Wine needs pampering

They are expensive and delicate. And faulty storage can turn your favourite red wine into vinegar. So, what do you do if you don’t have a cellar at home? Read on and pick up a few crucial tips on how to store your wine as well as other liquor bottles.

Sourish Bhattacharyya        Print Edition: December 16, 2007

There’s a reason why people get obsessive about storing wine, both sparkling and still. Wine doesn’t have enough alcohol to protect itself against either temperature swings or the ability of bacteria to reduce the contents of a bottle into vinegar.

Most wines have an alcohol content of 11-14 per cent, compared to 4-6 per cent in beer and 40 per cent or more in spirits.

Other alcoholic beverages aren’t burdened with this disadvantage. These have very high alcohol levels and are quite resistant to spoilage of any kind. Vodka is the only drink that is chilled in a freezer. Do it the next time you choose to fix a Martini at home. Or have your vodka neat. It won’t freeze because of its high alcohol content.

It doesn’t make sense to store a whisky or rum or liqueur in a refrigerator. Keep the bottle in a cool, dark and dry place and it will last for three years at least. The same principle holds for cognac and port.

Wine does freeze partially when kept in a freezer and it doesn’t age well in its frozen prison. It’s worse for a sparkling wine. Keeping a bottle of champagne in a freezer is like storing a hand grenade with its pin taken out. It will not only freeze but also release all the carbon dioxide bubbles trapped inside it, causing an explosion of humongous proportions.

Wines are delicate creatures that need a lot of pampering, because few things offend the senses as much as a badly stored wine served at the wrong temperature. Bad storage is the root of the many imaginary problems associated with wine drinking—“it tastes awful” or “it gives me a nasty headache the next morning”.

Where does that leave us? Here’s my take on the problem:

Busy wise

Buy wine from a place where the beverage is stored properly (that rules out your friendly neighbourhood bootlegger). It doesn’t matter if the bottles are kept standing or kept horizontally, especially if they have screwcaps. It’s alright also to leave bottles with corks standing—the current wisdom is that wine fumes inside a bottle keep its cork wet (and, thus, don’t allow oxygen to seep in) for a year after its release.

Keep it simple

Keeping wine in your air-conditioned bedroom or your home bar is not the solution. You don’t keep your airconditioners on all the time, so your room temperature tends to fluctuate wildly, and this is a bigger enemy of good wine than poor storage.

Drink it

Most wines are meant to be drunk young. The standard rule is that a white wine is best drunk within a couple of years after the vintage indicated on the bottle; for a Red, three-to-five years are safe (if it’s a regular Chianti or a Pinot Noir, three years is the realistic outer limit). Now, if you invest in Bordeaux’s pedigreed Reds, you’ve got to spend additionally on storage that mimics wine cellars in France or England. But for regular wine, you don’t have to spend big.

Get the Basics Right Ideally, a bottle of wine should be stored in a place where the ambient temperature is between 10 and 15 degrees C (or even up to 20 degrees C), and the humidity is within 70 per cent.

That rules out most Indian homes, where the temperature, even in air-conditioned rooms, doesn’t go below 20 degrees C for eight months of the year. And when the monsoon sets in, humidity levels go beyond 90 per cent (though wetness is bad for a wine bottle only to the extent that it causes the label to peel off, which, frankly, is no loss to humanity).

What does one do? dunk the wine in a refrigerator? that’s not a good idea for three reasons:
  • The ambient temperature inside a refrigerator is way below what's good for your wine. If a wine is kept for a long time in a fridge, you'll find sediments settling down at the bottom of the bottles

  • If you have strong-smelling food items in your fridge, their aromas are likely to seep into the wine and disturb its flavours; and

  • Refrigerators tend to vibrate, which is bad for the stability of the wine. In the last couple of years we have seen branded wine chillers entering the market. These can hold from 24-48 bottles at a time, which is more than enough for home consumption. If you love your wine, invest in a chiller, but make sure it doesn't vibrate violently, which is a common problem with some Chinese models. Still, when a machine can do your work, why look further?

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