When the topic of conversation is wine storage, a lot of time is spent on the “right” temperature and how important it is to not be too warm, nor too cold, and stable.
There is nothing fundamentally wrong with that discussion, except that with all the attention given to temperature, the most important factors are often overlooked.
It is a little bit like the story of the emperor’s new clothes: all kinds of time and energy are spent on debating half a degree difference in temperature, when that same bottle was standing in the display window for months, or someone may be storing bottles with corks, leaving their fate to chance – risking that the corks start leaking, develop mould, or spoil the taste of the wine. Even laboratory-precise temperature control alone is not enough to ensure that a wine stays intact for a long period of time or ages positively.
Over the next few weeks, we will present articles explaining the 6 fundamental factors that, together, are instrumental in making wine last for years or even decades, making it better, more refined, and highly differentiated.
1st Key factor: Storability
First of all, it is important to realize that not all wines are meant to be stored. There are wines that are pretty much ‘perfect’ the moment they are bottled. This is often the case with light wines, but it is increasingly so with heavier, more aged products, fermented using ‘modern’ processes. We are talking about wines that have been manipulated by the winemaker (a bad word) during the vinification process so that even though the wines have just been bottled, they give the impression that their finesse and refinement are the result of 10 years of maturation in the cellar. The ‘instant gratification’ mentality has not spared the wine industry.
Then there are the traditionally fermented wines. Even in the ‘old world’ (France, Italy, Spain), these wines have to increasingly compete for their rightful place, as many vintners now offer a growing selection of ‘fully aged’ products.
But there still are, and in some areas their number is growing, vintners who have taken a step back, and let nature (namely, the soil, wind, weather, and sun) ‘make’ the wine. These are not ambitious ‘winemakers’ who ‘make’ wine, but rather patient guardians who carefully tend to the wine. These guardians consider ‘making’ wine to be presumptuous, and the result of such action questionable. Nature does not allow shortcuts (like wine making) without consequences. The true connoisseur realizes this by the time they swirl the glass, at the latest.
This, literally, ‘grounded’ philosophy produces wines that are close to nature, intense, and sometimes even impetuous. But wines created in this traditional manner, combined with today’s knowledge, become more refined, even extraordinary, when stored for several years.
Is it possible to store wines that have been aged in wood barrels? The answer is: ‘it depends’. Tannins, which pass from the wood to the wine, have a preservative effect and generally make barrel-aged wines good for storage. Other important factors in preservation are alcohol, sugar, and acid content. The higher these factors are, the greater storability the wine will be. The sugar and acid content are particularly important when white wine. However, it would be a mistake to assume that any barrel-aged wine with a high alcohol content is especially suited for storage. Other factors are also at play; the type of vinification, in particular, can have a positive or negative impact on later storage. Learning which wines can be stored and for how long at the time of purchase or through helpful literature is recommended to ensure the best wine experience.
Depending on the wine, there may be a significant difference between how long the wine ‘can’ be stored, and how long it ‘should’ be stored. The longer a wine is stored, the more important it is to store it properly, i.e., taking into account the six key factors we are discussing here. If a case of wine is just going to stay in the cellar for a few months or so, you do not need to figure out an optimal storage solution.
As a general rule of thumb, 1 or 2 years of storage for most red wines, excluding very light red wines, brings positive results.
Some wines improve over this relatively short storage period: they become truly enjoyable – less hard, less rough, less sour, and so smoother, better-rounded.
Wines that can be stored for a long period of time can actually be transformed: like a caterpillar into a butterfly. What was once hard, unbalanced, perhaps a little sour or bitter is now an exquisite delight. Why else would you care for these splendid wines for half a generation or more as though they were the apple of your eye?
In summary, it can be said that the ‘convenience food’ culture has not spared the wine industry. Convenience products do not require storage or care, as they are made for immediate consumption. On the other hand, products that were created and matured observing the natural cadence of nature are not meant for the impatient, ‘here and now’ mentality. Unlike ‘convenience wines’, these products are often not yet finished when they are bottled. With this type of wine, one should continue to heed the rhythms of nature even after bottling and afford the wine the time and patience it requires to develop to its full potential.