Wines die in hot cars
This is a public safety announcement. As we head into summer and the festive season there will be many fine wines that meet an untimely death.
You know how this goes, you have one free day before Christmas in which to sort presents and enough food and booze to get you through the stores being closed for a day. You leave the house at 8am, swing by the department stores and buy those last few presents. You drive past a large liquor retailer and buy a case of wine. Then you remember you forgot to get a present for Aunty Mary. Aunty Mary is a bugger to shop for, so after wandering around the stores for three hours you buy her a gift card. You go on to battle the hoards at the supermarket, swooping in to get the last box of Lindt balls. The line at the checkout takes you another half an hour. When you return to the car it feels about 70C in there, you worry about the ice cream melting as you drive 20 minutes home.
I’m sorry to break this to you but your wine has died.
Wine is very temperature sensitive and prolonged exposure to high heat can damage wine; giving it a brown tinge and making it taste thin, unbalanced and ‘cooked’. You need to treat your wine the same way you treat your kids or dogs, either pick it up just before you are heading home or take it with you.
Where to store your wine
Most of us don’t have underground cellars, nor can we afford one of those extraordinary wine fridges [insert sponsorship opportunity here 🙂 ]. So here are my tips for making the best of what you have. The most important thing to remember about wine storage is that you want constant temperatures with minimal temperature fluctuations. Even though wine prefers temperatures of 10-15C (50-59F) it is far better to keep it at a constant 25C rather than cycling between 19 and 35 (welcome to Australia). Wine also likes humidity and darkness.
I don’t know about the rest of the world but in Australia we have a terrible habit of keeping our wine on display in our kitchen or main living area. It is usually this area that we air-condition, creating massive daily temperature fluctuations. The kitchen is even worse; oven-baked wine anyone?
Outside of an underground cellar or temperature controlled fridge/room (now wouldn’t a wine room be nice!) the best place to store your wine is in the most insulated area of your house, often a linen cupboard, under the stairs or in the bedroom that faces away from the sun (south in southern hemisphere, North in northern). Once you have your spot, insulate as best you can by storing wine under the bed or on the concrete slab (do not do this if you use under-floor heating in winter) and wrapping it in an insulation blanket. Jancis Robinson (aka The Wine Goddess, as I call her) suggests keeping a bowlful of water nearby to keep the humidity up.
Screw cap or cork?
If you don’t have ideal storage conditions it may be better to select wines that have been bottled under screw cap. As the temperature changes wine expands and contracts. Under hot conditions a wine will push out towards the cork (creating the jammy rim you see in older wines), when it cools and contracts it can draw oxygen in and start oxidising your wine. Cork, being a natural product, will also expand and contract. Storing wines bottled under cork in the fridge at 4C for too long can allow oxygen exposure because the cork contracts (this goes for sparkling wines too, they will tend to lose their bubbles). Screw caps are a fairly perfect seal so are less likely to allow oxygen into your wine.
If you are really serious about trying to build up a cellar you may have to forgo an iPad for Christmas and ask for a wine fridge instead. Researchers at the University of California at Davis have found that with each 18F (10C) increase in temperature, the rate of chemical reactions in the wine double, prematurely aging the wine. That may sound like a good thing, but think prematurely aged like a leathery skinned sunbaker… not quite so pretty.
The serving temperature is so important to get the most enjoyment from your wine. Most of us know that white wines are generally drunk chilled, while red wines are best ‘at room temperature.’ But what is room temperature? Red wine at 35C (95F) just smells like hot alcohol without any fruit, yet that is the room temperature in Australia in summer. The answer is to put your red wine in the fridge. Only for a little while though, about half an hour (depending on what room temperature is), you don’t want to make it too cold because it will taste thin and lifeless. The ideal temperature to drink a full-bodied red is 15-18C (59-64F). This is relevant in winter too if you have central heating, it may be worth chilling that bottle just a touch.
Where do you keep your wine?
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