When it comes to making wine, I tend to take things quite seriously.
On the other hand, storing and aging wine was never of interest to me, but that’s probably because wine doesn’t tend to last very long in our house. I did once try to build up some form of collection, but found it very difficult to not drink the wine…
In my defense, other than my lack of self-control, there are 2 other factors which have influenced me to not buy wines according to their potential to mature and develop into something far greater.
The first factor, (true to this generation’s trend of satisfaction by instant gratification) is that most wines produced today are ready for consumption and probably won’t gain much from a maturing process.
The second factor was that I knew next to nothing about the proper way to store wine while allowing it to age.
My brother once bestowed upon me as a gift, a $120 bottle of Brunello di Montalcino. I am obsessed with Brunello, so I happily packed the bottle into my suitcase and we made our way down the cobbled Frankfurt street towards the train station.
I realized after a few meters that he was staring at the suitcase and turning a shade paler with every jolt as we walked over the cobblestones.
When I returned to the South African summer, I thought that 108˚F probably wouldn’t be good for the beloved bottle of wine.
I was saving the bottle for the coming winter holidays, so I went on to hide it in the bottom of my closet, thinking It was the best place for it.
Turns out, I had just about done all the worst things to that poor bottle of Brunello, and it’s a miracle I could still drink it 6 months later.
After that little anecdote, I realized it was time to cover:
The 4 Key Factors to Consider when Storing and Aging Wine (and how I got it wrong the first time):
1. Controlling the Temperature
108˚F is far too hot to store a bottle of wine. The temperature which the wine is stored at highly influences the rate at which certain chemical reactions take place. One such reaction is hydrolysis (the chemical process that happens as wine matures and changes). The ideal temperature at which to store wine for aging is between 55˚F and 60˚F. Too cold or too warm won’t do, especially too warm, as that will only shorten the wine’s life and possibly result in an unwelcome transformation into vinegar.
2. Controlling the Humidity
Controlling the humidity for storing and aging wine is something which needs to happen on the inside, as well as the outside of the bottle. I got both wrong when placing the bottles in the closet. Firstly, I placed the bottle standing upright, meaning that the wine and the cork were not in contact, so the wine was not there to keep the cork moist. On top of that, it is worth mentioning that the ideal humidity for the outside of the cork to maintain it’s elasticity is 70%-80%, so a closet, in Africa, during a dry summer in a drought is NOT ideal.
3. Too Much Vibration
Let’s go back to that cobbled street in Frankfurt, and my brother’s pale face (the shade of pale had little to do with the cold winter weather). I realize in hindsight my brother must have been experiencing something similar to what I experience every Sunday when the Formula 1 champion shakes and sprays out a magnum bottle of Champagne. It hurts.
Ideally, wine needs to be stored somewhere still and stable, where it won’t be jiggled about, quite the opposite of what was happening to the bottle of Brunello in my suitcase.
4. (Lack) of Light
This is possibly the only thing I got right in my attempt to store my bottle of Brunello. I put it in a dark closet where it had little to no exposure to light. Not only can light change the molecular structure of wine, but it can also damage the wine if the light source is simultaneously emitting heat.
DON’T make the same mistakes I made with an expensive bottle of wine.
If you are even vaguely tempted to start storing and aging wine for your collection, be sure that your storage methods tick all the boxes.
Some people might be fortunate enough to be able to buy a wine refrigerator, which allows you to control the temperature, and sometimes even the humidity in the fridge.
Some winemakers and sellers even rent out space in their perfectly controlled and secured cellars, for people to store their wine. You could always try your cellar or basement for storing and aging wine if it’s cool and humid enough.
Should I find myself in possession of a good bottle of wine with great aging potential in the near future, I will be taking the adventurous (and arduous) route. I will place said wine in a sealed plastic container and will bury it in the garden.
It may not be a cellar for storing and aging wine beneath a Tuscan villa, but it would tick all the boxes and make me think twice before digging it up on a whim.
How do you store and age your wine? Share your tips with others in the comments below.