If I had a nickel for every time I heard, “I have a bottle of Champagne we got for our wedding 20 years ago; is it still good?,” I’d have a very fat piggy bank! In general, my answer to this is “Maybe, but you will never know until you try it!” Although most wines are made to be consumed within three to five years of their release date, many will age gracefully if stored properly. In general, wines that are light and fruity, such as Beaujolais and Zinfandel, should be consumed young while wines that have heavy tannins (Cabernet Sauvignon) and high acidity (French Chardonnay) can be aged. But I digress. Which wines to store will be a later blog; this is about how to store them.
When it comes to wine, storage is very important. Heat and light are the primary enemies of wine. In a recent post, I talked about laying bottles down, stating that if a wine has a screw cap closure, the chances of it going bad decrease. Though this is true, there are other things that can ruin a bottle of wine. In fact, just the other day a friend of mine texted me with a picture of a South African white blend and asked if it was supposed to taste like Salami. Having tried it before, I replied, “No, it should taste like peaches!” I told her it must be bad, and she responded “How? It has a screw cap!” When a wine has been exposed to too much heat or light, it can turn, producing a vinegary or overly raisiny flavor.
Key steps to protect your wine
If you are looking to store your wine long term, there are a few key steps to take to protect your wine:
Keep your wine cool; 55 degrees is ideal. However, anywhere from 45 to 65 is okay. Anything above 75 degrees for an extended period of time will hinder the quality of the wine. This is why the basement is a good storage area. Make sure the wine is in a dark corner and far away from appliances, such as the washing machine and dryer. These appliances give off heat and vibrations that will not let the wine rest properly. When wine becomes too warm, it expands and tries to push out the cork. When the temperature goes back down, it contracts and compromises the cork, so keeping a consistent temperature is ideal. Sometimes you will see that some wine has seeped out of the bottle. This is not a sure sign that the wine has gone bad. However, you may want to reevaluate where you are storing it.
The darker, the better. Though many consumers like being able to see the color of the wine in the bottle, a darker bottle is best. When UV rays come into contact with the wine over an extended period of time, the wine will mature at a faster rate. Winemakers use darker bottles, and sometimes even wrap the bottles in paper, to ensure the least amount of light is getting in. Fluorescent and sunlight are the worst while light from a halogen bulb is kindest.
Protect the cork. Like I stated in my Ask the Sommelier article, laying bottles down ensures that no air will get into the wine. When you lay the bottle down, the wine is pressed up against the cork, securing it. However, I must note that storing your wine in a relatively humid area helps keep the cork plump, preventing it from drying out and crumbling.
If you follow these basic wine storage rules, your wines will taste better longer. But always remember that wine is no good unless it is enjoyed! So next Tuesday night when you and your hubby are home watching TV, open up that old bottle and drink to each other.