Published in the Financial Times, 14 November 2014
Working out where to store wine should be straightforward: avoid direct sunlight, excess heat or cold and fluctuations in temperature. Which means never keep wine in the kitchen, convenient as it might be to have bottles to hand. Dry air harms wine, so humidity should be above 50 per cent (and ideally about 70 per cent); and if you are storing for decades, vibrations are to be avoided as they may harm the wine.
Alternatively, you can pay someone to keep your wine in exemplary conditions and advise you on what to drink when. If you are buying as an investment, this makes sense. “It’s extremely difficult to resell wine you’ve stored at home, however carefully, unless you have a wine merchant who can vouch for its provenance,” says Daniel Primack, general manager of EuroCave UK. Store with a professional, however, and buyers can have faith that the wine has been looked after properly – and the condition report and storage certificate to back that up.
If you intend to drink your wine, storing at home may work better for you, although serious collectors will usually have more wine than a capacious cellar can comfortably accommodate – and that is when bottles start overflowing into areas that lack the right conditions.
“You need a stable temperature between 10°C and 15°C,” says François Chirumberro, chief executive of fine wine advisory service 82. “The lower the temperature, the slower the ageing process, although too low and the wine won’t mature at all.”
In August, the American Chemical Society’s symposium included the results of an Italian study that compared bottles stored either in a professional wine cellar with a strictly controlled temperature (at 15- 16°C), or in conditions mimicking a dark room in a home (20-27°C). The study found that those stored under cellar conditions took two years to age to the same point that those under home conditions reached after just six months. The home-stored wines also had fewer antioxidants and less red pigmentation, making them less healthy and less flavourful than the cellar equivalents.
It may not be possible to replicate those ideal conditions at home but there are ways to come close. You can have a cellar built – a traditional one or, if you lack space, a spiral cellar, a temperature-controlled cylindrical system sunk through the ground floor. For those with no underground space, a wine storage cabinet (also temperature-controlled) is a useful alternative, and the only way to keep wine safely in the kitchen.
Working out when to drink your wine is more problematic. It does not help that the answers keep changing, as the makers of traditional wines respond to an ever-more impatient (and centrally heated) world and their rivals make wines intended to be drunk young.
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There are three principal ways to figure out what to drink when, thus ensuring the best drinking experience and a cellar that retains its value as well as its potential. If you store with experts, they will do the hard work for you and alert you when your wines reach maturity. The second option is to buy by the case and try one bottle a year at the start of the recommended drinking window. Once you decide it is ready, drink the rest with enthusiasm.
The last solution, for those with a more cautious outlook, is Coravin, a device that uses spinal implant technology to draw a small amount of wine via a slender needle pushed into the cork, allowing the cork to close without oxidation spoiling the remainder. Coravin costs £269 and Mr Primack swears by it. “It’s brilliant – you can test the wine without sacrificing the bottle,” he says.