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  Corkscrew Issue 7, April 2003   
Keeping Wine at HomeKeeping Wine at Home  Contents 
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Keeping Wine at Home

Personal cellar is the dream of every wine lover, however not everyone can afford it. Here are some simple rules for keeping bottles of wine at home

 One of the most frequent worry of every wine lover is the dilemma of how keeping bottles of wine as they are bought and the idea that they could damage because of a bad keeping is something everyone wishes to avoid. The perfect keeping of wine, as it is commonly known, would require a special and proper room, that is a cellar, provided with favorable conditions in order not to compromise the precious content of bottles and to allow them to properly evolve in the course of time. The bad news is that not many can afford a room of this type, the good news is that by following few and simple rules it is possible to have bottles to survive for some years even without having any cellar, and the second good news is that the majority of the wines released on the market are ready to be uncorked and appreciated as they are bought, in particular white wines.


 

 However it should be remembered some wines are intentionally released on the market when they are still “young” and their aging is delegated to the buyer, opening these wines once they are bought or soon after they are bought would simply mean renouncing to a better opportunity that only time would be able to give. Whereas the majority of white wines can be appreciated just after being bought, when they are still crisp, aromatic and fruity, in case of red wines, or better, in case of certain red wines, things certainly improve with a proper and prolonged aging in bottle. It should however be noticed that the common belief about wine getting better with time is not always true, it is true that certain wines get better with time, but not really all wines and for this reason often happens that certain wines are drunk when it is late, or even worse, too late, instead of uncorking that bottle during its best time when the wine is still capable of expressing its best qualities.

 The majority of white wines, for example, lose their character of crispness and fruitiness, as well as their appealing aromaticity, just after six months from their release in the market. Therefore, how can be recognized the wines that could improve with a further aging in bottle? Some producers, unfortunately not many, write in the back label the life expectancy of their wines, of course, the information is valid only in case the wine is kept in good conditions, instead others completely ignore this important information for the consumer. Moreover, there are other producers that also provide explicit advices on the necessity of waiting some months before opening the bottle. After all, who could know better these kind of information if not its producer and that could, both for courtesy and for honesty, inform their clients?

 A “general” rule, very general to be honest, is that more expensive wines, and this is something that happens more frequently for reds than for whites, are the ones more suitable for bottle aging after their purchase and they should not be uncorked once they are bought. Generally speaking, red wines that show sediment in the bottom of the bottle or are full bodied, should be allowed to age for some years before being uncorked. In case it is wished to uncork a bottle of wine once it was bought, it should be better to postpone the uncorking after some days, even better after a week or ten days, in order to allow wine to stabilize and to “recover” from the shock for having been moved. This trick is very useful in particular for red wines because allows sediment to deposit to the bottom of the bottle.

 

Ideal Conditions for Keeping

 One of the main problems about the keeping of wine is the possibility of oxidation, a risk that could happen when wine is in contact, for a prolonged time, with oxygen. Even though the bottle is in good conditions, it should be remembered that cork, a porous and elastic material, can change its physical and mechanical characteristics as a consequence of specific conditions. The most frequent risk, which is also cause of oxidation in wine, is the shrinking of the cork, because of scarce humidity, and this shrinking will favor the entering of oxygen inside the bottle. One of the most practical method in order to avoid this condition is to keep the bottle in horizontal position in order to allow wine to stay in contact with cork and therefore to keep it wet while avoiding its shrinkage.

 “Enemy number two” of wine keeping is temperature and this can also influence oxidation and the quantity of air that could enter inside the bottle. Temperature, as it is commonly known, has the property to expand, with heat, or shrinking, with cold, certain substances, such as water and therefore also wine. As the temperature gets higher, the liquid mass expands while pushing the air trapped inside the bottle through cork and, because of pressure, the wine will spill out from the side of the neck and cork. As the liquid cools down the opposite condition takes place, the liquid shrinks and therefore a depression takes place and this will have the effect of sucking air, and therefore oxygen will enter the bottle, through the neck and cork. It should be however remembered that, again because of the effects of temperature, that when the liquid mass expands, some wine could spill out from bottle and not only air, in this case it will leave more space in the bottle and it will be occupied by air when wine will shrink again because of the lowering of the temperature. The repetition of this phenomena, besides diminishing the content of the wine in the bottle, also provokes the oxidation of wine. Recently a new theory on how wine bottles should be kept during aging has been introduced. It seems that keeping the bottle oblique, not horizontal, in order to have the air bubble to “emerge” up to the cork, while allowing wine to be however in contact with cork, would avoid the problem of wine spilling. The expansions would push out only air but not wine, however it should be remembered that every contraction would always suck some air.

