Thursday, March 7, 2013

Wine Care! Who Cares?

I've been asked many times about the proper way to store and age wine.While I don't pretend to be an expert in the field, still there's some basic things we all need to know to keep our wine purchase from turning into an expensive bottle of vinegar.

If you're thinking about buying some wines at the supermarket and aging them for a few years, forget it. Wines released to the market today (which I'll refer to as 'table wines') have already achieved their maturity potential and do not age well beyond the release date. They're meant to be consumed now, or within the next few months.

But some wines (usually quite expensive) have the required ingredients to age for many years and decades, with the taste and value increasing right along. Which inspires the serious hobby of wine collecting for fun and profit. And auction prices can be in the many thousands for one particular label or year.

But it's a huge gamble. Here's the thing - both inexpensive table wines and notable collector wines are capable of going bad. In fact with any wine whatsoever, vinegar is always lurking in the shadows. Most wine fans already know how to care for their acquisitions, but it doesn't hurt to go over the basics. The first three on the following list will take care of most of our needs:

-Wine needs to be kept cool: Between 55 to 60 degrees for collector wines seems to be the consensus. For our table wines, air-conditioned room temperature (about 72 degrees) is ok for a while. For serving, they can be chilled down in your fridge. But refrigerators are actually too cold for long term storage.

-No sunlight: Just leave your bottle of wine sitting out on the kitchen counter with sunlight streaming in through the window and see what happens. Vinegar! Most wine bottles are tinted to reduce the amount of light penetrating the bottle, but it's not enough. So keep it in a darkened place. Even counter-top wine racks, as attractive as they might be, need to be covered and protected from light..

-Store them on their sides: This keeps the wine pushed up against the cork, which keeps the cork moist. Any household wine rack will have a tilt already built in for this very purpose. There's absolutely nothing worse than a dried-out cork that crumbles when you try to open it. When that does happen, you can salvage the wine by pushing the cork all the way into the bottle, then pour it through a strainer into a decanter.

-Humidity: Okay, most of us never have to worry about this. But serious wine collectors do. You see, while the inside of the cork can be kept moist by laying wines on their sides, the outside of the cork is exposed to the air around, and over the years can dry out and crumble. Which may let oxygen into the bottle and spoil the wine.

-Do Not Disturb: Collector wines should not be turned or subjected to vibrations. In fact, in most famous wine cellars even dusting is not allowed.

The truth is, no one knows how a wine will age, not even a rich collector. And when you pay a small fortune at an auction for a famous label or year, you have no idea how the wine has been stored or transported over the years, and may very well have just purchased a bottle of vinegar!

In any good restaurant there's a long-established custom where the waiter pours a sip of wine into the customer's glass (whether it's a cheap table wine or a two-thousand dollar vintage) just to see if it's ok, right? This is not a wine-tasting moment to accommodate the customer's quirky tastes, but simply to see if the wine he's specifically chosen has turned to vinegar or not. If it's not vinegar, you pay for it whether you actually like it or not.

Rich people who are lucky enough to have a wine cellar can control all the above requirements for storing wine: a steady year-round temperature down in the cellar, away from sunlight, and cellars always have a certain amount of humidity. But what about billionaires living in high-rise penthouse apartments? And those of us living in homes without basements or cellars?

Specially designed wine closets are the only option. And there's some amazing models out there that control all the storage factors. They can even electronically track your inventory and suggest a particular wine in your closet to match whatever your chef has prepared for dinner. But these closets are subject to air-conditioning breakdowns and power outages, right?

So if you're a serious investor with a multi-million-dollar collection of fine wines, there are professional companies in most major cities that will store your wines under guarded, guaranteed conditions with back-up generators - and there is insurance available against any loss you may suffer.

The subject of wine collecting and wine aging is not only fascinating but can be seriously lucrative when it comes time for auction. But it's not for the faint of heart! For more info on the topic just Google "wine storage" or "how to age wine". You'll find yourself with millions of interested parties.

Thanks for stopping by,