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Winemaking 101 Pt. 7 - Storage and Aging

FeralLiberal's picture

I decided to hold off on posting until after the big primaries yesterday, so now it's time for a change of topic. Whether making your own wine or buying in bulk, you need to consider the needs of the wine if you're going to hold it for any significant length of time. And how long should you hold it?

For Winemaking 101 Pts. 1-6, see these previous posts.

A little reality check though, before we get started: The vast majority of wines on today's market are made to be drank without long-term aging, and a wine that is going to be consumed within a few months doesn't have any special storage requirements other than to be kept at a moderate temperature and out of direct sunlight. Heat and light are enemies of wine and even that case of Yellow Tail you bought on sale for $3.99/bottle is going to suffer if it's stored in an 80 degree closet.

But any wine that is going to be held for 6 months or more should be stored in a cool, dark place, and if sealed with natural corks, on it's side or upside down. This keeps colors and flavors fresh, corks moist and pliable, and provides an appropriate environment for wines that benefit from aging.

I'm fortunate in that I had a great space and the woodworking skills to build my own wine rack. This rack holds approximately 400 bottles (no, it's never been completely filled) and I set the angle for the display rows so that the wine still contacts the cork.

According to the experts, an optimal wine storage environment has a steady temperature of 55-60 degrees and 60-70% humidity. But don't worry if your storage area doesn't meet those specs, that's only necessary if you're holding wines for years at a time. The important thing is to avoid large or sudden swings of temperature, bright light, very dry air, and excess vibration. Wines that you are storing for a year or two will usually hold up fine under those conditions.

And how long should you store your wines? As I mentioned above, modern winemaking techniques have brought out flavors in wines that used to take years of aging, and most are released into the market when they are ready to drink. But high end red and some white wines benefit from long-term storage as volatile compounds in the wines evolve. Testing has shown that micro-oxygenization occurs as minute amounts of oxygen migrate through the closure and combine with elements in the wine. This is why cork has remained the mainstay for sealing age-worthy wines as it allows this slow process to occur.

Homemade wine benefits from from a period of bottle aging as the wine settles down from the bottling process and flavors meld. I like to give my fruit wines, which are made to be drank young, at least 6 months before I start popping corks. I've found that these wines peak after about a year, hold well for 2-3 years, then start to fade after 4-5 years. I hold back some bottles from each vintage to see how well they hold up with time. This is really the only way to know how long you should age wines, both homemade and purchased; by experience. You can read recommendations from the experts and they are useful as guidelines, but your milage may vary as your storage conditions may not be the same.

I'd like to touch on the topic of bottle closures at this point. I'm sure many, if not all of you have experienced the disappointment of a "corked" wine. Quality natural cork is getting harder to obtain as wine production around the world booms. Alternative closures are on the market and have ignited vigorous debate. For what it's worth, here's my 2 cents on this.

I close all of my wines with cork. I'm used to the material and process, the vast majority of the bottles I reuse require a cork, and I have yet to have a bottle spoil due to a bad seal. I'm not a fan of synthetic "corks" as many are made from a non-renewable resource, are often hard to remove, and offer no major advantages (other than the "pop") over screwtop closures. More winemakers including some high end producers are sealing with screwtops. Tests have shown these seal as well as corks, and better than synthetics. A recent oxygenation test showed that screwtops allowed the least amount of oxygen migration, and suprisingly, synthetics the most. Perhaps some enterprising marketer can come up with a screwtop that has a sound chip embedded to give you the appropriate "pop" when removed.

This is the final post in the Winemaking 101 series. I hope you've enjoyed reading them as much as I have writing them, and many thanks to Lambert for giving me this forum. I'll continue to add some occasional wine posts and will be starting some posts soon on another passion of mine; Gardening.

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bringiton's picture
Submitted by bringiton on

For Feral Liberal, many many thanks for this series. I’ve enjoyed it immensely, vicarious good fun, and greatly appreciate the considerable effort and great care you have put into it. With your graphics skills, please consider a self-published handbook for the modern winemaker; there are a few around but there’s always room for one more and with this series you are already well begun.

The wine rack is spectacular, very impressive. I myself never got past stacking up cardboard case boxes on their sides. More photos and instructions on rack-building in the handbook, please.

Very much look forward to your gardening series, and hope that spring will come for you soon; was on the phone the other day with aunt and cousins there and they are more than ready. Watch for the first ice fisherman to fall through, always a reliable sign that spring is about to arrive, eh? (It’s usually a Norwegian, have you noticed? What is wrong with us? :-)

Submitted by lambert on

As a former (and perhaps, again!) winemaker, I'm deeply appreciative of this series, and as for gardening -- Yes!!!!!!!!!

For those who think that these posts are not "political" they are, in fact, deeply political (IMNSHO: After all, the author, FeralLiberal, may think otherwise).

1. Pragmatically, posts like these (and I wish the cheesemaker among our readers would step forward, so we could have some cheese with our wine) give us practical ways to barter with our neighbors if the economic situation turns totally, totally dire, and more of us follow those who have left the labor market off the grid entirely.

2. It's important for us to regain control over our own bodies by recovering the ability to decide what we ingest, and the way to do that is to recover our ability to taste, and to recover our ability to make our own food. Corporations will fight this every step of the way, of course, because they regard our bodies as mere "human resources" to be seeded with tastes for the products from which they harvest profit. Burning the corporate harvest implanted in our flesh is about as political as you can possibly get, I would argue.

You know, I had some tomatoes and mozarella that I bought at the store the other day, in an effort to eat a more healthy, and less hypertension-inducing diet (the dreaded lifestyle changes. "Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants"). And I bought the expensive tomatoes that were adverised as "vine ripened." You know what? They sucked. They had the same cardboard-y texture that every other supermarket tomato has. I know that now, as much as a scientist knows the law of gravity, because I know what eating a tomato just plucked from the vine actually tastes like. I'm certain the same is true for everything else at the supermarket...

[x] Any (D) in the general. [ ] Any mullah-sucking billionaire-teabagging torture-loving pus-encrusted spawn of Cthulhu, bless his (R) heart.