Once bottled wine needs to be stored in optimal conditions to preserve its life and keep it tasting as wonderful as possible. The three factors affecting wine being aged in a bottle are temperature, light, and humidity (depending on your closure).
Red vs White Wine Bottle Aging
Red wines benefit the most from long term aging because of the tannins. Over time the tannins join together and form long chains. This smooths out the wine and gives it that silky smooth mouthfeel only an aged red has. Some of the tannin chains get so long they precipitate out, giving the wine a mature feel.
White wines are not usually bottle aged very long. There are exceptions to this, however, most white wines are meant to be consumed within three years or so. Champagne is a notable exception to this rule.
Ideally wine should be stored at 55 deg F. This slows the micro-oxygenation process down and allows the wine to mature gradually. Warmer temperatures speed up the aging process.
In theory you could simulate a 100 years of bottle aging by storing it at 80 deg F, however it doesn’t quite work out this nicely. You miss out on all the long chain tannins and the aging process is so abrupt that the wine doesn’t mature as much as it just goes bad.
If you can’t store your wine at 55 deg F at least store it as cool as you can. Not all of us have underground cellars or refrigerators for bottle aging wine though. Realize that your wine may have a shorter shelf life if you can’t keep it that cold.
Wine should be stored in a nice dark place. Ultra-violate light from the sun or florescent lights can damage wine as much as heat can.
Darker bottles do help protect wine from these rays, however, if you’re planning on bottle aging a wine for years and years it needs to completely protected from UV light.
Cork closures require a specific range of humidity for long term storage. When corks dry out due to a lack of humidity they shrink and can leak or be pushed out of the bottle entirely. If your storage area has too much humidity your corks can grow mold and introduce nasty flavors to your wine.
Keep your cork enclosed wine between 55 and 75% humidity to avoid drying of the cork as well as growing mold. If this isn’t something you can manage you may want to consider going with a synthetic cork or screw cap to avoid the issue altogether.
You probably already know this but you should be storing wine enclosed with natural corks on their side. This prevents the cork from drying out from the inside. This is not an issue with synthetic corks or screw caps.
Pay attention to these three factors and you can expect great results. Let any one of these get out of hand and your wine could be ruined.
Not All Wines Age Gracefully
Aging wine is a science. Certain characteristics must be present in your wine for it to be able to be aged. Most kit wines are designed to be consumed immediately (i.e. within a few years).
Wines with stout tannins or that are overly fruity can benefit from some bottle aging. White wines, again, usually don’t need much time in the bottle to be enjoyable.
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Photo by: Guttorm Flatabo