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How to preserve your wines

Written by Ristorante Vecchia Maremma.

To store wine or to drink it right after buying? It has always been a dilemma for the wine enthusiasts often scared by the chance that their drink might end up ruined by a poor preservation. The rule, as widely known, is to save the bottles in a properly built cellar so that nothing can compromise the bottles. Nonetheless a cellar would also help wine to improve its flavours by seasoning.

The bad news is that cellars are not so affordable, the good news is that following some easy to remember rules you can let your bottles survive some years even if you don't have one. Even better, you should know that most of the wines you buy at the shops are already good to be served and this is particularly true for the white ones.

By the way, some wines are released to the market while they're still too "young" and for the taste to be at its best, enthusiasts should let the bottles "mature" long enough: opening the bottles before time would simply waste the opportunity to completely enjoy an otherwise great wine.

Una splendida cantina ben organizzata. Foto Cristiano Ciampana.As an example, most of the white wines lose freshness and fruit fragrances after just six months from when  they've been released to the market while many red wines get better after some time seasoning in the bottle. As many of you already know wine gets better after time but keep in mind that this rule does not apply to all of the wines. So, how to find out which ones are ready to be consumed and which ones are not?

Some companies add hints on the bottle back sticker clearly stating when the wine will be at its best or at least indicating in which month it has been bottled; some, unfortunately, simply won't. Who, better than the bottler himself knows when his wine will be ready to serve?

A very generic rule of thumb is that expensive red wines are the ones to be kept in the bottle for longer to completely mature. Usually, red wines that have some sediments or the ones that look "thick" are the ones that should be kept in the bottle for longer (even some years!).

In any case, if we really need to open a bottle that we just bought we should at least make sure to wait some days (or a week) to allow wine to get stable and "heal" from having been moved. This particular rule is especially true for the red wines as it allows to sediments to get to the bottom of the bottle.

Ideal conditions

One of the biggest issues when trying to preserve wine is the oxidation, an issue that might arise when wine gets in contact with oxygen. Even if the bottle looks in good conditions you should always keep in mind that the cork, being elastic and porous, might change its properties under particular circumstances. As a result, the cork shrinking because of the low humidity is indeed the most frequent cause of oxidation of our precious wine. A practical method to get rid of this issue is to store the bottle horizontal so that the cork will always be slightly wet by the wine itself.

The "public enemy number 2" of wine is temperature changes as they can accelerate oxidation processes and the air flow in the bottles. As you all know temperature changes modify materials enlarging them with the heat and reducing their size as temperatures fall. Obviously this applies to wine too, so that with temperatures rising, the liquid mass will expand pushing the air to the cork and from there outside through the bottle neck and cork interstices ; by reverse, any fall in the temperature levels will suck air in the bottle bringing more oxygen to wine. In the worst case scenario you should always keep in mind that the temperature effects may reach a point in which the wine itself will expand up to the very tip of the bottle and a bit of it might get out so that when the temperatures will fall again there will be space in the bottle to fit more air and accelerate further the oxidation process.

Many theories have been developed about how to preserve wine during its seasoning. One of the new ones says that bottles should be stored oblique and not horizontal so that the air bubble will reach the cork while some wine, reaching the cork too, will keep it wet enough. This would push air out of the bottle as a result of a rise in the temperatures. By the way subsequent contractions of the liquid would still end up sucking air in the bottle.

Another aspect worth mentioning about temperature changes is how fast wine matures over time: high temperatures will mature wine faster but lower ones (but I'd say: correct ones) will mature wine with the right pace consenting wine to mature its bouquet at its best. Even though it's kinda rare in modern houses, always keep in mind that a "violent" fall in the temperatures up to 6°C degrees will let tartars subside. This (more common with white wines) won't damage wine but will definitely ruin its aspect.

The ideal temperatures to preserve wine should be spotted within 10°C and 16°C and they should be kept as stable as possible better if around 14°-15°C. Anything higher than 25°C would seriously modify wine characteristics deteriorating its taste down to the worst vinegar.

Also keep in mind that exposing wine to light for a while might end up modifying its taste. The ones to worry the most about in this case are the white and the sparkling ones mostly when they have been bottled in clear, almost uncolored glass. Here, a cheap trick might be wrapping the bottles in tin or thick paper foil.

Last but not least don't forget humidity as part of the equation: a dry environment shrinks the cork while humid one will most likely produce moulds that will ruin the wine smell (notheless, even serving a bottle with ruined, almost melted, stickers does not impress people about the bottle contents quality). Humidity should always be kept at around 70% and to make sure no moulds and bad smells will ruin your wine taste always make sure to ventilate the room or the cellar where you're storing your wine.

I know it might sound silly but you should also keep in mind to reduce the bottles vibrations: even though it won't interfere with wine preservation it will surely move the sediments from the bottom of the bottle right with the rest of your wine ruining its aspect. What's really important if you are keeping your bottles in your home is to never forget to take them away from rooms easily charged with too much odours (never use the kitchen for example)

Preserve your wine at home

We discussed about the most common techniques to preserve our wine. Following those hints might get tricky if you have no chance to use a cellar properly built to respect these standards. Many people usually need some quick and dirt hints on how to save their wine without the hassle of a specifically designed cellar. Most of the recent houses have higher temperatures than they used to and it's not uncommon to have more than 20°C for the whole year; having the heaters turned on and off during the day causes temperatures to rise and fall quite often; furthermore, there are rooms (like the kitchen) where humidity, temperature and strong smells might awfully modify your wine.

