Thursday, November 5, 2009

Protecting Your Investment

I spent this past Sunday cataloging and reorganizing my wine cellar. And while my collection definitely falls into the modest end of the spectrum, it still took all day.

Literally. All. Day.

But it was 100% worth the effort. I found bottles I’d forgotten about but that still need time to evolve in the bottle. (I had probably tried to forget about them in the first place so I wouldn’t be tempted to drink them too early!) I discovered others that definitely need to be opened soon. And still others that I don’t remember ever having purchased in the first place.

All told, then, it was a day well spent. And it reminded me why I purchased a good cellar in the first place: To have a space for the wines I love (or one day hope to love, once time works its magic on the juice), and to know that they’re being kept in the best possible environment.

I write about this because of an interesting letter that was published recently on Wine Spectator’s web site. In it, the reader asks: “Would it hurt to put a white wine in a regular refrigerator for a year?” The response, from the magazine’s Peter D. Meltzer, is as follows:

“The principal reason why you cannot store white wine for up to a year in a refrigerator is because the humidity is too low. That could cause the hermetic seal between the cork and the neck of the bottle to deteriorate, potentially resulting in oxidation. There’s also the chance that ambient smells from other products in your refrigerator (onions, boiled eggs, or fish, for example) could alter the flavor of your wine. Finally, the interior temperature of an average refrigerator is programmed around 35° F, whereas a professional wine storage unit is set at 55° F. The extreme cold may cause a precipitate of tartrate crystals, a crystalline substance that forms in the bottom of the bottle that could cloud your wine when poured. Use your refrigerator to chill your wine, not to store it.”

Would life be easier (and cheaper) if we could all just keep our reds in a nice rack in the corner and our whites in the fridge? Absolutely. But it would also be a lot less tasty when the time came to actually open those bottles.

Four years ago, my wife and I had my parents over for dinner. My father brought along a bottle of Moet et Chandon 1979 that he’d found in the back of his cellar. Everything we read about it said that it should have died years earlier. But when we opened it, the entire living room filled with the scent of tropical fruit, rich nuts, and truffles. It was nothing short of majestic. Proper cellaring had saved it, and allowed it to evolve unexpectedly well.

The bottom line is this: Treat your wine with care, and it will reward you for years to come.


Sean Comninos said...

Interestingly enough a prominent winemaker and Davis grad tells me that wine oxidizes faster at lower temperatures. So the relatively small amount of air that is naturally exchanged by cork allows a much higher rate of oxidation in the fridge.

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