Most wine is made with the intention of consumption upon release. White ones will probably have a vintage that’s the current year or perhaps a year older. They’re meant to be drunk when they’re young and fresh, although there are exceptions. Expensive white Burgundies age beautifully, as do many sweet dessert wines. But the general rule is to drink your white wines soon after they are purchased — within six months or so.
Most red wines are also meant to be drunk upon release. You’ll notice, though, that their vintages are usually a few years older than the whites. The winery ages them in oak barrels and then in the bottle until they’re ready for release. Great wines can then be held in a wine cellar at 55 degrees and 70 percent humidity for decades. But in most cases, the red wines you buy are meant to be drunk within a few years of purchase. Wines sometimes do experience what we call “bottle shock” during shipping and transport so they benefit from laying down for six months or so. It’s also convenient to have a variety of wines you like on hand to match a particular dish or meal. That way, you don’t have to be continually running to the store; I encourage you to establish your own wine “cellar.”
Interior designers erroneously think that a good place to store wine in the kitchen is a cupboard with crisscross inserts that show off your collection. The problem is, these unrefrigerated cabinets are the enemy of your wine. Wine dislikes three things: heat, light, and vibration. Storing wine in your kitchen exposes it to the heat of the stove, the light of the room and, sometimes, the vibration of the fridge—which is why a regular refrigerator is not a good place to store vino over the long haul.
It’s better, if you don’t have a temperature-controlled wine refrigerator, to store wine in the bottom of a closet. The closet is dark and is a constant temperature away from vibration. Wine meant to age, however, prefers not to be kept at 75 degrees (say room temperature in your house) but at 55 degrees, which is a little bit chilly. So if you want to age some Bordeaux until it achieves magical layers of flavor, buy yourself a cooler (available at Costco, Amazon and more). The smaller ones hold 24 bottles and are perfectly adequate unless you become a collector. If you don’t want to make that investment, but you wish to protect the wines that you have, keep them on their sides in a box or some kind of rack in a closet to protect them from light and vibration. They will age faster, but will be perfectly happy for years.
Have you often wondered why the end of a bottle seems to taste best? Nearly all red wines need to aerate. The wine opens up and exhibits maximum flavor by mixing with oxygen. You can now buy aerators to pour the wine through directly into your stemware or, if you wish, purchase a decanter — some are available at reasonable prices. Part of the serving ritual is decanting wine. Young wines probably won’t have much sediment, but they will benefit from spending an hour or more in the decanter before drinking. Older wines that display sediment on the bottom when stored on their side should spend 24 hours upright, and then be decanted very carefully. At restaurants, the sommelier holds a candle under the neck of the bottle in order to stop before the sediment is poured. But at home, just watch closely and if you see any sediment as you empty the bottle, stop pouring. Sediment is bitter and can affect the taste of the wine. I haven’t found it necessary to decant white wines, but I highly recommend buying a cheap decanter and letting your red wines spend an hour out of the bottle before drinking; I think you’ll be pleased with the results.
NEXT MONTH: Opening champagne and keeping leftover wine fresh
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