Wine is stored in a variety of ways - from the initial picking of grapes to when the bottle is tipped above your glass. The ephemeral beauty of wine is delicate and temperamental, thus, an understanding of how best to coddle this fleeting art form is of benefit to those who would enjoy a perfect glass.
In The Beginning...
In the vineyard grapes are picked and transported to the winery in a variety of ways. Some are mechanically harvested into large trucks and delivered in bulk to the winery. Some are hand picked into small tubs and attended to immediately upon arrival. There are even grapes picked in the cool of night, placed in small tubs, and processed with dawns first light. All of these choices have an impact on the final product. Once the grapes are delivered, more decisions are made. Should the wine be fermented in stainless steel, concrete vats, aged oak vats, or in small new oak barrels? How long should the wine be held before releasing it? Should the wine be aged in oak, stainless steel, on the lees, in the bottle? These decisions have a dramatic effect on the wine produced, and should give some indication of what to expect.
Off to Live the Life of Wine
Okay, the bottle has left the winery. It’s on the shelf in a liquor store. What now? The cardinal rule - heat and light are the enemies of wine. Some wines are compromised before we have the opportunity to screw them up ourselves. Typically, an inexpensive wine, made to be drank young, is not a risk that merits much investigation. However, if you are investing in an expensive wine - crafted to age for years - some knowledge of who imported or shipped the wine and how it may have been handled should be requisite prior to purchase. It’s always a good idea to speak with the wine store manager, who can give you the distributors’ contact information, or to research the wine on-line. If you plan to cellar a bottle, it’s important to know the wine has been handled well. Did it get too hot on a long ocean voyage? Has it sat in the sun on a shelf for a couple of months? Was it stored upright for an extended period of time? When investing in wine it’s best to know the answers to these questions.
With regard to personal storage, every wine wants to return to its’ roots. A cool, dark cabinet performs well, and, if possible, a controlled humidity of sixty-five or seventy percent is ideal. Wine bottles should be stored on their sides to ensure the cork is well saturated and swollen - creating a tight fit with the neck of the bottle. Wine should be stored under stable conditions, without tempeture, light, or humidity variation. Essentially, the closer you get to recreating the conditions of a grape vines’ roots - under ground, dark, moist, constant - the more cellaring will reward you.
Wine bottling and corking techniques also have a role to play. True with many things; judge the product, not the package. A fancy bottle can hide a bourgeois juice and countless great wine comes with inauspicious wraps. Yes, even boxed wine can be a good option. When boxing wine, less capital is diverted toward packaging and more funds (possibly) allocated toward crafting a better juice. Additionally the foil bladder inside the box collapses around any remaining wine, reducing oxidation, and increasing the wines’ overall longevity. Follow your own tastes, but for an everyday option, don’t rule out the box.
Put a Cork in It? Or Screw it Up?
To cork or not to cork? This remains the question. There are passionate experts on both sides of this issue. Certainly with some cork trees nearing endangered status, it behooves us to consider sustainability. Additionally, somewhere between five and ten percent of wine is faulted due to bacteria in the cork itself, not only a significant waste, but also a rude surprise when your last bottle of a rare vintage is undrinkable. To mitigate this many wines are now capped with a screw top or Stelvin closer. This reduces the likelihood of a tainted wine, costs less than cork, and eases some of the burden on cork trees. Stelvin closers do, however, seem a little less graceful when opened, and for many, have connotations of plonk (a wine of poor quality.) This may have been the case in the past; it is not today. Many great wines are capped with the Stelvin closer. Another new stopper is the glass lock, simply - a glass cork with a rubber seal. Perhaps a touch more classy, the glass lock does allow for a little more opening ritual. When a wine is designed to age in bottle, the cork issue becomes more complicated. Prevailing thought has always held some transfer of oxygen, through the cork, was necessary for the wine to mature and develop its’ bouquet. While the jury is out - it is likely to be some time before you see Chambertin with a screw top.
The Final Solution: Drink it!
When storing an opened bottle of wine you have a few options. The goal is to slow the rate of oxidation. Try a wine pump - designed to remove oxygen from the bottle, creating a partial vacuum, or try a wine preservative - essentially inert gas that will blanket the juice and seal out oxygen. Failing either of these, put the opened wine in the refrigerator, and yes, even your reds. Lowering a wines’ temperature also slows oxidation, just be sure to pull your red wine out an hour or so before serving.
Given a little information, wine storage is intuitive and straightforward, requiring little more than a cool cupboard, rarely opened. Box, cork, Stelvin and glass lock closers all have their place in today’s market, though they may tell less about the quality of the wine than they have in the past. Having passed through many loving hands, the bottle you hold is entrusted to your care. A gentle touch is usually rewarded. Remember – all wines long for their roots. Cheers.
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