Before writing anything about storing wine, I decided to carry out some (unscientific) research. I asked my friends what they do with the wine they buy. The answer was pretty much unanimous, or rather it was unanimous, they drink it as soon as they can.
By my reckoning, most of their wine doesn’t remain unopened for any longer than 20 minutes after it arrives home. There are however, the odd rare exceptions: bottles that make it.
These bottles could be spares that weren’t used on the night or they could be something a little special – wines received as gifts or wines that cost a little more than usual.
This raises the question of how to store wine and whether it makes any difference how you treat it. The answer is that it does make a difference and the effects of inappropriate storage can show up remarkably quickly.
I found this out whilst working in a restaurant, long ago. I’ll share some secrets about how wine is stored in restaurants in the near future, in the meantime, suffice it to say that in some restaurants the wine has to share a home with the ice machine, water boiler and other equipment known to belt out vast quantities of heat.
This has a drastic effect on the health of the wine. Every bottle of wine has a little bit of air in it, between the bottom of the cork and the surface of the wine. This expands when heated and contracts when cooled, turning the bottle into a kind of heat pump.
So how does this relate to any bottles you might have at home? The first thing to bear in mind is that your kitchen is the worst place to store wine in. Kitchens heat up and cool down more than any other room in your house and if you keep wine in there for any longer than a month, you won’t be able to guarantee that you haven’t spoiled it.
In fact, it will almost certainly have changed for the worse. Wine, like many other foods, changes when it’s cooked and is never the same again.
So where to keep it?
The traditional resting place for good wine is the cellar. Before wine started to enjoy its rise to mainstream popularity after the Second World War, most people who bought wine would have had a cellar, either in their country pile or their town house. Apologies to those of you reading who still have a butler and well-stocked wine cellar, but that’s no longer the case. However, if we look at what a cellar provides, we can apply that to our own modern dwellings.
The cellar is ideal because it offers a steady temperature – a low temperature – and is free from the normal disturbances of everyday life. The most likely place to find those conditions is probably in the cupboard under the stairs or at the bottom of a wardrobe. Beware, however, of things like hot water tanks or radiators as they will play havoc with wine. Another place to avoid is your attic, if you have one. The loft space will be cold in the winter and at night, but hot during summer days – giving that unwanted fluctuation in temperature. Similarly, keeping wine outside in a shed or a garage is equally risky as the wine could freeze in winter and cook in summer.
There are other things you can do. Keeping the wine in cardboard boxes helps a bit and so does laying the bottles on their sides to keep the wine in contact with the cork, preserving the integrity of the seal. Essentially, you’re looking for a cool dark place.
If you are lucky enough to have some good bottles of wine and you aren’t sure if you’ve stored it well enough, there is, I’m afraid, only one way to find out if the wine is still good or not. You have to drink it!
Sounds, to me, like a good excuse for a party!