A few weeks ago, we did a small segment on which wines can age, and which ones shouldn’t. You can find it here.
Wine is a beautiful creation. Every bottle that comes out of the vineyard is a full year’s worth of hard work, love, and passion. And like most works of art, it is delicate, and needs the right care in order to maintain and improve itself.
This is easier said than done in our country. Wines are sensitive to heat, light, oxygen and humidity – things that India is only too happy to provide, and in surplus to boot. And since only a tiny percentage of us have the provisions to make a wine cellar, we need a way to store them so that we don’t end up with a bottle of Möet et Chandon Premium Vinegar by the end of the week.
Fortunately, there are a few easy ways in which this can be achieved.
It starts with the purchase – Buying your wine.
A lot of wine shops love to display their best wines in glass cases. Odds are, this is the piece they will sell you first, when you ask for one. Trust me, buying this bottle is a really bad idea. Here’s why.
As I mentioned before, wine and heat don’t mix well. You will probably notice that the label of the bottle clearly states, “store in a cool place, away from sunlight. 8-13°C” – the same label that is basking in the 35°C direct sunlight, those cheeky rascals.
This is because wine “cooks” at higher temperatures, and what you drink at that point might as well come from sour raisins.
Ask for a properly stored wine. That means it should either be in the fridge, or at the back of the store, in a box, in a dark room. The bottle may be a little dusty, but I assure you – the wine inside will be miles better than the flaccid, dead stuff they’re proudly displaying outside the store.
You don’t always need the full bottle.
Unfortunately, this is something I learnt through experience. I personally don’t drink more than two glasses at a stretch. And since my consumption is more for tasting than for getting drunk, the portions I drink are miniscule. Thus, it can sometimes take me more than a week to finish a bottle – and the wine inside may not necessarily survive that long.
There are a few ways to prevent that. You could drink more per glass (but responsibly, please), you can buy a smaller bottle (375ml and 187ml bottles are also available), or the best possible solution – you can share it with your family and friends.
Ask for deals, sales, and other info that can help you save your money.
This might sound pretty obvious, but it’s easily overlooked. When I was In Pune for a weekend, I found an offer on Grover Zampa wines, and I ended up buying four full bottles for the price of two. This helped me explore a lot of different varieties and flavours, for a fraction of the price. Bonus : My friend and I made a Sangria sorbet with some of the leftover wine, and it was delicious!
The fact that wines aren’t so popular here yet might still work in your favour – shops generally have a lot of offers going on, it’s best to look around and take advantage of them.
Storing your wine
Okay, so now that you’ve bought your wine, you have to store it properly so it doesn’t spoil. Wine loves a cool, dark place with minimal humidity and light, but obviously, this is not always possible to create in a home environment. Do not fret – your refrigerator will come to your rescue. I usually store my wines on the bottom shelf.
This serves many purposes –
1) It is generally considered safer to store wines horizontally, especially if they have corks. The wine stays in contact with the cork and prevents the wood from drying out and crumbling.
2) Light is minimal on the bottom shelf. Remember what I said about wine and light? It’s not as bad inside a fridge, but a little extra precaution doesn’t hurt.
3) I don’t store any foods on the bottom shelf. Wine picks up odours and flavours very easily, so you really don’t want to be putting your wine next to yesterday’s leftover chicken tikka. (This mostly applies to open bottles, but sealed bottles should likewise be kept away from food.)
4) A bit of science. Cold air is much heavier than warm, so a lot of the cool air tends to drop to the bottom shelf anyway. Major cooling!
Preserving an open bottle
Once you open a bottle, I recommend finishing it as soon as possible. However, if it does have to go back in, there are a few ways you can preserve the wine for as long as possible. You can invest in a number of bottle stoppers, but I highly recommend a vacuum pump and stopper.
The moment you open a bottle, oxygen will sneak in. Once you seal it again, you’ve trapped a bit of oxygen in there. Even that tiny bit is enough. It will start oxidising your wine, converting the alcohol into acetic acid – also known as vinegar. Not the ideal flavour for wine.
On the other hand however, if your wine does happen to oxidise completely, don’t throw it away – you can still use it in cooking. Heat really brings out some of the flavours, while any remaining alcohol evaporates, and the astringent taste of the vinegar reduces somewhat.
A vacuum pump helps to pull out all the air, so your wine can stay fresh longer. A worthy investment.
A note on aging wines
Wine aging is… complicated, to say the least. It is by no means an exact science, and wines somehow still retain the ability to completely stump us even after we thought we knew everything about them. As discussed in my previous article (find it here), only a small percentage of wines possess the “potential to age”.
This is due to a lot of factors (including the quality of the harvest, the production process, the region it was grown, etc), but suffice to say that it’s probably best for you to finish that bottle before a year is up.
There is a simple test that you can use to determine how long a wine can age. But unfortunately, it involves opening the bottle. Now this isn’t a rule set in stone, just more of a rough guide.
- Open the wine, and let it breathe for a few minutes. Pour yourself a glass, taste it, make a note of what you think. Close the bottle, and put it back in the fridge.
- The next day, taste it again. Has the taste improved at all? Has it declined?
- Taste it again on the third day. Note down your results again.
The basis of this “test” is, the longer the wine can stay fresh (in days) after opening and continue to improve in flavour, the longer the sealed wine can age (in years). Wines whose taste declines after a day should (roughly speaking) not be aged for more than a year.
See you next week. 🙂