Five Mundane Things That Are Deadly To Your Wine

The following guest post is written by Steph Wood, a content writer for Bordeaux, UK.

It would be difficult to find a food or drink that has more rituals and recommendations than wine. Given the thousands of years we’ve had of producing the stuff, there should be little surprise that we’re so knowledgeable about every possible thing we can do to make our wines achieve the best possible standard.  Everything, from the soil in which the grapes are grown, to the time at which they are picked, to the time they spend in the barrel is carefully controlled by the vineyard in charge of them.

But once a wine is sold, it leaves the careful hands of the expert and is exposed to the whims of its new owner. Of course, we’re not all completely ignorant of how to treat wine in our care, but it helps to be sure that we’re giving our wines every opportunity to flourish. So here are five very mundane things that cause interesting, if totally negative effects, in the wine you buy:

Light

Like Dracula, owls and university students, wine dislikes exposure to light. Whether from good old fashioned daylight or from your basement bug-zapper, UV rays affect taste and worst of all, can give your prized wines a wet dog smell that is part and parcel of the wine’s deterioration.

Interestingly, amber-coloured bottles would almost entirely eliminate this problem, but wine producers still favour black bottles – this simply comes down to the marketability of green / black glass as compared with amber, which is perhaps associated with beers and old fashioned medicine bottles.

Air

The oxidation of wine is rarely a favourable process, leading to loss of colour, aroma and flavour. Whether your wines are ruined by oxidation is largely out of your hands – so long as you buy quality, you’ll know that you’re buying a decent bottle which is completely sealed against the air. But once you’ve opened the wine to drink it, you only have 3 to 5 days to drink the rest of it. Recork the bottles, and pop white wines back in the fridge or into your wine cellar.

Heat

All sorts of wine etiquette exists to suggest how wines should be served. Serving temperature is one of the better known, with people broadly understanding to put white wines in the fridge and to keep reds at around room temperature.  In storage, wines ought to be kept at a temperature of around 12 degrees Celsius (54 degrees Fahrenheit), which is optimal for the aging process. Any lower, and things slow down. As high as 24 degree Celsius (75 degrees Fahrenheit), and your wine will soon be undrinkable.

Creating this environment is easier said than done, though, especially as it’s imperative that you maintain the temperature constantly at whatever point your choose. Even if you have a cellar in your house, you’ll probably have to battle against the temperature outside without serious (and reliable) air condition. If you’re buying for the purposes of wine investment, it’s almost certainly worth looking into private bonded storage warehouses, where your investment is guaranteed.

Physics

Gravity can have an undesirable effect on the average wine bottle forced earthwards by its selfish whims. The explosion would be worth it if you weren’t picking minuscule Latour-soaked shards of glass from your feet for the next three months. Still, the laws of physics don’t always play kindly with the contents of your bottle. Bottles are actually stored sideways because corks need to be kept moist – dryed out cork shrinks letting air in.

And then there’s the adverse effects of even the tiniest vibrations. Putting your wine next to a motor, speaker or even next to a busy road can negatively affect its taste by stopping sediment from settling. Avoid storing wine in the top of a fridge, or even in a unstable rack or place where it may be moved, even irregularly.

Time

The one principle everyone associates with wine is that it ages well (like grandmothers, classic films and everything else it gets paired with for the purpose of simile). Stories of centuries-old wine bottles being dredged up from Fjords and sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars to enthusiastic Chinese buyers fuel our fantasies of one day buying low, biding our time and selling high.

The problem is, it’s no exaggeration to say that over 99% of wine does not benefit from being aged for a substantial amount of time. Even the best white wines should almost all be consumed after two to three years. Quality reds should be given up to ten years to mature (and they may be essentially undrinkable for their first two years). There are certainly exceptions, but it is highly recommended that you seek professional advice before you end up fermenting vinegar in your cellar.
 

Steph Wood is a content writer for Bordeaux UK, a wine investment company dealing in prized Bordeaux Wines.


