All about wine storage, drinking, allowing the wine to breathe and appropriate serving temperature
Wine and Oxygen are to each other what two people attracted to each other (and to anyone for that matter), for the first time are. As the eyes interlock, awkwardness gives way to years of pent up emotions finally bursting out, the lovers throw caution to the wind, letting the slow smoldering turn to sparks that fly all over the place-the fervor reaching a boil in minutes, passion its zenith; settling down with happiness and contentment from the first rush before coming back with even greater intensity before the dawn breaks.
Well, if wine could speak, it would narrate a similar and probably a more passionate love story. A love story of a single day of passion and of rebirth, to live in the hope of that one day where, it will be consumed by that same passion again somewhere, and then die and start over and over again.
As soon as it is opened up and starts to come in contact with Oxygen, it starts to change itself. A wine bottle opened for just 20 mins can sometimes taste nothing like its 20 min earlier self. It's to do with the release of aromas and flavors as the oxygen interacts with the wine. And the one that has been allowed to breathe and live for a couple of hrs, will blow her more expensive and illustrious siblings (and near and distant cousins, who may have just been opened), out of the water.
However, much like too much of a lover, too soon can sometimes be not too palatable, too much of oxygen is bad for the wine. It's rare to see the same sparks fly again the next day and almost impossible to see any kind of passion left the day after that. It's too dull to caress, not worth the kiss on the lips, and if left open and in contact with air for a couple of days, should be dutifully immersed in the kitchen sink.
A big culprit that 'tips us over' these days, is the generous use of gimmicky gadgets that sometime provide false sense of comfort, to pour out or preserve any type and age of bottle (wine aerators, was one; I actually had to look that up when someone mentioned a few months back!) to a vigorous auto wine swirler and electronic wine preservers (most of these more gadgetry than preservers). Not so well known is that an unchecked and rampant use of decanters for old, aged, trophy bottles can also do the same damage.
While using a decanter can be great for a young wine to bring her around faster for that rendezvous with oxygen, for that sparkling chemistry, we would strongly discourage, no, entreat, earnestly plead you to the last breath in our lungs, to spare that beloved decades aged bottle this shock. Let the beauty that has waited all these years, come around on her own, little by little, glass by glass. Decanting her, would be an extreme, instant shock, and no one likes shocks; the more delicate ones, may even die in that instant leaving only an iota of themselves behind. As you pour every glass, both the bottle and the glass get a bit of that love of oxygen, and the wine will shine, till it has nothing more to give and you, nothing more to drink.
If there's time at your hand, lots and lots of it, you would be surprised to see how the slow meeting to let the bottle breathe as you enjoy your drink glass by glass instead, even for the young ones, will bring more joy to you and to the wine and retain that freshness that much longer. If you can keep the bottle (especially relevant for Asian houses, warmer countries), near a direct burst of air conditioning, it would pleasantly shock you to see how well that bottle comes into its own.
(There's a general notion, from some self proclaimed experts that opening a bottle without pouring it out in a glass or decanting does little to the wine since there's only so much wine that's in the bottle neck that is in contact with oxygen. In our humble opinion and personal experience, this is not accurate. The next time someone makes that suggestion, we suggest you ask them to open a bottle in the night and leave it out in the open or in the cellar and drink it after a night or recork it and store. It's a simple and easy way to screw the bottle. If oxygen can't get in, the wine should be fine the next day, most of it at least right? Wrong. Wine absorbs oxygen and it dissolves in it, intertwined like lovers. The end result is obviously, not very different from a half drunk bottle.)
But then, what you do you if you so want to open that bottle tonight and there's no one to share? You know, you would be too spent to come back again for a third round of passion or a fourth and you obviously would hate to see all that passion die out tomorrow and send it to the kitchen sink.
Like us, if you have been there many times, tried all sorts of electronic and manual stoppers and gadgets and remedies and still not found the answer, here's something that actually works. After about three years of experimenting with all sorts of stoppers, the one that finally earned its money, was this one, available for about $15 from Amazon.
Gift from a dear friend which we took with great skepticism considering we had just blown three times the money on an electronic wizardry. Two years later and this one is still going strong while the electronic one died after 3 months, having sputtered, struggled and failed a number of times during that period.
This one also works irrespective of how much wine's left (most electronic ones kind of go bonkers, finding it difficult to separate the wine with oxygen in the bottle, especially if the two have been together for a while or there's too much of it, meaning the bottle is near or less than half full- exactly when you need them most).
(Just be aware, when we say, it works, we are not suggesting, vacuuming it brings it back for storage so that Lafite you are thinking of opening after 10 yrs can go back again for another ten, but merely that it will last a few days with little loss of aroma or taste per our experience).
The other lover
But the stopper alone won't do the trick. You also need to keep the wine away from the other jealous lover, Temperature. This one is always lurking in the background, tugging at her emotions, her feelings, all the while as the wine cozies up to her other lover, Oxygen. And mind you, she is tempted, because when the temperature plays its card well, it can be very attractive, and in a very small window, make the combination irresistible. I would be tempted to call them (Wine, Oxygen and Temperature) a truple or something like that, but, they are not. From where the wine looks, however, it's more like a couple and a forbidden fruit. A perfect serving temperature though will undoubtedly however, make the wine feel a lot more fresh.
