Aug 29, 2023
Learning to speak wine geek to your clients
Creating a wine display for your client (or even yourself if you fancy yourself a discerning DIYer) is a complex balance of creating practical art. The person who will enjoy the wine room to its fullest, probably already knows a thing or two about the vino they want to display. Here's a primer on how to meet them at their passion.
- This article is part of the Complete Guide to Building the Modern Wine Cellar. Learn about this topic and earn either AIA or IDCEC credit.
WILL A WINE AGE WELL?
There are many factors that contribute to a wine’s ability to age well. It’s important to understand them so you can speak with confidence and knowledge to your clients:
Tannins are naturally occurring compounds in grapes that give wine structure and astringency and act as a preservative.
Acidity balances the flavors and protects them from spoilage. Wines with high acidity tend to age better.
Alcohol preserves wine and adds complexity. Wines with higher alcohol levels tend to age better.
Oak aging (in barrels) adds complexity and flavor while allowing a small amount of oxygen to aid the maturation of wine. Oak brings in tannins, too.
Great vintages (how well the grapes grew in a certain place during a certain year) factor in, too.
How you store wine is the part of aging you can affect. The storage criteria of temperature, humidity, light, and vibrations are important to consider for all wine but more so for valuable vintages that are meant to age a decade or more.
TEMPERATURE & HUMIDITY
Recommendations for storing wine for months, years, or decades apply to all wine styles (red, white, rosé, sparkling). The ideal temperature is 55°F (13°C). The lower the temperature, the slower the aging.
Avoid storing wine below 45°F (7°C) or above 70°F (21°C). Also, avoid proximity to heating vents, lights, or appliances that give off heat, such as stoves and fridges.
Fluctuations lead to the expansion and contraction of the bottle, introducing oxygen from the surrounding room into the bottle.
Although wine breathes through the cork and requires oxidation, excessive or uncontrolled oxidation negatively impacts the aging process.
Help the Cork
Bottles with natural cork enclosures require constant moisture. Laying a wine on its side allows for longer aging by helping keep the cork intact and reducing evaporation. Bottle position is not important for wines with screw caps or glass or plastic corks.
The ideal humidity level range is between 50% and 70%. Controlling humidity is a much more important consideration for cellars/rooms in desert or tropical climates and for collections where wine will be stored for 10 years or longer.
The proper humidity level helps keep natural cork from crumbling.
VIBRATION & LIGHT
Leave the Wine Alone
Vibration affects the aging process, expediting chemical reactions, advancing maturity, and undermining the benefits of long-term aging. Wine should be stored away from potential sources of vibration such as these:
- Mechanical rooms
- High-traffic stairways
Energy from natural light sources can also accelerate chemical reactions, causing premature aging. As UV ray exposure from the sun prematurely ages wine, indirect natural light or no natural light at all is best. Household lights don’t cause notable damage, but they do emit heat, which needs to be accounted for. LED lights are preferred.
WINE CELLARING MYTHS
Myth #1: All wines benefit from cellaring.
Around 1% of wines produced are intended for long-term aging, which means most wines are meant to be consumed within a few years.
However, all wines benefit from proper storage techniques no matter how long they are displayed.
Myth #2: Wine must be stored in the dark.
Light can cause two problems:
- It is a heat source that can warm a wine cellar.
- It introduces UV rays to bottles, causing a chemical reaction in the wine that can negatively affect the flavor.
But while it is easier to store wine in a cool, dark place like a basement cellar, with smart planning, main-floor wine displays (even near exterior windows) can be constructed to provide safe, long-term storage.
Myth #3: You need a dedicated wine cellar for storing wine.
Smaller wine displays are trending, for both casual drinkers and serious collectors who simply want a distinctive wine display in the heart of the home or dining room.
Common displays include:
- wet bars
- restaurant bar areas, and
Myth #4: Quality wines need to be sealed with cork.
Even though synthetic enclosures and screw tops are better for aging by reducing (if not eliminating) the potential for a wine flaw called cork taint, the world’s premier wineries and consumers continue to favor the natural enclosure.
This likely won’t change anytime soon. This means corked wine needs to be laid on its side to preserve the enclosure during long-term aging.
For that reason, it’s best to design a wine room with horizonal storage so clients know they can store wine safely for years regardless of enclosure type.
Myth #5: Red, sparkling, and white wines should be stored at different temperatures.
It is true that white, sparkling, red, and rosé wines should be served at unique temperatures. But regarding long-term storage, we treat them the same and aim for that constant temp in the mid-50s.
Suggested serving temperatures:
- Sparkling wines: 43–50°F (6–10°C)
- White: 45–55°F (7–13°C)
- Red: 55–64°F (13–18°C)
This article is part of the Complete Guide to Building the Modern Wine Cellar.