Thoughts and Comments from The Academic Wino:

Thank you for the post, Steph!  It is a nice summary of how different environmental elements all affect the quality of one’s stored wines.

Light:

  • It is fascinating that the majority of bottles out there are not amber in color, which is a far superior color as far as preventing UV damage of wine is concerned.  I’ll keep my eyes peeled for a study that looks at colors of bottles and consumer willingness to pay.  Maybe that would tell us a little something about why most of the bottles out there are not amber.
Air:
  • True that this is pretty much out of one’s hands.  I think, however, that even high quality wines run the risk of randomly having a bad cork that allows too much air to seep through.  Yes, they may use superior corks to other bottles of wine, but I’m sure every once in a great while even the good corks malfunction.
Heat:
  • Well, I know the wines that I am storing will not age as well as they could under ideal conditions, since I live in an apartment complex with no cool cellar, no wine refrigerator, and not enough money to pay for the electricity I would need to keep the place cool enough in the hot Virginia summers.  I refuse to purchase uber-special wines until I have proper storage conditions for long-term aging.
  • In addition to storage temperature, serving temperature is very important as well.  The wrong serving temperature can alter the flavor/aroma of wine, and can often bring out imperfections in the wine.
Physics:
  • Hopefully that earthquake that hit VA not too long ago didn’t have too many negative effects on my wine :)
Time
  • That’s great to point out that most wine cannot be aged.  One can’t just buy any old wine off the grocery store shelves and assume it can be stored in the cellar.  I agree, definitely seek advice from someone regarding the wine’s ageability!
Thank you again, Steph!  


6 comments for “Five Mundane Things That Are Deadly To Your Wine

  1. Kasia Lynch
    October 8, 2011 at 6:21 pm

    Thanks for the post, there are few new things I learnt about this beautiful drink. Unfortunately I live in a country where alcohol is banned so can only dream of glass of red for the time beeing. Cheers!

  2. October 9, 2011 at 10:26 am

    Thanks for reading, Kasia. I'm sure one day you'll be able to try it!

  3. WineKnurd
    October 10, 2011 at 12:45 am

    Hey Becca, heat isn't so much of a problem if the temperature is kept constant. If there is a swing of temps in a short span, not only is this tough on the wine, but the cork will shrink/expand-shrink/expand and cause more air ingress as well. Gradual season changing temperature is fine for a year or two, which allows the wine and cork time to equilibrate. I have wines in an open air rack that are for short term consumption and as long as the temperatures do not exceed 75 in my house I have never had a problem. But with hot NC summers my AC bill is almost as much as a half bottle of 01 Y'quem!

  4. October 10, 2011 at 12:22 pm

    I'm pretty sure the wines I have laying down are not going to make it nearly as long as what they are "supposed" to. Being on the top floor of an apartment complex (which gets a lot of afternoon sun), I could never afford to keep the AC as low as I'd like it to be! I guess I'll just have to consume my wines a little ahead of schedule, but that's fine by me. ;)

  5. Angela
    October 11, 2011 at 12:43 pm

    This is great information. I don't know alot about wine, and the way you laid it out was easy to understand. Here's a question, what would you recommend as a 'cooking wine?' Recipes call for white wine but I never know which is best. Also, is this wine something you can keep longer, if so, how do you store it?

  6. October 11, 2011 at 1:28 pm

    Thank you for reading, Angela!

    In regards to your question for a "cooking wine", avoid anything that's explicitly labelled as "cooking wine". These tend to have poor quality wine as a base, which will effectively do nothing for your dish. You want to use something that will complement the flavors in the dish you are preparing. If you're not sure what flavors and aromas a particular wine has, try to find a salesperson with some knowledge of the product, or find a bottle that has the flavors written somewhere on the label. If you're completely and totally lost, if the recipe calls for a dry white wine, many people recommend going with a nice Sauvignon Blanc.

    The most important thing, though, is to cook with a wine that you'd enjoy drinking! A bad wine will impart bad flavors into your dish, so make sure you pick something that you know you'll enjoy drinking on its own first!

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