 Another aspect connected to temperature is about the velocity at which wine ages with time. The aging process of wine is accelerated at high temperatures, whereas at low temperatures, or better to say, at a proper and correct temperature, wine ages slowly while allowing the full development of aromas and of its organoleptic qualities. Another problem connected to temperature is about the sudden cooling down, a condition that, indeed, is truly improbable in modern houses. In case temperature falls down more than 6° C (43° F) and in a violent and prolonged way, this can be cause of the precipitation of tartrates, a condition that is mostly found in white wines, and however it does not damage wine in anyway but only its aspect. The ideal temperature at which wine should be kept ranges from 10° and 16° C (50° to 61° F) and the temperature must be as much stable as possible, preferably between 14° and 15° C. (57° and 59° F). However it should be remembered that temperatures higher than 25° C (77° F) seriously compromise wine's characteristics, in particular its volatile components that could irremediably deteriorate.

 Another factor that can compromise the keeping of wine is light and it can even affect the taste of wine. Wines that mostly suffer from the effect of light are white and sparkling wines, in particular when they are kept in colorless or little colored bottles. A simple remedy for this condition could be to wrap bottles in a sheet of paper or with aluminum foil. Even humidity is crucial for the good keeping of wine: a too much dry room would favor the shrinkage of corks, whereas a too much humid room will inevitably damage bottle's labels and will favor the development of molds and microorganisms that would be cause of bad smells. The ideal percentage of humidity should be of 70%. Moreover, the development of molds and bad smells can be avoided by a proper ventilation of the room where bottles are kept. Lastly, even vibrations influence the state of wine, not directly its preservability, because shakes could allow sediment to be suspended in the wine and by doing so they would affect, for a more or less long period of time, the aesthetical aspect of wine. What is truly essential, in particular for home keeping, is to keep wine bottles away from substances or rooms having strong smells because these odors would be easily passed to wine.

 

Keeping Wine at Home

 Conditions for keeping wine we discussed so far can be realized in rooms that are especially used for this purpose and are properly built in order to ensure these conditions. Things greatly change in case there is no availability of such a room, that is a real and proper cellar, and we are forced to adapt or to accept what we can find in some rooms of our house. Modern houses suffer, like to say, of high temperatures and often the home heating system goes beyond 20° C (68° F) with the risk of an excessive cooling down when it is turned off. Moreover, there are some rooms of the house, such us the kitchen, where the temperature, humidity and, lastly, the presence of strong smells would seriously compromise the good keeping of wine. In case the kitchen is chosen as the room where wine is going to be kept, it will be wise to keep it in the most neutral part of the room and not being affected by these inconvenient. In case there is the possibility of having a room in the house expressly destined for keeping foods, such as a store-room, it can be easily adapted in order to allow a good keeping of wine.

 First of all it will be essential that this room is not affected by the home heating system, most of cases it will be enough to turn off the room's radiator and the door will be properly isolated with some thermal isolator material and, in case this room is adjacent to external walls or other warm rooms, such as the heating system room, its walls will be isolated as well. Rooms which are just under the roof, such as attics, are to avoided, because in summer time, as well as in winter time, the variations of the temperature would be truly broad and they will easily and certainly reach temperatures which are not suitable for keeping wine. Humidity can be kept at the right percentage by placing a container with water in the floor of this room and possibly near the bottles. An easy help in order to maintain the right conditions for keeping wine in a room which is properly destined as “cellar”, can be represented by the installation of a real and proper air conditioner that will maintain constant both temperature and humidity.

 In case there is no room to be destined as “personal cellar”, it should be good to choose the most stable room in terms of temperature and humidity, kitchen is always and however to be avoided even because of the presence of appliances that tend to heat up air, and to keep wines in wood cases, such us the ones used by certain producers for the shipping of their wines, or in thick cardboard boxes and that will be kept anyway closed. In case shelves or racks are going to be used, now easily found in any furniture shop, it is best to choose a room that can be adapted to them and, because of the proper characteristics of wine racks or shelves, make sure they are properly sheltered from light.

 However, home keeping of wine, even when it is done by obeying to the most scrupulous conditions, does not guarantee a long and profitable life to wine, these remedies are useful only for allowing the aging of wine for some years, two or three, and it is however risky, to tell the truth, there are risks anyway even in the most perfect cellar provided with the best conditions, however it is obvious that keeping wine at home greatly increase these kind of risks. In recent years technology focused on the possibility of keeping wine at home and now are available in the market real and proper “wine fridge” capable of guaranteeing the right and constant conditions for a proper and correct aging of wine. The only drawback of this fridge is that it must be constantly powered by electricity and that they usually offer a pretty limited room for bottles, usually 25-35 and the ones that allow the storage of more bottles tend to occupy a rather considerable quantity of space.

 




 Events  Share this article   Share on Google+   Summary of Corkscrew column Not Just Wine 
  Corkscrew Issue 7, April 2003   
Keeping Wine at HomeKeeping Wine at Home  Contents 
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