In times past I have covered many aspects of wine growing, making, consuming, pairing etc. As I was looking back at some of the topics last week, I was amazed (shocked) to see that 4 years have passed since I wrote about wine storage.
OMG (as they say), am I writing on this site that long?
Back then, I wrote about the Secrets of Wine Storage and I’d like to revisit this topic again. There are many misconceptions about proper wine storage and other conditions that come up as questions on the shop floor from time to time.
You must remember that wine is perishable, and when exposed to its enemies, its complex blend of flavours and aromas can be severely compromised. First, let me highlight (revisit) the 5 main enemies of wine, then I’ll discuss why wine goes bad and list some food enemies of wine.
5 main storage enemies of wine
Enemy #1: Temperature.
Temperature swings can be detrimental to fine wines, as exposure to heat can cause a wine to push the cork out of the bottle (leading to oxidation). This can turn the wine brown in colour, potentially eliminate any aromas of fruit and potentially result in notes of vinegar.
Extreme cold paralyses wine and ruins its natural development and taste. A cold, dry environment can dry out corks, allowing the wine to seep out and destroying the flavour of the entire bottle.
A note: It’s only serving temps (not storage) that vary for whites, reds and sparkling.
Enemy #2: Vibration
Wine can be a very complex beverage. It continues to develop flavours and aromas long after you bring it home to enjoy. Wine experts suggest a vibration-free environment for vintages because it allows the wine to slowly age.
Vibration speeds up the ageing process and doesn’t allow the wine to fully mature. Having wine move as little as possible is ideal for long-term storage.
Enemy #3: Light
Exposure to UV light will prematurely age and damage wine, compromising its delicate flavour profiles and overall quality. A wine that is exposed to ultraviolet light can cause it to become cloudy and give off strong odours and off-flavours — not exactly the way the wine was meant to be enjoyed.
Enemy #4: Oxygen
Oxygen is the most common enemy of wine. Lying wine on its side will keep the cork moist enough for a couple of years. but for longer-term storage, a consistent relative humidity between 50 and 80% is necessary to avoid the corks from drying out.
When air gets into a bottle of wine, the wine begins to oxidise. Beautiful white wines will begin to brown, precious reds will fade, and all will take on a sharp Sherry-like nose.
Enemy #5: Odour
Musty or mouldy odours near wine racks or any room with pungent odours such as cigars, garlic, and strong spices can affect the flavour of a wine. Same for household or garage chemicals
It’s fine to keep wine in your fridge short-term if that’s your only option aside from a hot room. At worst, the wine won’t evolve, as the colder temps will slow down or halt that process. At best, it won’t turn into vinegar, either.
Why does wine go bad?
Spoiler alert: Yes, wine can go bad, due to improper storage, as I’ve outlined above. But, sometimes, it may even be bad before it went into the bottle. Your wine may be faulty even before you open it.
There can be flaws or faults in almost any wine. I have previously covered this topic when I wrote about whether faulty wine can make you sick. Don’t worry, it’s not like eating bad chicken or fish. You won’t end up with wine poisoning, just a disappointing drinking experience.
How Long Does Wine Typically Last?
When stored properly and kept unopened, white wines can often outlive their recommended drinking window by 1-2 years, red wines by 2-3 years, and cooking wines by 3-5 years. Fine wine, as you may have guessed, can typically be consumed for decades.
Opened wine, however, is another matter. In general, white wines go downhill quicker than red. As a rule of thumb, once opened:
Sparkling wines go quickly, with only 1-2 days to enjoy (a little longer if refrigerated)
Lighter white wines last 4 or 5 days (a little longer if refrigerated)
Red and rich white wines last roughly 3-6 days
Dessert wines are good for 3-7 days
Ports will last between 1-3 weeks
How Can You Tell if Wine Has Gone Bad?
Look out for these key signs that your wine has gone bad.
Colour: When left to its own devices, red wine can go a murky brown. When white wines go bad their pale-yellow colours turn to darker, golden hues.
Smell: If your wine is “corked” or suffering from “cork taint” it will give off the smell of wet cardboard or even wet dog. Your nose can also tell you if the wine may have oxidised. Look out for sharp acidic smells, like nail polish remover.
Taste: Wine that has gone bad may feel “flabby” in the mouth, the flavours may be much sharper, and the general experience may be dull and uninspired.
Remember, a wine that has gone bad won’t necessarily hurt you, but it might be best to return it to the shop or throw it away and start fresh with a new bottle.
Food enemies of wine.
I have written numerous posts on here outlining wine and food pairings and how they can be fun. Sometimes the same pairings give different results because there are so many variables.
That being said, certain foods are difficult, if not impossible, to pair with wine. Here’s a brief overview of some food “enemies” that can spoil your taste experience.
Artichokes - if the wine is red and tannic or particularly acidic and dry, they will take on an unpleasant metallic sensation.
Vinegar - the strong character of the acetic acid easily breaks the balance of a wine, making it much harder and more acidic than its natural character. Other enemies of wine at the table are citrus fruits, that are particularly difficult to pair with wine, for the same reason.
Eggs: Whether fried, soft, or hard-boiled, eggs don’t get on at all well with wine. They give it a very unpleasant metallic taste. If you drink a dry white wine rather than a red wine, it might prove a little better.
Garlic: Fresh, well cooked and added to a dish isn’t a problem. Lightly cooked or raw will kill off any wine that comes its way.
Spices: As a rule of thumb, red wines (especially the lightest ones) are to be avoided: the spices will destroy them. Only a dry, white wine (one that is also rich and full-bodied) will make a successful match. Sometimes even wines that are slightly, but not excessively, sweet can work.
There is no enemy, but time, so pop your corks.
Us wine lovers find it hard to believe that there are any enemies of wine, at all. However, I’ve listed above some situations that might not enhance your wine-drinking experience.
Since most of us will buy wines to be drunk now, I’ll stick to this rule: all wine, even the most age-worthy, is meant to be drunk, not looked at in a collection.
So, store your wine if you need to, but pop your corks often.
Talk soon - James