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By John Elmes

It’s one thing selecting a quality wine, but do you know what to do with it before you take the plunge and drink it? Until the WSET, no-one had ever told me how I should be correctly storing my wine. I just put them in a rack.

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If you thought your problems end with storage, then I’m afraid I’m the bearer of bad tidings. Serving wine also poses challenges, and we so often get that wrong too. Mercifully, the faults we make are universal, so don’t think you’re in a boat of one.

With storage, unless you have the space and resources for a wine cellar kept at a cool and constant temperature, you may have some issues. Wines damage if exposed to extremes of cold and hot temperatures. Thus, a glaring mistake many make is storing wine in kitchens where temperature fluctuations are commonplace.

Similarly, assuming refrigerating wine for long periods – and I’m talking mainly white and sparkling wines here – will preserves its freshness indefinitely, is a commonplace blunder. This is because the cork hardens and loses it elasticity, compromising the seal it has with the bottle. Consequently, air attacks the wine causing staleness. For sparklers, you’ll find they’ve lost their fizz.

Another storage issue where the cork is pivotal is standing bottle upright. The cork, no longer in contact with the wine, dries out making it more porous. Once again, air interacts with the wine, oxidises it and alters the flavour, eventually warping the taste.

Light also has an adverse effect. Natural or artificial light can heat the wine in the bottle, hastening staleness and making it old before its time. Artificial light can also give wine some rather unpleasant flavours. So keep it in a darkened room if possible.

Knowing you’ve correctly stored your wine in readiness for opening, you should follow some serving suggestions whilst consigning others to history. Achieving room temperature, which is optimum for full-bodied reds, is quite a challenge in our world of frequent air conditioning and central heating use. Too cold and the wine will taste thin and harsh, too hot and the flavours become muddled and it won’t taste as fresh.

As most restaurants tend to plump for a cooler environment, you’re more likely to be warming up your red. Do not put your bottle on a radiator in this instance. Sudden contact with intense heat could irreversibly damage the wine.

At the same time, ‘airing’ the wine by opening it sometime before drinking is a bogus practice. Too little of the wine is in contact with the air to have any effect. The wine remains unchanged. I know many, including myself, who have been sucked in by that.

Glassware, believe it or not, can also be faulty – and I’m not talking about a cracked glass. For example, you should always drink champagne or sparkling wines out of flutes. Why? Because if you use bucket-like glasses, the bubbles – so key to the aroma of the wine – are very rapidly lost. You must also ensure your glass is spotlessly clean. Even the slightest contamination can spoil the wine’s flavour.

This is also true of glasses cleaned by a dishwasher; something of which we are all guilty. The glasses may have salt or detergent traces in them and this will result in odd flavours. Sparklers will lose their fizz much quicker with glasses tainted with dishwasher residues, so be warned.

The physical opening of a bottle of wine can be problematic, especially with sparkling wine. One of my faults has been twisting the cork, not the bottle. While it works for the Formula One drivers, the idea of exploding the cork off a bottle of sparkling wine, especially Champagne, is tantamount to sacrilege for wine lovers. You want the cork to be removed from the bottle with a quiet ‘phut’, to keep the fizz.

Remember, these mistakes are perpetrated by wine enthusiasts, the world over, and you can start to obsess about them. I am now paranoid about whether the room in which I keep my nicer bottles fluctuates in temperature too much. It’s stressful…

…But oh so worth it. Santé.

 

  • RM Siverson

    I learned approximately zero from this. Letting the wine breathe in its own bottle is, of course, futile, but what about decanting it into a container with sufficiently broad head space as to allow it to breathe. Not for a 61 Latour, but an hour for a 2010 California Cabernet will do some good.

  • Ahli Anggur

    “…you should always drink champagne or sparkling wines out of flutes” – I believe there is a growing consensus among wine professional that flutes are not optimal.

  • Fraser Bailey

    The advice here with regard to champagne flutes directly contradicts the advice provided by Decanter (I think it was Decanter) just last week.

  • Jocelyn

    Great tips! I’ve now moved all my wine from the kitchen and into my bookcase (peril of tiny London flats) and on their side. I had a couple of questions about letting the wine breathe. If when letting the wine breathe by simply opening the bottle is futile, did the WSET tutor say anything about decanting the wine into a decanter? And for how long prior to drinking ought I to let the wine breathe?
    Thanks