In the picture you can see 3+ cases of wine. My small collection includes, several bottles of Port, a few dessert wines, quite a few Italians, a couple of fine Bordeaux, and several Spanish wines. Currently the oldest bottle in my collection is a 1990 Vintage Port.

 

How long? The length of time you may store a given wine depends on many factors. The type of wine, the rating of the vintage, the amount of time the wine was aged in oak, and the conditions of the storage environment will have an effect on how long you should store the wine. If your storage conditions are slightly less than perfect it may be best to limit storage to around 5 years. On the other hand, if you have a storage facility with optimal conditions and the wine is a highly rated vintage that has been aged in oak for 18 months to 2 years, like an Amarone, then 20 years may be okay.

Another aspect related to wines that have been stored for 10 years or more, is the importance of decanting. Any red wine that has been in storage for 10 years or longer will have a degree of sediment in the bottle. You do not want a mouthful of that sludge…it can taste like mud.

Decanting does two things. In younger, full flavored wines it can be useful to aerate wine to allow for the fullness of flavors to come out. Older wines are decanted to separate the claret from any sediment that may be in the bottle after aging. Here is a link to learn the basics of decanting.

Keeping records of the wines you store is a good idea if you want to avoid losing track of what you have. At a minimum your records should include when you bought the wine and from whom, the cost of the bottle, as well as what year you might expect to open the bottle.

Also, keeping notes about your wines when you open them and share them with friends or family can help to refine your preferences. Over time, keeping track of the wines you taste will guide you as you search for new wines to add to your collection. Like many endeavors keeping accurate notes will bring greater clarity to your hobby. Your notes may also help friends and family to learn about wine and thus share in the pleasure of appreciating fine wine. In order to develop a mutual love of oenology you should start by going to this link to learn how to properly taste and record your impressions.

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