It was a relief when the Powis Road branch of Victoria Wine closed a few years ago; not because it was no good but because it used to upset me, every time I walked past, to see bottles of wine exposed in the front window to the afternoon sun. Exposure to heat and light will soon spoil wine. It’s something I worry about when I think of my own small collection of wine at home, even though it’s kept in an unheated north-facing room.
Conventional wisdom states that wine should be stored at between 10 and 15 degrees centigrade, in the dark. But does this matter when the wine is being kept for just a few months before being drunk? I’m not thinking of buying wine to lay down for ten or more years, just wine that you buy by the case and want to drink over the next few months.
There’s not much research to guide us on this but what there is, is clear. A research team from South Africa stored bottles of Riesling at 15 and 30 degrees and analysed them weekly. As early as 10 weeks the warmer bottles had, significantly, lost overall quality and young wine character and developed a kerosene flavour. But there’s no evidence to say that normal room temperature out of direct sunlight is harmful.
As for light, a French/US team exposed white wine to two 40W fluorescent lights and found that off-flavours had developed in as short a time as 3 hours in wine bottled in clear glass and at 18 hours in the wine in green glass. The flavours detected make grisly reading: cooked cabbage, corn nuts, wet dog/wet wool and marmite! Sunlight is likely to be far more damaging; it contains over 4000 times the amount of UV-A radiation compared to fluorescent light. I hope Powis Road Victoria Wine never sold those display bottles!
So, what do those of us do who don’t have a cellar? You can get a wine cooler cabinet on eBay for not much over a £100. Or if you have a coolish room, keep your white wine in it in its cardboard case, or on a rack with a thick cloth draped over it. And red wine? There doesn’t seem to be any research at all. And, ironically, red wine, which seems less susceptible to light, comes in dark bottles! So I just store mine on a rack out of direct sunlight, and it seems to be fine.
What about the orientation of the bottle? If it has a screw cap you can place it how you like. If it has a cork the consensus is that you should store it on its side, so that the cork doesn’t dry out. The exception to this is sparkling wine, where the pressure in the bottle seems to force enough moisture into the cork without the cork needing to be contact with the wine. So you can stand your champagne upright; just don’t display it. It really does need to be kept in the dark.
Andrew is a retired doctor but he can still answer a few questions our readers have asked him…
‘Doctor, Doctor, I keep thinking I’m a dog’
‘How long has this been going on?’
‘Ever since I was a puppy.’
‘Doctor, Doctor, I think I’m a pair of curtains.’
‘Pull yourself together, man.’
‘Doctor, Doctor, if I give up wine, women, and
song, will I live longer?’
‘Not really. It will just seem longer.’
‘Doctor, Doctor, I have this feeling that people are ignoring me.’
‘Next patient, please.’