Wines of the month - Paul DeRose
Why should wine be stored lying down? Is a cellar or wine-refrigerator necessary for good storage? Are corks better stoppers than screwcaps? The answers to such storage-related questions lie in an understanding of the enemies of wine, namely heat, light, air and time.
Heat causes wine to age more quickly and less gracefully. An acceptable temperature range is 35 – 75 °F. Temperatures much higher can cause sudden death and freezing and thawing or rapid temperature swings can cause stoppers to leak and air to enter. Whatever you do, don’t store wine near a stove or furnace or in an attic. Light, similarly to heat, causes wine to deteriorate and spoil prematurely. Sparkling and red wines are more sensitive to light than still whites. Direct sunlight should particularly be avoided.
Air, or more specifically, the oxygen in air causes wine to oxidize and spoil. Wine bottles should be stored lying down to keep corks moist, so they don’t shrink and dry out, thereby letting in air. Cellars are the traditional storage area of choice because of their dampness, keeping corks moist, along with being dark and cool. Even though corks are the more traditional and romantic wine seal, their fragility makes them prone to failing, which is a strong argument for the use of screwcaps.
Time, an enemy of wine? It is true that the most famous of wines are known for improving with age, when stored properly, but most wines are meant to be drunk upon release (typically 1 – 3 years after the vintage on the bottle), and all wines rot or turn to vinegar eventually, even under ideal conditions.
Most of us do not have access to the ideal wine cellar, a constant 55 °F with 50 % relative humidity, but if you look around your house, avoiding the enemies of wine, you can probably find an acceptable spot. The kitchen frig is in fact an excellent choice for short term storage (say six months or so), although vibrations, odors (two lesser enemies) and cork shrinkage can be detrimental here to long term storage. More recently, small wine refrigerators holding 20 - 30 bottles or so have become available for as little as a few hundred dollars.
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