Wine, like anything else, will always change over time. The trick is to control the rate and types to produce desirable changes and avoid harmful ones. The variables needing to be controlled are air, temperature, light, vibration and humidity.
Nothing spoils good wine faster than too much air — it causes wine to age rapidly, oxidizing and losing freshness. Before long you have vinegar. Fortunately it’s not necessary to build a vacuum chamber, glass is impermeable to air for centuries and a good cork will keep air exchange to a minimum for years.
Still, there’s some air in the bottle to begin with — this is good, since it’s essential to a proper aging process — and corks can go bad. Keeping wine bottles stored horizontally helps keep corks moist, preventing cracking or shrinking that admits air.
Storing wine at around 70 percent humidity is important to keep corks properly moistened — too low humidity dries them out, but higher humidity encourages growth of mold and mildew which injures racks, casks and spoils cork tops.
Even more importantly, proper temperature keeps corks from shrinking when too cold and wine from aging too quickly when too warm. In a cellar of 25 percent whites, 75 percent reds, 45-55F (7C-13C) is preferred. Some areas are blessed with natural conditions in this range, but most will need some kind of refrigeration unit. For smaller collections, wine cabinets can be purchased.
Almost as important as the actual temperature is the rate of change. A ten degree change over a season is harmless, but frequent and rapid changes can severely damage wine, even when stored within the desired range.
Not surprisingly, the higher the storage temperature the faster a wine will age. Conversely, colder storage temperatures slow the aging process. Adjust for the type of wine stored.
Along with controlling temperature and humidity, light exposure should be kept to a minimum. Though modern bottles have good UV filters, some can still penetrate — leading to a condition called ‘light struck’, which shows up as an unpleasant aroma. Incandescent bulbs produce less ultra violet light than fluorescents, so the former are preferable.
Vibration interferes with aging, stirs up sediments and in extreme cases can cause racks to deteriorate faster. Try to avoid moving bottles until ready to be served.
Bottle size plays a small part, since a larger bottle has a smaller ratio of air to wine. Purchase or use larger bottles when possible. Once a bottle has been opened transfer the leftover wine to a smaller bottle if the remainder isn’t consumed within a few days.
Wine Aging Table:
The following contains some types of wine and the approximate period they should be aged for optimal flavor. In general, more expensive wines are designed to be aged longer. Cheap wines should be driven off the market by not being purchased at all.
Type Cost Age (from vintage date)
Cabernet Sauvignon $12-$25 5-6 years >$25 7-15 years
Merlot $12-$25 3-4 years >$25 5-12 years
Syrah/Shiraz $12-$25 3-5 years
Chardonnay $12-$25 Consume within 5 years
Calif. Riesling $12-$25 Consume within 3-4 years