The ABC’s of Proper Wine Storage and Wine Evaluation

Wine collecting has become a hobby for some, just as others collect baseball cards, paintings, or drinking glasses and mugs.  Among the most sought after are rare and vintage wines.

With all the bottles and brands, wine varieties are generally separated into five categories.  First are the red wines, which are made from purple or blue grapes like Cab Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Malbec.  They can be of light or full body, sweet or dry palate, and fruity to spicy in flavor.

The second are the acidic wines; the white wines that include the famous Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling.

Rosé wines, thirdly, are the refreshing and chilled alternatives, made from purple or blue grapes just like the red wine, only with a shorter exposure of the grape’s skin to its pressed juice.

The fourth group is sparkling wine, which contains red, white or rosé wine.  It also includes champagne, and is famous in celebrations because of its bubbly personality.

The last type is fortified wine, and the sweeter version, called dessert wine.  Fortified wines are distinct because of their higher alcohol content (17-20% by volume). This variety includes Sherry, Madeira, Port and Marsala.

Various wines taste best at various temperatures, which depend on how they are stored. No matter what type or variety you love, proper wine storage is significant  in allowing your collection to last the longest possible time. Ideally, wine storage before opening is different from after you have opened (and tasted) the wine. Here are the basics to properly storing your wines, before and after opening:

Storing Wines Before Opening

A. The Cork-Wine Contact

A corked bottle of wine should be stored on its side, to avoid drying out the cork.  Storing it upright will not only dry out the cork, but will also, in effect, let air get in and spoil the wine.

B. Avoiding Movement

Also, avoid moving it once you have already stored it in its position, as frequent movement will only affect your drink negatively.

C. Away from Odor

Isolate you wine from anything strong-smelling, to prevent the odor from penetrating the cork and tainting your wine.

D. Away from Light

Keep your wines away from direct sunlight and fluorescent fixtures. Ultraviolet light can cause your wine to become “light struck,” which makes it smell unpleasant.

E. Constant Temperature

As much as possible, keep your wine storage area’s temperature constant for extended aging. Any change should be gradual, to prevent the premature aging of wine.

F. Favorable Humidity Level

Keep humidity high, at about 70%, to keep the corks from drying out and to minimize evaporation. However, make sure that it doesn’t exceed 70%, to avoid mold growth and the  loosening of labels.

Not all types of wine get better with time. Depending on its type, red wines can be stored from 2 to 10 years to age, while white wine should be used in no more than 3 years of storage (except for Chardonnay, which can last for up to 20 years).

Storing Wines After Opening

Red wine can stay outside of the wine storage room as long as you put the cork back in place and leave the bottle in a dark area.  It won’t go bad for a few days.

White wines should be stored in a wine cellar or in a closet, or, if you don’t have one, the fridge will do.  This will keep your wine good for a maximum of 5 days after you have opened it.

How do you know if wine is good or not?

Wine evaluation and wine tasting are basically similar processes on both sides of the experience scale. This should make you confident that your opinion of a specific wine is as valid as the expert’s opinion of it.

A. Color and Appearance

When evaluating wine, you first look at its color and appearance.  For example, dry white wine is yellowish in color, and changes into a deeper gold hue as it ages – echoing richer and more complex wine compared to the younger version.  On the other hand, young red wine is rich in color – from berry red to purple. As it matures, it gets lighter, going far from the bright red, to a brownish tinge.

B. Smell

In wine evaluation, your sense of smell is just as vital as your sense of taste.  For a full appreciation of your wine’s aroma and bouquet, fill your glass to about a third of its capacity.  Ideally, the top of your glass is curved inwards to guide the wine’s scent towards a concentrated area. A gentle swirl will mix air with the wine, which encourages your wine’s aroma to materialize. When describing the aroma, there are only two things to remember: the intensity of your wine’s aroma and what it reminded you of.

C. Taste

After looking and sniffing, at last, it’s time to savor wine tasting. Take a small sip and try sucking on the wine as if you are pulling it out of a straw. This will aerate the liquid and mix it throughout your mouth. You will generally experience a wide array of flavors from fruit, herb, flower, and mineral to barrel, among others. Your taste buds will also help you discover whether the wine is balanced (the flavors are in good proportions), harmonious (the flavors are seamlessly combined), complex, evolved and complete (balanced, harmonious, complex, evolved and with a lasting and pleasing finish). Some people even look at their watches to know how long the taste lasts in their palates after swallowing the wine, which is actually an indicator of the wine’s quality.

After wine tasting, ask yourself a few questions to complete the wine evaluation:

1. Does the wine have a pleasing color? Was it clear? Does it show brilliance? Did you like it?

2. How was the aroma? Was it light, nice, strong or somewhere in between? Can you say it’s exceptional? Did you like it?

3. How intense was the taste? Was the fruit detectable or not? Once again, did you like it?

4. Was your wine balanced? Was the fruit, acid, sugar and dryness in harmony, or did one overpower the other aspects? Again, did you like it?

5. Did the finish fall off quickly, in less than 10 seconds, or did it seen endless (more than a minute)? Finally, did you like it?

Wine evaluation is highly affected by your personal taste and preference.  The main question is simply, “Did you like it?” Taste is highly subjective and no two individuals have exactly the same measure of perception which makes your opinion as valid as everybody else’s. The shortest way to gain more confidence in your tasting and evaluating abilities is to taste and evaluate again and again, and sharing and comparing them with others. There are no wrong answers or descriptions in this matter. All you need is to prepare a bottle of wine, a clean glass, your senses, and an open mind.