Keeping and Storing Wine: FAQs
KEEPING AND STORING WINE
Q. Does all wine improve with age?
A. Only about 10 per cent of all wine made improves with age, but it is that 10 per cent about which most is written and spoken. Everyday table wine, Vin de table, Tafelwein, vino da tavola and the like gets worse rather than better after a year in bottle and loses the fresh fruity quality that is its greatest asset. However, most claret is built to last for years and sometimes decades, as are many red Burgundies and red Rhone wines and reds from Piedmont such as Barolo.
Most reds above the basic level of quality, such as Rioja and Chianti, should become more interesting for the first few years after they were bottled. Fewer white wines than reds are made to develop complexity with age, but the better examples made from Chardonnay and Riesling grapes (such as fine white Burgundy and great German wines) can continue to develop for years without losing their fruitiness. Most sparkling wines are made to be drunk young, though some people like the rather faded, biscuity taste of old champagne. Most fortified wines, other than vintage port and finest Madeira which can last for 50 years, are sold when they are ready to drink.
Q. What happens when a wine ages?
A. No one is quite certain, but what does seem clear is that a concentrated young wine which spends a bit of time in new oak barrels to add new flavours and more tannin is the most likely sort of wine to last. As the wine ages the tannin that was so evident when it was young starts to fade and the complex flavours drawn from the soil via the vine roots start to knit together to produce something much more interesting than the crude young wine.
Q. What is the best way to store wine?
A. If a bottle is to be kept for more than three months it should be kept horizontal so that the wine keeps the cork wet and airtight.
Q. In what conditions should wine be stored.
A. Store wine away from strong light, which tends to oxidize it over long periods (watch out for bottles stored under neon lights in shops for long periods of time) and at a fairly constant temperature. The cooler it is kept, the more slowly it will develop, which is why great cellars are fairly chilly. It is very important not to let the wine get too hot no more than 20°C (68°F) – or it will start to turn to vinegar.
Humidity will not harm the wine, but it may spoil the labels.
Q. Where is the best place to keep wine in a house or flat without a cellar?
A. Unused fireplaces are usually cool, well-insulated and fairly dark. Under the stairs can satisfy most criteria, though bottles with sediment do not take kindly to being jolted by constant vibration. A spare bedroom that is kept unheated could be useful, or even a spare chest of drawers in a cool place. Take care to distance your wine from any direct source of heat such as a boiler.