A CellarMaster’s Notes on Wine Storage

In this article we shall discuss the importance of storage from a novel and different viewpoint. When you drink wine three of our senses are invoked: taste, smell and sight. Now lets consider wine as a liquid in a bottle where complex bio and organic chemical reactions are occurring. The question: How do we get the BEST sensory perception from this liquid?

When does a chemical reaction occur?

As a physicist, but a person who has undergraduate degrees in chemistry (BS/MS) an most important a lover of wine .. (At my age, wine is in my genes).... I remember, one of the first things I learned in General Chemistry: (1) Chemical reactions depend on temperature, usually the higher the temperature the faster the reactions for liquids. (2) Some reactions can be initiated by light hence they are called photochemical reactions. The best known photochemical reaction on the human body is a tan. (3) Also reactions can occur and be initiated when other chemicals or elements are present. When a liquid comes in contact with the atmosphere then nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide etc. can be absorbed by the liquid. Consequently chemical reactions can occur. (4) Another method to enhance the rate of chemical reaction is to stir the mixture. This enhances the homogeneity and allows for the particles to come in contact and produce a faster rates of reaction.

What do we know about wine?

Well it’s made from grapes which possess organic and biochemical compounds. We use yeast to initiate a process to produce alcohol and esters (called organic and bio-organic salts). The tannins in a wine fall into this (ester) class. These compounds give wine its color, odor, and complex taste. Over the years new chemical compounds are being formed with different ratios of concentrations...and it is this mixture of highly complex compounds in a liquid solution that makes the wine what it is. Wine has around 12% ethyl alcohol. Recalling , if wine comes in contact with air, the oxygen oxidizes the ethyl alcohol and makes acetic acid or vinegar. Great vinegar but bad wine.

When the wine is made.

Wine is made 105% by God and Nature and -5% by man. At the winery the grapes are the most important product. They determine the wine. Next comes the human factor at the winery. How the grapes are processed dictates the style of the wine. Normally great wines are fussed over...Nature tells us about the grapes, and the winemaker takes painstaking care to produce the wine. (If it's perfect the makers perfoms 5% in mistakes.) These grapes have their best chance to become an outstanding wine if they remain at the winery. However the wine must be moved from the winery.

THE PROBLEM

When the wine is moved from the winery to you, here is where the problem is. If it has the potential to be a great wine, one must allow Nature to take its course with a minimal disturbance. This means that there should be no great changes in temperature, no shaking of the wine, the cork must remain damp at all times so as not to allow air to enter the bottle etc., etc.

It is a well known fact, that the commercialization of wine usually, and I say usually, allows cost to rule. Consequently the natural health,  growth and stability of wine is disturbed. Hence if you tasted wine from the cellar of the winery where it has been aged as opposed to wine that went through several transportations, storage at distribution centers, and finally on your wine shop’s shelf. The wine may "look pretty". The label, foil and the ullage may appear fine. But this wine went through hell to get here, and if it went through shoddy transportation, bad storage at an importer’s and distributor’s warehouse, and arrived at a great wine shop. The wine shop may have done their best, but the damage is done.

You or the shop owner doesn’t know it. That’s why the wine at the winery tastes different when compared to the wine you buy at a shop. Sad to say that some importers, distributors, and  major transporters are cost effective but lax in  the care of the shipping of their wines.

The Solution....The Wine Hospital.

Now you bought the wine. You haven't tasted it yet. It may even be years before you taste it. You bought it for that experience: taste, smell and sight. Can I get the best out of this damaged wine?  The answer is YES. Store the wine at the ideal temperature which is around 56 degrees and maintain this temperature over the years or for some time.

Have a place with high humidity so the cork stays expanded and no oxygen can enter the bottle.  When moisture condenses on the glass bottle, it keeps the wine in the "most uniform temperature gradient" across the liquid in the bottle. Simply put --the mositure aids to produces the "same temperature throughout the wine in the bottle, while acting as a insultating barrier for temperature fluctuations in the wine caused by any outside environment..

 Make sure there are no odors where the wine is stored. These gaseous odors (which are chemicals) may diffuse through the cork and again impart some unwanted chemical reactions.

Keep the wine in a place that is dark and and with no vibrations. Hence no photochemical reactions and no artificial enhancement of homogeneity to increase the reaction rate. If your wine was damaged because of a bad experience due to transportation and/or storage it may heal with time in the proper environment. This experience may even help the wine in its growth. Think of great men and women who went through tribulations and survived.

Remember wine is a living organism and with time it can overcome some handicaps just like us in our lives. So create that environment for your wine to heal. In nature the wine hospital is a cave or a proper wine cellar, and Nature is its physician. Here you have the correct temperature, stillness, darkness, no odor and moisture. Remember your wine should NOT be on display-that's not its purpose.  Leave it be.  If you wish to display it, then you will pay the price of losing the“Essence of the Wine”.

Concerning humidity, your wine labels can be easily protected by enclosing the bottle with a plastic wrap material. This protects the label from staining and mold. On this point, remember you are primarily protecting and focusing on the wine not the label. Also what is an empty bottle of wine worth as opposed to a full one?  Remember the primary purpose of wine storage is to protect and help the wine so it can age to its fullest extent. When you are in a hospital or a health spar, you are interested in getting your body well and in shape, not the clothes you are wearing. ...(However in some case I know of people who worried more about their clothes rather than their health.)

The foremost  concern is the wine in the bottle. Do you taste the label in this experience? Do you smell the label in this experience? Finally do you look at the label while you are smelling and tasting the wine? Nevertheless "proper care" should be taken to protect the label but NEVER at the expense of the wine’s health. The wine hospital is your wine cellar. Well at the Wine-Storage Cave we are the medical center for the rarest and potentially great young wines of the world.

The Happy Ending.

If your bottle is 50 year old, 100 years old or even older...and even if it's "young" but if you want the BEST for your wines, then they belongs in a cave .  Your wines will love it!  -- and tell you that when you drink it!  These wines will give you the best taste they have to offer....they’ll smell their Best ....and they’ll look their BEST for your consumption....Best Regards... Vince