Several recent wine experiences compel me to devote this column to the topic of properly storing wine.
There is a statistic that some overwhelmingly high percentage of wine purchased -- in excess of 80 percent -- is consumed within 48 hours. Friends invite you for dinner and you purchase wine to bring the day before or on your way there. However, sometimes we buy wine and keep it for years. Or someone gives us a special bottle as a present, and we keep it until the right occasion or some celebratory event.
As long as the wine is properly stored, it’ll be fine if you don’t wait too long and exceed the wine’s drinkable life. Typically, a wine evolves over time to a peak of maturity, then starts to decline. In the rise to maturity, tannins will ease up and all its elements will integrate more harmoniously. At its peak, the wine is as good as it will ever be.
As it declines, it will lose fruit flavor initially and, over time, flavors will become "off" and color will fade. White wines take on a deep, yellowish color, then turn a brownish hue as they go bad. Red wines fade in vibrancy and take on a brownish tint.
Lifespan depends largely on the type of wine, how good the harvest, and how well it was stored. Expensive French wines last decades or more, however, the vast majority of wines won’t last anywhere near that long. Highly tannic reds, vintage champagnes, and superb rieslings have long lifetimes. Conversely, most inexpensive wines we purchase will last three to five years or less.
If you want to know how long you can store or keep a wine, a knowledgeable retailer is your best guide, so ask them one. You can also search the Web to find a specific wine’s window of longevity.
Wine prefers cool, dark and relatively humid storage. Enemies are high temperatures, light and dryness, as drying out a cork causes it to fail. Store wines with corks by laying them down.
Ideal storage is a climate-controlled (of temperature and humidity) wine cellar, but not everyone has or wants to invest in one. Wine storage units can be easily purchased that properly store any quantity, from a dozen to hundreds of bottles, depending on your budget.
For those who chose not to buy a storage unit, a cool basement space or even a closet that stays cool in summer months will do the trick. Relatively humid, not too dry and not horrendously humid, is also important.
Temperature is ideal in the 50s and OK in the 60s, more so at low 60s than upper. Low 70s are tolerable for short periods. Higher temperatures will age your wine much too fast, and unless you want to ruin a wine completely within a few hours by cooking it, never leave bottles in a hot car in the summer, even for a brief period. Temperature spikes of more than 10 degrees should be avoided.
Wines are more durable than everyone thinks, but you need to enhance the process by storing them properly. Larger bottles, such as magnums, age longer than smaller bottles. Don’t keep wines in a refrigerator more than a week or two as the dry environment and vibration make a fridge unsuitable for longer storage.
If you open a bottle and don’t finish it, how long will the wine be good? It depends on a few factors, once again starting with the kind of wine. Bordeaux wines seem to get better in a day or two, or even three, while most wines taste slightly off the next day to me. Whites are generally more durable than reds.
Many restaurants are notorious for improper storage of open bottles, so ask for a sample taste before you order a glass.
Too much air in the bottle is the enemy, so at home, pour the remains of a bottle into an empty half-bottle you keep for this purpose. Use a VacuVin to pump the air out or employ some other wine preservation system. Keep the bottle in the fridge for a day or two and you’ll be OK.
Mark P. Vincent is a Shrewsbury resident who has a passion for wine. His column runs in Food & Dining on the third Wednesday of the month. Contact him at email@example.com.