It is one of the hottest topics in wine, even if heat is bad for wine! Puns aside, conservation is truly one of the most debated topics by those who approach this fascinating world.
How long a wine lasts, but above all how to keep it are classic questions, with answers that are not entirely discounted. Even wondering how long a wine lasts is in itself wrong, not so much for legitimate curiosity, but because the question is wrongly posed. Each wine has different characteristics, which give it a completely different aging potential in the bottle. It is no coincidence that AIS (Italian Sommelier Association) uses terms that are inspired by those of the human age to define the wine evolutionary state: immature, young, ready, mature and old.
To return to our initial question, it should be asked what is the evolution of a specific wine, complete with the winery denomination and name. In fact, there are factors that greatly affect its potential, starting from the grape variety, the harvest, the vintage, and the aging type in the cellar (steel, amphora, wood). Let’s not forget, therefore, that wine is a “live” food, which changes over time with a maximum evolution curve, which should never reach old age
It is a wonderful game to buy several bottles of the same important vintage and enjoy their evolution by opening them year after year. You can observe how the color changes, how the aromas on the nose become more evolved, disconcerted by the fact that those fresh pinks, marked on the tasting notebook, in a few years have become a of dried flowers potpourri, or that rough tannin on the language, is today an enveloping caress.
However, playing with the wine aging is risky, because those bottles that we have carefully chosen and awaited with emotional transport could be irreparably damaged if not stored correctly. It is easy, among other things, that this deterioration is not immediately recognizable by our senses: a wine can age badly but not necessarily become bad, we are just not enjoying it to its fullest potential.
The environment in which the wine is stored can make a difference, also for this reason it is necessary to understand with intellectual honesty whether the home cellar satisfies certain characteristics.
Temperature is one of the fundamental factors for the correct conservation of wine. The evolution of a bottle is altered, in its natural oxidative process, by temperatures below 10 degrees centigrade and above 16 °: this is the definition of the temperature range of a well-made cellar. The rapid fluctuations of the temperature itself are very dangerous, the worst ones within 24 hours, because it is precisely the temperature change that spoils our precious nectar. Also for this reason it would be good to have an several meters underground cellar, preferably built with stone walls, which maintain the natural insulation.
Equally important is the humidity. In a home cellar it is practically impossible to have the exact humidity standard between 60% and 80%. A lower humidity than this percentage tends to dry the corks, a higher one can lead to the molds proliferation. There are dehumidifiers on the market that can help stabilize humidity, but honestly, that keeping it stable in a modern cellar, often not underground, is truly a titanic undertaking.
One, the cellar was the place where salami and caciotte hung were stored up. If you are one of those who still do, do not use it for wine, because unpleasant odors could penetrate through the cork. Even the finest bottles, corked with a high quality one-piece cork, could be heavily affected. All the more reason that boilers or burners should stay light years away from your precious bottles.
About light: even the lighting must be chosen carefully, possibly using low intensity shielded lamps. Classic neon lights are not recommended, as they provide too strong a light for the correct aging of a bottle. Excessive brightness damages the wine by accelerating its oxidation, also for this reason for many whites, more susceptible to light, producers choose dark bottles. The lamps also produce heat, so it is better to use LED lights. Not least, the light and constant vibrations can lead to the wine rapid deterioration.
The shelving must also be thought out in a clever way, housing the largest number of bottles horizontally. The reason is linked to the classic and traditional corking with cork, kept moist in contact with the wine to preserve its elasticity.
Returning to the first misplaced question, how long does a wine last, there is also a factor, ultimately, that is often underestimated, and it is precisely the cap type. It is clear that a great Brunello di Montalcino or a Barolo will almost certainly be closed with an expensive one-piece cork, the price of which can even exceed the euro. The more the cork is of good quality, the more it will maintain the elasticity on the walls of the bottle, avoiding a too violent exchange between wine and external oxygen.
There are also various corks quantities on the market, all suitable for different wines, also designed to solve the age-old question of the TCA molecule, responsible for the cork odor. The most interesting theme that emerged years ago, also following some research done, is related to the tightness of the cap. In particular, a study by the Old Bridge Cellars Australian Wine Research Institute, which lasted 125 months, clarified how the closure with the Stelvin screw cap is the one capable of better preserving wine in the long term.
We had already talked about it here some time ago: telling an Italian to use this cork for a great aging wine is a bit like insulting the mother. Without taking sides, however, there is a fact, this closure is very popular abroad, even for important wines, such as the great Rieslings or the Chablis of Domaine Laroche.
Now that you know everything about wine storage, the best advice we can give you is this: forget what you have just read, think an important menu, go down to the cellar, take one of your beloved wines in your hands with care and method ( especially if the bottle is a few decades old), uncork it and enjoy it!
And if you are afraid to make mistakes in uncorking a precious 20 or 30 year old bottle, we will explain how to do it next time.
– Editorial Board 09.02.2021