The Awful Sin Of Wine Abuse

Roberto Viernes
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Wednesday - April 28, 2006
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Wine abuse. That’s what I call it when people spend good money on wine and leave it in ... let’s just call it “less than ideal” storage. This includes the shelf above the oven, the cupboard next to the fridge, the china cabinet next to the open window and even the coolest, darkest closet in the house. Wine does not like heat, light or vibration. Ideal storing conditions for wine is a constant 55 degrees Fahrenheit with some humidity, no light and no vibration.

Wines like it somewhere between cool and cold to age properly. In the bottle there are complex chemical reactions that are changing the wine, smoothing out its tannins, changing its aromas and flavors into more complex ones that only time can release. Any chemical reaction happens faster at higher temperatures. Heat is an abnormality to wine in a bottle, and it can irreparably destroy the essence and life of the wine. It can lead to cooked flavors that are inappropriate and detrimental in most wines.

Wines also do not like temperature fluctuations. Large variations between hot and cold temperatures also can abnormally age and affect wines. Just like us, wines do not like to age quickly.

In any winery, when wines are born and bottled they are put into deep, often cavernous cellars to slowly mature, soften and add complexity. They rest in a deep - and usually long - sleep in the constant cool of a cellar to age gracefully and undisturbed.

And just like us, wines don’t like to be vibrated or jostled around. Enough vibration on a bottle of wine can break apart molecules that form essential aromatic compounds that we enjoy. So make sure that your storage facility is not next to a major freeway!

Light is another enemy of wine. Sunlight is the worst, but any light source can also harm and artificially age a wine. Sunlight, as we know in Hawaii, can damage our skin, our dashboards and the paint on our cars. So you think wine in a glass bottle can withstand its ultraviolet rays? I don’t think so.

Even fluorescent display or showcase lights can harm wines in the darkest tinted glass. Light also usually carries heat, which we already know can kill a wine. So if you have any spotlights on your wines or if your wine cellar cabinet is in direct sunlight, move it. Or if you don’t have a “portable” cellar yet and are going to get one, get one with a solid door, not a glass one.

Even a refrigerator is better than leaving a bottle in the kitchen or bathroom closet. But one thing is that refrigerators don’t have a lot of is humidity, and that’s something long aging and maturing wines need. Refrigerators have dehumidifying units that take moisture out of the air. This can also lead to taking moisture out of the end of the cork. The cork, as we know, keeps the wine inside the bottle. So if it dries out, it shrinks and lets wine out and air in. All this is very bad. So if you are planning to keep a wine for more than three to four months, the fridge is not the place to keep it.

Conversely, too much humidity can make your labels on the bottle wrinkle and make them look older than they are. The wine inside is safe, but if you ever want to give it away or put it up for auction, it may not look so good or get top dollar.

Let me level with you. Think about how much money you spend on wine. Whether it’s for investment or for pleasure, if you aren’t storing your wines properly, you’re throwing your money away.

Wine abuse is a terrible thing. Recommendation: The big box stores have portable cellars that range from $250 up to $600. Home Depot has them from $200 and up in several different sizes. And Vintage Wine Cellar has several at reasonable prices. If you are a wine lover, be good to your wines.

Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier. E-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)
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