Do I Dare Open It?

The other day, I was returning a wine glass to my shelving when I noticed a box that I had forgotten about for a long time.  Inside is a 1995 Inniskillin Vidal Ice wine that was under my dad’s bar for years.  It’s still in the original box and I examined it closely.  The cork seal seems still to be solid with no weeping.  As I look at it, I contemplate a huge question:

  • When is a wine ready to be opened?

In order to answer this, we need to talk about ageing a wine in simple terms.  First of all, for the majority of wines out on the market, you do not need to age them.  In fact, the wineries wish that you would drink them for a few reasons:

  • Repeat business because if you drink the bottle, then you have to purchase another one.
  • Who understands how to age a wine in the general public?
  • The general public does not want to age their wine. They purchase it to drink it.
  • Most people do not have the right conditions to age a wine long term.

Therefore, the wineries generally release their wines when they think they are ready to be consumed.  I would say that out of all the wine released, 97% is ready to be consumed right after purchase.  Just open the bottle, drink and be happy.  However, that three percent is a very interesting part of wine.  This is related to storage (cellaring) and ageing.

Storage

Storing a wine (also referred to as cellaring) is an interesting dilemma.  First of all, most wine is shelf stable for two years under normal conditions.  For most people, we purchase a bottle and store it on a little wine rack somewhere in the house as a display until it’s time to drink.  Some place the wine in their fridge to chill it and have it ready at a moment’s notice.  All of this is fine for the short term.  However, if you wish to age a wine, you have to be able to store it for a long time.

Proper storage of a wine includes the following points:

Light Sensitivity

Light exposure to wine can break down its components over time.  If you notice, the majority of wine is sold in either green or brown bottles to help with this.  However, it helps to have it stored in a dark area if possible and not in direct sunlight.  There is a gas station that when I drive by it in summer, I can see the harsh afternoon sun streaming inside their big windows and hitting the wine bottles on the shelf for hours.  I know I would not purchase wine from them just for that fact.  (You may ask why I would even consider purchasing wine from a gas station in the first place.  I have actually been to a few stations that have amazing, properly stored selections.)

No vibration of the bottle

A wine instructor once told me that vibration was bad for wine.  When I asked why, the example was simple.  Act like you are sitting in train that is in constant motion for two years as it runs over rough track.  Vibration over time is shaking the wine.  I have not seen any studies on this (there has to be some out there) but I know that constant shaking a bottle of anything changes it.  For long term storage, I would recommend a wine fridge.  These hold your bottles at a constant temperature, with humidity control.  The best part about them is that the compressor is dampened and isolated from the fridge so it won’t vibrate as much.  Think about it this way; leave your regular fridge door open for a few minutes and then close it.  When you put your hand on the fridge, you can feel the vibration of the compressor running.  That does not happen with a good wine fridge.

Constant Cellar Temperature

I wrote about this in an earlier article but proper cellar temperature is important to maintain.  Even if your house has an area that remains constant (such as a basement), it still changes over the seasons.  This can affect bottles that you wish to store for years so maintaining a good temperature is important.

Constant Humidity

Humidity is very important for one reason.  The cork inside the bottle is getting moisture from the wine itself (we call this the mirror since the wine reflects itself on the cork).  However, the cork needs moisture on both sides.  A proper relative humidity of 70 % will maintain the cork quality.  If the humidity is lower than 70%, the cork will dry out and allow air into the bottle.  Air times wine equals vinegar so this is never a good thing.  The other option is to have a humidity greater than 70%.  This tends to encourage mold growth and that’s also not a good thing as well.  Most good wine fridges will maintain this humidity level automatically.

Front label stored upwards to the ceiling

I always store my bottles with the front wine label up to the ceiling.  This allows me to be able to see what the bottle label is easily.  Also, if there is any sediment in the bottle, it will tend to fall to the back side of the bottle.  It’s much easier to control it if you know where the sediment may be located.  Hmm, I think I wrote an article about sediment.

Again, for the average person, they are not worried about cellaring a wine.  However, if you purchase in bulk (6 bottles at a time), purchasing a wine fridge may be a good investment.  They last a long time and work to store your wine properly.  There are great places to purchase them on the web.  BTW, one of the best things I ever did was purchase one that had a scratch on its side.  It was 30% discounted and the scratched side I placed against a wall.

Summary

Going back to the ice wine, it has been stored in a dark place (the box), with average humidity in the house (it’s now in my wine fridge) with no vibration but small temperature swings in the room.  Overall, it has not been in the best storage that it could have been long term.  This leaves me with 2 questions:

  1. Did the storage affect the wine at all or how much?
  2. Does the wine have the ability over 25 years to last?

In my next article, I will discuss details related to how to age wines.  So now we all will have to wait a week but it will be worth it.

@artofthepair