One of the great joys of wine is to be able to select a bottle from your own cellar, perhaps one that you’ve been storing for some years, draw the cork and enjoy it with friends.
You can marvel at the changes brought on by maturity and, as a bonus, you can brag about the price you paid and congratulate yourself on picking up such a bargain! However, wine is an ever-changing thing and how it is stored will directly affect how quickly and how well it ages! Storing wine is very simple … It requires a constant temperature, humidity, darkness, stillness and a well- ventilated and clean environment.
• Insulation The first essential is to create a storage environment that provides the basics of stable temperature, no light and no vibration. In general terms 4 inch (100mm) of polystyrene is the equivalent to 3 ft (1 meter) of ground. So if you’re trying to decide between an above ground construction and an underground cavern, you must be prepared to dig deep for the latter. Your cupboard, indoor space or your outdoor construction must be well shaded, well insulated and with the minimum of air movement in and out.
• Temperature The objective is to provide stored wines with a constant temperature of between 50ºF and 59ºF (10°C – 15°C). Seasonal changes in temperature will not harm your wine, although fluctuations greater than one degree a week should be avoided. Wines subjected to temperatures over 77ºF (25°C) are in grave danger of rapid deterioration. Wines stored in less than ideal conditions will age at speeds quite different to those envisaged by winemakers when they offer suggested storage times. A hygro thermometer will provide you with accurate information as to both the temperature and humidity ranges within your cellar. A well-constructed above ground cellar or a well dug underground cellar will require the minimum of additional temperature control although your climate or the position of your cellar may necessitate the use of a cooling device that will provide complete temperature stability. Another alternative is a temperature controlled wine cabinet. Some of these can hold up to 800 bottles but be aware that some manufacturers’ suggested bottle capacity can be misleading and the racks may be smaller than you require. Champagne bottles are larger than riesling bottles! Regard assembled wine as your best cooling block. A high density of wine bottles will reduce wine temperature fluctuations. Consider keeping your long-term wines in a professional storage facility if your cellar cannot conform to the optimum temperature ranges.
• Humidity A dry atmosphere is an enemy of the natural cork seal. A natural cork is compressed and forced into the bottle as a 100% natural seal. Low humidity combined with a defective cork results in the wine moving out of the bottle (increasing ullage) and air naturally moving into the bottle. Moderate humidity is important to keep the cork in good resilient condition and prevent it shrinking. Screw capped bottles do not require humidity. Excessive humidity will not harm the wine but can cause the labels to go moldy. The ideal humidity for your cellar is 70%, however anywhere between 50–80% is acceptable.
• Darkness Light will prematurely age a bottle of wine. Clear bottles are most susceptible to this problem, but ultraviolet light will penetrate even dark colored glass. Ultraviolet light will damage wine by causing the degradation of the otherwise stable organic compounds, especially the tannins found in wine. These organic compounds contribute to the aroma, flavor and structure of the wine. Without them your wine would be flat and thin. So exposure to ultraviolet light results in unfavorable and irreversible changes in your wine. Extra care should be given to sparkling wines as they are more sensitive to light than other wines.
• Lay it down! Store your wine bottles horizontally so the wine is in contact with the cork. This will keep the cork wet. If the cork dries out and shrinks it will let air get to your wine. Store it with the label facing up. This will help in three ways: You can easily see what the wine is. You don’t have to disturb the bottle to see what you’ve got in your cellar. The sediment will form on the opposite side to the label and make it easier to see. The label is less likely to be damaged. If you’re storing wine as an investment, a damaged label will reduce the value.
Chris Miley is the creator of the very popular book “How To Build And Start Your Own Wine Cellar” which includes complete instructions for building your own basement wine cellar plus many other ideas for wine storage areas in your home, from a cupboard under the stairs to a temperature controlled wine cabinet. Go to http://www.winecellarsecrets.com to find out more about building your own wine cellar
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