Why Proper Wine Storage Is So Important
If you’re at all serious about wine, you’ll know it’s a drink which varies tremendously depending on how it’s grown, processed and stored, before it finally gets poured into your glass. Some of these subtle changes in taste will improve the quality of the drinking experience, while others will diminish it.
Incorrect storage can ruin the taste of an otherwise good wine. These storage faults occur long before the wine reaches you, and if they do, you should seek a refund. Unfortunately, such faults are difficult to identify without actually smelling and tasting the wine, so you won’t be able to rely on anyone else to sort the bad wine from the good on your behalf.
What happens when you don’t store wine correctly?
Familiarising yourself with some of the more common things that can go wrong with wine can help you identify problems with your own collection and seek a refund when needed. Let’s take a look at some of them.
‘Corked’ wine has been exposed to a chemical contaminant known as 2,4,6-Trichloroasnisole (TCA) at some stage during production.
The term, however, is at least slightly misleading, since the cork of the bottle itself is not always the source of the problem. Looking for small fragments of cork in the bottle itself is usually a waste of time because the chemical can sometimes find its way into barrels before the wine is bottled. This causes the whole batch to be ruined.
The only way to be sure a wine is ‘corked’ is to taste and smell it. You’re looking for a musty, cardboard-esque taste that lacks the distinctive fruity flavour of wine.
When wine is exposed to oxygen, it begins to lose its potency. It’s subject to the same process that causes an apple to gradually turn brown when sliced open and left exposed to oxygen in the air. Oxidation destroys a number of key compounds which contribute to the wine’s taste. This causes it to become faded, bland and bitter. White wines tend to be more vulnerable to oxidation than their red counterparts
, as the tannins in red wine slow the oxidation process down.
If you’d like to be able to identify oxidation in the future, save a small sample of a bottle of white wine and leave it open in your fridge. Return to it a week later and you’ll find that the taste is utterly ruined. If you’re going to open a bottle and leave it unfinished, be sure to store it with a stopper. Even then, you should try to finish the bottle within a couple of days.
If wine is exposed to excessive temperatures, it will begin to cook. If you’ve ever made a wine reduction sauce, you might be familiar with the associated jammy, syrupy tastes and textures. If a bottle is sealed with a cork, heat can potentially expand the cork and force it outwards, leaving the wine vulnerable to oxidation.
Once a bottle of wine has cooked, there’s nothing you can do to reverse the damage. In this case, prevention is your only option: don’t store your wine on sunlight-exposed shelves or near to hot stoves.
Brettanomyces, or “Brett”, is a genus of yeast which, when allowed to grow in wine, will have a profound effect on both the palate and bouquet. Once microbes like this have found their way into a winery, they can be difficult to get rid of, but in small doses, they actually add flavour characteristics that many find desirable. In small doses, you’ll get an interesting hint of savoury flavour, like bacon and cloves. In larger doses, you’ll get something much more overpowering (and consequently, unappealing).
This is another one which, in small quantities, can have a positive impact on a wine, lending it a subtle sharpness which many enjoy. In larger doses, however, it can destroy a wine. It comes about as a result of a bad bacterial infection in the wine which causes the levels of acetic acid to rise. When they get high enough, the wine will taste like balsamic vinegar.
This is another winemaking ‘flaw’ which isn’t actually a flaw at all. Sulphur content in wine is vital in controlling bacteria levels, and thereby guarding against the other flaws we’ve mentioned. It will also act as a natural preservative.
Like all good things, though, there’s such a thing as too much sulphur. It can lead to potent smoky flavours which, in large enough quantities, can be overpowering. If you’d like to mitigate these flavours, then decanting can help, but the better option is to return the wine.
Some varieties of wine are designed to sparkle, while others are explicitly not. Should you buy a bottle of the latter, notice that it’s filled with bubbles, and that it gives off that distinctive hiss of escaping air when the bottle is opened, then the chances are the bottle has re-fermented. This occurs when sugars remain in the bottle after fermentation, allowing the microbes present in the wine to feed. After feeding, those microbes will excrete gases, which will rise to the top of the bottle when it’s opened.
Some secondary fermentation is pursued entirely intentionally in order to give an otherwise dull wine a little more of a kick. If you’re unsure, ask the retailer whether the bubbles are supposed to be there. If you’d like your wine to be bubble-free, you can always simply shake the bottle to within an inch of its life in order to get rid of any offending bubbles, though this is far from an ideal solution.
As we’ve seen, some wine flaws are obvious defects, while others are more open to interpretation. If you feel that you’ve bought a bottle that’s not at its best, don’t be afraid to return it. Also, be sure that you store your wine in an environment that won’t cause it to deteriorate!