Back to Basics: I need closure Part 1/4! Seal the deal to enjoy it tomorrow.

15 02 2010

Preservers Montage 1

Preservers Montage 1 © Tales From the Trellis, 2010

Part 1 of 4 – Wine Preservation Overview

One important question that I hear all the time is what do you do with the bottle if you are unable to finish it right then and there. As more and more people are drinking wine, many new products are being created or updated – and are hitting the market to capitalize on the trend.

I run into this situation from time to time – but clearly the best way to avoid this situation is to enjoy it all so this won’t come up. Ok, seriously, that is not a good idea if you are driving or operating heavy machinery.

As I mentioned in an earlier post about storing your wine, much of what is out on the shelves is for immediate consumption. This also means that once opened, the shelf-life will fade very fast. Oxidation (aka maderization) is the enemy here. So, what to do to prolong this and be able to enjoy it later?

There are many products in stores that can help extend the life of the wine once opened. Over the years, I think I have purchased and tried just about all of them. I will speak to some of the newer products with interesting use of technology and features in a later post.

I have tried many methods and tricks and have come  to this conclusion. Hurry!  These gadgets work to remove the oxygen and create a vacuüm that can help slow down (never prevent) the eventual spoilage from oxidation. Cooler is also better!

There are three basic catch-all categories of preservers that I will be discussing here:

  • 1) Pumps: Manual or battery/ac charged pump that works like a tire pump, but instead of putting air in, it takes it out and forms a seal. “I’m tellin ya baby, that’s not mine”– Austin Powers 1997 (warning: possibly NSFW).  Sharper Image, Vino Vac and Houdini are three widely available models.
  • 2) Gas Injectors: A pricier option that I have used on my finest and most expensive bottles. Producers like PEK puts an inert layer of gas on top of the wine, so that air can not get to it.
  • 3) Change the Vessel: Easiest and cheapest option (and sometimes used with either 1 or 2). Simply buy a half bottle of your favorite wine, or ask a friend that has an empty half bottle you can use.  Alternately, there are decanter “wine saver sets” on the market. The concept with this third option is to change (reduce) the percentage of wine exposed to the air.

I will be expanding on the above mentioned methods in upcoming posts to break down these options and speak to the pros and cons of each. Stay tuned!

Thanks for your participation, as always.

Steve from the Trellis

© Tales from the Trellis 2010

Going the Distance – Storing your Wine

9 02 2010

In the cellar © Tales From the Trellis, 2010

Many of you have asked me about how best to store wine. My first question to that is…what and how much are you looking to store. Not everything ages, and not everything ages well! A good rule of thumb is that most value priced wines (around $12 USD and under) are built for speed, not built for hibernation. AKA drink it now!

Some basics to keep in mind for all types of storage:

  • Temperature should be stable (not fluctuate more than 5 degrees at any point)
  • The corks needs to stay moist (lay the bottles have to lay on their sides)Dark (there are reasons you see pictures and movies of dark, sank cellars with people using candles to light the way!)
  • No vibrations (please take the wine off and away from your refrigerator or anything humming!)
  • Away from any “off” odors (basements with strong odors, garages or areas with garbage, etc.)

Are you going to treat and baby a bottle of say Barefoot the same way you would a high-end Napa Cabernet…no. But, if you treat all your wine reasonably well, it will treat you well in the end.

Most wines produced are for immediate consumption or short-term storage – within a year or so. But  you should still understand that dark, cool and humid places will help make sure it tastes the way it was intended to.

Heat, vibrations,light and arid conditions are enemies of wine. Think of wine as a living breathing thing. Light will affect the maturation, dryness or lack of humidity will dry out the cork leaving a space for air to get into the bottle and thus “oxidizing”  the wine. Heat will eventually boil/stew it (do not ship wine in the summer!). Really looking for temps under 65F with humidity about 60-65% for medium term wines (5 years). Long term will need a bit more. Needs 55 F with 70-75% humidity. These are for some high-end wines.a

Also note that the type of varietal will also determine how long it could last if stored in the right conditions (and how fast it will fade if put in the wrong). Some varietals like Cabernet, Bordeaux blends, Port, Sauternes, Riesling and Merlot tend to have the stuffing for the longer haul. Also note that white wines are more fragile and need to be treated with more care.

Short Term

Many of us go to the store with the notion that we will walk out and moments after arriving home, pop and pour what you just spend some time to select. One piece of advice for you, if you really love a bottle and find yourself buying it regularly…get a case to have on a moments notice and store it. You will reap the benefits of having it on hand for anytime and also saving a bit of money as case purchases in many stores can mean discounts. Some of you have mentioned space being an issue. You can turn the box on its side and put it in a cooler closet if you live in the city  with no space available to you. Do note that if you do not use your air conditioning in the summer and the apartment or area you are using starts to approach 80’s and above, consider the lower end wine refrigerators (more on that to come in the Gadgets and Gizmos section soon).

Medium Term

You just bought something nice, say around $15 to $30 USD. Maybe it was a nice Ramey Chardonnay or Mondavi Napa Cabernet. Maybe you bought a few or perhaps someone gave you a gift (nice!). You may want to save it for a special occasion or just hold it for a bit. These mid range priced wines are ususaly perfect to drink now but can usually be held (and may actually improve) for a while. Again, depending on the varietal, 3-5 years is possible if you have the right conditions. Really try for 60F and at least 60% humidity here. Again, options are wine cabinet and refrigerators. NOTE: Do not keep your wine in your kitchen refrigerator. Those are around 40F and will mute the wine flavors over time. Yes, it will retard the maturation of the wine, but as a result, it will also hurt it. With temperatures too low, the wines get “dumb” or “numb” and can lose their flavors and complexity over time.  I will, however, keep some short terms white wines or sparking wines in my kitchen refrigerator, but only because I will be drinking them within the next few weeks! This is the same model that I have in my office that hold 12 bottles by Vinotemp. Highly recommended and has two temp controls for upper and lower racks with pull out wood shelving. TIP: Since you can only control temp and not humidity in these, put a mug of water in the bottom to help this.

Long Term

Yup, these are the ones we treasure. Above $30 USD we want to make sure we treat these with the respect they deserve. Also, again, depending on what type, they will improve with age and not typically meant for popping right now. Vintage Port and higher end Cabernet or Bordeaux fall into this category. If you have a place where it is 55F, with a high level of humidity (60+) and darkness, these bottles will keep (maturing) for a long time.

Most of us do not have these conditions, so what to do?  You can rent space from a wine store if available, store your bottles in a friends cellar, create these conditions in your home (they make wine “air conditioner” systems specifically for this but pricey), or go for a wine refrigerator or cabinet (some under 100 – thousands of USD). There are a variety of price and size options and I highly recommend these. I have a few running and love these and use them to house my prized bottles (and some have locks too!).

You really do not want to open up a bottle of port that was just release or under 10 years young. These need time to mature and are awkward and just kids that soon. Ports need about 15-20 years to really come into their own. Again, these are higher end ports that you will spend over 50 and up to  hundreds on. Have patience. I bought a 2003 to enjoy with my little girl when she is old enough. She will be hitting drinking age when that bottle is ready to go! High end Cabernet also needs time in the bottle. some 2004 Napa Cabernet are just hitting their peak now, with recommendations to hold the 2005-2008 because they need time! Here is a vintage chart pdf from Robert Parker, the worlds most acclaimed wine critic. This may help you understand some of this (of confuse the hell out of you).

Post your questions on storage here (below) in comments. Also, tell me how you have stored the wine you are not drinking right away. Take the poll on the right so we can see what you’re doing with storage!


© Tales From the Trellis 2010