Wine is a living thing. Its life cycle begins the moment it’s made in the winery. From this point on through bottling, shipping, buying, and storing, the wine is constantly changing.
Typically, there is a peak drinking window where the wine is meant to be a drunk. A perfect moment where all the elements of the wine will be in perfect balance and complimentary existence. While most wine is made for immediate consumption, others may seem too rough, or a structural component of the wine such as tannins may need more time to soften. This is where cellaring comes in to play.
The way we handle and store our wine impacts the life cycle, whether speeding it up or slowing it down, making optimum storage techniques crucial for wine collectors. Important factors to consider when cellaring your wine are as follows:
Positioning of the bottle – Wines should be stored laying down. This keeps the cork moist, which prevents the cork from crumbling upon opening, and it also slows down oxidation. Exceptions to this rule, of course, are screw caps, which can be stored standing upright, as well as sparkling wines.
Temperature and Light – Stored wines should be kept at a cool temperature, ideally between 12-15°C. It’s important to keep the temperature of your wine consistent. Exposure to different or extreme temperatures can ruin your wine. Strong UV light and sunlight should be avoided as it can also damage the wine. Do not keep your wine stored in well-lit cabinets.
Humidity – It’s important to find a humid spot for your bottles. Humidity keeps the corks from becoming too dry, and in turn, allowing oxidation that accelerates the aging of the wine or even destroying it before you are ready to drink it.
Music is an interesting factor to think about when it comes to cellaring. Stored wine should typically steer clear of heavy vibrations from construction, movement, or music for example. However, producers in Champagne, California, or Chile for instance, such as Montes Alpha (a large Chilean producer), claim that music played in its cellars improves quality in the wines during the maturation process while cellaring. Meanwhile, some others play classical music to their “sleeping” wine and insist it simply provides their wine with a je ne sais que.
Just as temperature control is optimal for storage, the serving temperatures of wine are also just as impactful.
Full bodied reds such as merlot and cabernet sauvignon have a typical suggested serving temperature of 15-18°C. This temperature allows the wines to be fully expressive on the nose and palate. Whereas light bodied reds, such as Beaujolais can be slightly chilled to hang in the balance of refreshing and complex.
Full bodied white wines, such as viognier or chardonnay for example, should not be chilled to what your standard fridge is set to. Chardonnay is typically a low aromatic varietal and chilling it too much will only mask the nose and flavours that can already be difficult to detect. On the other hand, if you serve chardonnay from a warm climate, such as Napa Valley, at room temperature, the wine may seem “hot” or prominently high in alcohol, that also shadows delicate fruit flavours in the wine. While the suggested serving temp is 10-13°C, taking it out of the fridge fifteen minutes before serving should suffice.
Lighter bodied white wines, such as pinot grigio or sauvignon blanc, are meant to be enjoyed chilled between 7-10°. Don’t have a wine fridge? Your regular fridge will work just as well! These wines are meant to be refreshing and enjoyed cool.
So, overall, how important are these cellaring and serving rules, and do you need to follow them down to the degree? The answer is…no. Unless you’re putting your wine through extremes of anything, it will likely be fine for the average consumer. But, if you want to get the most from your wine, sticking to these guidelines is the best way to enjoy your wine’s character at its full potential, just the way the winemaker intended.
-Leah Spooner is a VineRoutes Contributing Editor and a Sommelier & Wine Scholar professional