If you are lucky, you have a room to spare or you spotted an adequate one to use. In these cases you should make sure that no heater will be turned on and that the room's door and the perimeter walls of your room are well insulated. Keep in mind that the attic is not to be considered suitable as they are exposed to very high and low temperature throughout the year. To mantain a constant humidity, you should put a water filled basin in the room, better if next to the bottles. Obviously the best option would be to use an air conditioner but we want to drink good wine while saving the world from toasting, won't we?

If don't have any room to dedicate to the wine preservation and you have to use the kitchen, always make sure it'll be stored far away from the stove and the fires and put it by the most odourless part of the room. Use a butlery if you can, you might even slighty modify it to better accomodate your wine and follow our preservation hints. In the worst case, even a wooden crate or thick cardboard box might do. Protect your wine from any light source.

Always keep in mind that even with the best cares, your wine won't last much being preserved in-house without a proper cellar. The best you can obtain will probably be to maturate it better and save it for two, maybe three, years. By the way, modern technologies come handy today and there are now plenty of small refrigerators specifically designed to keep your bottles safe. Sadly most of them won't be able to hold many bottles compared to their size (the biggest ones can hold about 25-35 bottles) and they surely require quite a bit of energy to be up and running.

Proper Service Temperatures

Talking about Refrigeration We Should Keep in Mind That service temperatures vary Widely Depending on the wine type. This table Should always be kept in mind to properly enjoy the wine of all traits:

  • Young white: 10° - 12°C
  • Mature white: 12° - 14°C
  • Rosato young and light: 10° - 12°C
  • Mature and full-bodied rosé: 12° - 14°C
  • New red: 10° - 14°C
  • Young red, slightly tannic and light: 14° - 16°C
  • Red ripe, tannic and full bodied: 16° - 18°C
  • Red ripe and aged: 18°C
  • Sparkling sweet and aromatic: 8°C
  • Red sparkling sweet and aromatic: 10° - 12°C
  • Sparkling "Charmat": 8° - 10°C
  • Sparkling "long Charmat": 10° - 12°C
  • Sparkling "classic method without year": 8° - 10°C
  • Sparkling "vintage classic method": 10° - 12°C
  • Sweet Wines and Raisin: 10° - 18°C
  • Fortified or Liqueur: 10° - 18°C

White Wines

White wines are generally more acidic than red wines and they have little tannin so that the astringency sensation is very low. Considering that an acidic drink becomes more attractive at low temperatures, the white wines are generally not served at high temperatures. The preferred temperature for these wines usually ranges between 10°C to 14°C. The young fresh and aromatic white wines may also be served at 10°C while the less aromatic one at 12°C. Soft and mature white wines, refined for a few years in bottle, withstand higher temperatures and can be served between 12°C to 14°C. Serving a white wine at higher temperatures, means enhance its "sweetness" at the expense of the acidity and flavor considered a pleasing and desired taste in this particular wines.

Rose Wines

The service of rose wines usually follows the same rules applied to white wines. However, it is necessary to consider the quantity of tannins in these wines, and then serve them at higher temperatures not to increase astringency. Young rose wines, tannic, are served from 10°C to 12°C, whereas the more robust and mature ones, can be served between 12°C to 14°C.

Red Wines

The service temperature of red wine depends on many factors, but because of their "tannic" nature and being less acid than whites, they are usually served at higher temperatures. Slightly tannic young red wines are usually served between 14°C and 16°C, while the more mature and tannic may even reach 18°C. The more mature wines, aged in bottle for years, can be served from 18°C to (exceptionally) 20°C. Young red wines, still not very high in tannins can also be served between 12°C to 14°C without any astringency feelings. This rule is particularily true for the new wines (the so called "novello") because of their particular vinification technique. In this case they may be served colder than other red wines still resulting in a very enjoyable taste.

Sparkling Wines

Given the many types of sparkling wines available, establish a rule for all would make little sense. The sweet and aromatic sparkling whites, such as the Asti Spumante, should always be served at a temperature of 8°C; thanks to their aromaticity they may, in fact, tolerate low temperatures. Sweet red sparkling wines, such as the Brachetto, can be served at temperatures between 10°C and 12°C; even in this case, the more aromatic ones will tolerate temperature as low as 8°C while for the more tannic ones it should be raised up to 14°C. Dry sparkling wines called "Charmat" or "Martinotti method", such as Prosecco di Valdobbiadene and Conegliano, may be served at temperatures between 8°C and 10°C.

Particular attentions should be paid to sparkling wines "classic method", such as the Franciacorta, and the "méthode champenoise", such as Champagne. These sparkling wines are served at temperatures between 8°C and 10°C, however when it comes to vintage or otherwise important sparkling wines aged for a long time, you can even reach 12°C in order to facilitate the development of complex aromas that slowly developed over time.

Raisin wine and liqueur

The common feature of these two types of wine is, in general, the high percentage of alcohol and, often, they are sweet. However dry wines, such as some types of Marsala and Jerez Fino exist too and they contain a quantity of sugar that won't be perceived. For these wines, the service temperature should be determined according to what we would like to enhance: if we need to enhance its sweetness and the complexity of the aromas, we should serve them at a high temperature, somewhere between 14°C and 18°C, also keeping in mind that the alcohol will also to be perceived with more intensity. If, otherwise, we would like to enhance freshness or (in the case of sweet wines) we need to mitigate the issue, they have to be served at lower temperatures: 10°C to 14°C are your numbers.

Dry fortified wines or fresh and young ones can anyway be served at colder temperatures (even below 10°C). Please remember that while the perception of alcohol will be greatly reduced, even the aromas will be softened.

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