Temperature though still a lover, it's mostly a one sided (and zealous) love affair so you do need to keep it at bay, and, also not make this one mad. It is fickle, with a short fuse that can go off except for a very thin band of 12C-16C for long term storage or transit and 18-28 degrees for serving (bubbly should be served at much lower). Move out of this range for storage and bring that wine in cold containers at 4C like other frozen food and the wine will arrive barely alive, bring it at 30C and above, and you can practically use that great bottle as a vinegar replacement for your food preparations.
Red wine at room temperature?
Because of the cooler climates in Europe and many other traditional wine drinking countries, wines can survive comfortably in the open, on a kitchen top for e.g. with that stopper for a few days. The danger is when an Asian house in warm climates such as Singapore reads the literature and assumes (and we know a lot of people who do) that red wine will do o.k. at room temperature forgetting the 'room temperature' in that literature that one reads is the indoor room temperature in summer of the colder climate countries.
Although, 1970s was the first time when distributor pioneers such as Kermit Lynch in the US experimented with wine shipping in reefers (temperature controlled containers) after finding the first shipment in non reefer totally messed up, life for a large majority of these wines across the world hasn't changed much since. Four decades later, hardly a leaf has moved, with a large bulk of wine from almost every part of the world, exported like bulk, in large, non temperature controlled metal containers, baking at sea sometimes for upto four weeks. A number of distributors believe the privilege of reefer shipping should only be accorded to the prized $100+ wines and it's fine to peddle the fruit from less illustrious terroir in non reefers.
Obviously, we don't agree and neither should you. The test is rather an easy one for this. Leave a bottle of wine in the hot Singapore Sun for an afternoon or two in the blazing heat and then cool it off and drink. Now imagine what would it taste like if you kept in a metal container with Sun shining nicely for four weeks? Or alternatively, take our word for it and drink that bottle instead and, promise to never buy a bottle that didn't make its way to Singapore in a temperature controlled container!
That's why from our cheapest to the most expensive bottle, we import in reefers, the wines are delivered from the port to our specialty cold room in temperature controlled carriers by people who specialize and we withdraw the wines for delivery from the cold room as near to the time of delivery/consumption as possible. Where we source locally, we insist on distributors confirming they ship their wines in reefers like us.
(There have been times when great bottles have been offered to us at great prices but we have had to decline because we were unsure about the shipping and storage.)
Some tips to enhance the pleasure, enjoy the tryst
So for the greatest of pleasure, for merry making, this festival and beyond, here are a few things you can do to make the wine drinking experience more enjoyable:
1. Buy from suppliers, who are as passionate about your wine as you are and, who refuse to cut corners on shipping (at the upper end of volume, the additional cost, actually only truly comes down to a few dollars per bottle). Alternatively, ask the tough question on shipping.
2. Store the wine in wine cellars preferably below 16C (Champagne, sparkling wine or Proseco should actually be stored much lower, American scientists actually found storing bubbly at refrigerated temperature is better. An ideal temperature in our opinion is 6C/8C)
3. Open the bottle 15-20 mins before you drink. if you stored it in the refrigerator after you bought it from the supermarket, give it atleast 30 mins to 45 mins or more.
4. If it's a young wine, decanting is fine. Do it slowly and please be mindful of the sediments. Apart from aerating the wine, another important reason the wine is decanted is to avoid the sediments going into the glass (remember all those old photos of wine being decanted over a candlelight? Wasn't just for lack of electricity!). So please, no bottoms up!
5. Consider placing the opened bottle near where the air conditioner vents are. It's amazing what that constant blast of cold air at 24C/26C does to the wine as you drink that good stuff
6. Consider buying the cheap manual vacuum pump like above (there are lots of options) for your left overs and try to consume within a few days. Good dessert wines can last much longer after vacuum sealing, sometimes weeks because sugar acts as a preservative. Our longest successful test for the dessert wines has been two weeks. It likely could have lasted much longer were it not for us giving into temptation.
7. Never store an opened/half drunk bottle lying down even with the vacuum stopper (different from standard storage where wine bottles should always be stored lying on the side or lying down)
8. If you don't have wine cellar put that vacuum stopper and store it in the refrigerator. The flavor or aroma will be a little more muted, but the wine will survive for a few days quite nicely (and as I said above, not lying down please!)
Lastly, the same bottle can taste much better when it is shared in the company of friends. You have worked hard all year round. Take a break and invite that friend over. It's December! Ask us for recommendations and we would love to help.
We currently offer the option to our best customers to store the wines they buy with us, with us for upto 3 months. And we deliver as long as the delivery at the minimum is $100 or about two bottles. We are exploring extending the option to all our customers but that would need a bigger storage. Please leave us a comment here or drop us a mail at firstname.lastname@example.org for your view on what you think of this service.
Wine Scholar, seller of quality wines that reflect the terroir and the passion of the winemaker. Love to share a glass of great wine.