Whilst statistics show that most wine these days is consumed within twenty four hours of purchase, fine wines are often set aside for long term storage.
Fine wines are one of the few commodities that can improve in flavour and value with age, but can also rapidly deteriorate if kept under the wrong conditions. As such, storage is an important consideration for wine being kept for long term aging.
Historically, the storage of wine is handled by wine merchants, something we can offer today in our temperature controlled storage facility here at House of Townend, however consumers are increasingly storing their own wine in home based wine cellars too. Account Manager, Alison Gregson, tells you below you should correctly store fine wine.
Image: House of Townend's Temperature Controlled Fine Wine Room
Oxygen is by far a wine’s greatest enemy, but once a cork is firmly stoppered in a bottle, it will provide a protective airtight seal as long as the cork remains damp and swollen to fill the bottleneck. This is why wine bottles are traditionally stored on their sides, to prevent the cork from drying out and shrinking, allowing contamination from subsequent contact with the air.
The three additional factors which have the biggest impact on a wine’s condition during the storage and aging process are light, humidity and temperature.
Both natural and artificial light can adversely react with phenolic compounds in wine, affecting the taste and often leading to wine faults. Sparkling wines and light bodied whites are most vulnerable to light exposure and are often packaged in tinted bottles to offer increase protection. Wooden crates and corrugated boxes also help to protect wines in the cellar.
Regulated humidity is required when storing wines to prevent wines with cork closures from drying out, creating an ineffective seal. If the cork begins to dry out, it can allow oxygen into the bottle, filling the ullage space and possibly causing the wine to spoil or oxidise. Excessive humidity can damage labels which hinder identification and affect resale value. Experts recommend 60% humidity is ideal.
Temperature fluctuation is the most serious hazard for wine storage. Wine has a greater potential to develop complexity and a more aromatic bouquet if it is allowed to age slowly in a relatively cool environment. The lower the temperature, the more slowly and possibly more interestingly it will develop, the warmer it is stored, the faster it will mature, as heat speeds up evolutionary reactions. In general terms, the optimum temperature for cellaring is between 10 and 15 degrees celsius.
Other factors for consideration when storing wine are ensuring a vibration free environment, and an absence of surrounding strong smells. Vibration can contribute to an accelerated aging process with adverse effects on wine quality; a lack of vibration is also beneficial for wines with sediment.
Recent research suggests the ideal orientation for still wine bottles is at a slight angle, rather than completely horizontal as previously believed. This crucially allows the cork to remain in partial contact with the wine in order to stay moist to protect against oxidisation, whilst keeping the air bubble formed by the wine’s ullage at the top rather than in the middle of the bottle. It is argued that keeping the ullage near the top, allows for a slower and more gradual maturation process.
Champagne and Sparkling Wines tend to age better if they are kept upright, because the internal pressure caused by trapped carbonic gas provides enough humidity and protection from oxygen. Champagne is ready to drink upon release, matured to perfection in the producer’s cellars, however it will keep well for years when stored correctly.
To summarise, whether storing fine wines for investment purposes or purely for enjoyment, all the negative external influences covered can be prevented and controlled within home cellars by adopting the aforementioned guidelines. However much the easiest option in many ways is to have wine stored by professionals, particularly those like ourselves who ensure wine is stored in optimal conditions for a minimal fee and also offer sound advice on when to drink your wines. After all, whilst we’re told patience is a virtue and the best things come to those who wait, wine is most definitely made for drinking… cheers!
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