The proper storage of wine should be one of the highest priorities on any wine consumer’s or restauranteur’s list. Wine is a major investment and poor storage conditions can result in wine becoming undrinkable.
A storage area for wines should meet the following criteria:
Avoid strong light
Sunlight and other forms of strong light (such as fluorescent) can be harmful to wine if the bottle is exposed for long periods. Light can cause the wine to age prematurely. It can cause oxidation and fading of the colour of the wine – as well as fading the labels. Champagne is particularly susceptible to light and should be kept in the carton until ready to be cooled before drinking. It is not necessary to store wine in pitch blackness, but it should be protected from light as much as possible.
Maintain a constant temperature
The ideal cellar temperature is 13°C, but small variations on either side are acceptable to say, between 10° and 15°C.
Wine can tolerate temperatures of up to 24C, but these higher temperatures, as well as wide temperature fluctuations, can damage the wine and shorten its life. They can cause rapid maturation, lessening the complexity and subtlety of the developed flavours. An uninsulated room, or a storage area which is too draughty, can lead to wide and rapid changes in temperature.
Wine should be positioned away from water heaters, stoves, and heat ducts. Temperatures are lower at floor level and on interior walls; exterior walls can be affected by sunlight and daily temperature changes. Champagne, sparkling wines and white wines should be stored close to the floor where temperatures are lower.
Some humidity is desirable, but excess humidity can damage labels and impair the general appearance of the bottle.
Avoid damp and musty storage conditions. If a cellar cannot ‘breathe’, the confined atmosphere can give the wine a musty taste. Damp conditions can cause cartons and the labels of bottles to deteriorate. They also encourage cork weevils which can destroy corks.
If the atmosphere is too dry, corks can dry out and the wine will oxidize.
The ideal humidity level is between 60 and 65 percent. A room equipped with an air conditioner will help maintain constant temperature and humidity, ensuring that the wine ordered by the customer arrives at the table in the best possible condition.
Maintain good hygiene
Dirt, whether it be rubbish, mould or a dirt-encrusted flooring, is a paradise for bacteria and for cork weevils which infect and destroy wine corks.
Avoid strong smells and odours
They can contaminate wine through the cork. Wines should be stored away from cupboards containing cleaning materials and chemicals.
The storage area should be free of vibration
Constant vibration which disturbs the wine can damage the flavour and for this reason, storage areas should not be located next to loading bays, dishwashers, or ducts for air conditioners or heat exhausts.
The ideal storage for wines is in wine racks. There are a number of storage rack systems available commercially, or racks can be designed and built especially for a particular storage area.
Wine racks should be designed so that bottles are stored horizontally, allowing the cork to remain in contact with the wine and stay moist and pliable. A moist cork provides the best seal for the bottle. If the bottle is allowed to stand upright for prolonged periods, the cork will dry out and allow air to enter the bottle, causing oxidation. Bacteria may also enter and spoil the wine.
Bottles should be kept lying on their sides with the label uppermost. Any deposit in maturing wines such as full-bodied dry reds and vintage port will then form on the side opposite to the label, making it easier to see when decanting.
The design of the rack should allow air to circulate and to permit each bottle to be removed without disturbing the bottle next to it.
If space limitations do not allow room for bottles to be stored in racks, the wine should be left in the carton until required.
Fortified wines (apart from a vintage port) and spirits should always be stored upright.
Wines displayed in shop windows are liable to an excess of light and wide variations of temperature; therefore strict rotation of stock should be used to prevent spoilage. In an ideal situation, all bottles on display in the windows should be replaced weekly.
Cartons of wines and spirits should be marked with the date received into the store and the stock rotated to ensure that older stock is being brought forward and not unintentionally left at the back. If this is not done, as the stock is depleted, these older wines start appearing, sometimes well beyond their drinking life. This applies, particularly to light-bodied white wines.
It is essential for any professional establishment to keep accurate records of what is kept in the cellar. The stock should be counted and balanced at least once every one to three months and records of wines, beers and spirits usage noted.
There are a number of manual stock card systems that can be used, and computerized stock record systems are also available.
The ideal cellar conditions for the storage of wine are:
- The temperature should be constant and cool.
- The storage area should not be exposed to strong light.
- The area should be clean and dry.
- The storage area should be free from any vibration.
- Bottles should be kept lying on their sides with the label uppermost.
- Strict stock rotation should be used to prevent spoilage through age.
- Avoid areas where the wine can be contaminated by chemical smells and odours.
- Ensure that cellar records are maintained.
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