Food & Wine
An experts guide to storing and aging quality wines
Contrary to popular belief, the large majority of wines sold in the shops today are made to be consumed immediately, generally carrying a limited shelf life. The adage of “aging like a fine wine”, however, is not without virtue, as the finest percentile of wines in the world are still those that are made to be matured, with care, to perfection.
This is according to Elize Coetzee, Cellar Master at Zonnebloem wines, who says that there is undoubtedly a romantic allure around aging a fine wine over a number of years. “It’s almost as though opening and enjoying a beautifully aged wine offers people a way to go back in time and relive a special year, or even experience something from a romanticised time before theirs.”
Coetzee cautions, however, that there is a special art to storing and aging quality wines and one cannot just stash a bottle away in any old cupboard and expect it to magically reach its optimal taste and texture. “Aside from knowing which varietals are able to benefit from aging, there is an art to the process, as well as knowing when a wine is it at its best and the time is right to remove it from the cellar for consumption.”
An example of a Zonnebloem wine that Coetzee says will benefit from further maturation is the brand’s flagship wine, Lauréat. “Various vintages of the Lauréat, including the 2008, 2010, 2011 and 2014, boast the capability to improve over time.”
She adds, however, that it is always best to get a professional assessment when making such a purchase. “When looking for a quality wine that will stand the test of time, it is always recommended that you go and talk to someone who is able to offer a historical understanding of the producer and vintage.”
In conclusion, Coetzee offers the following tips to budding wine connoisseurs looking to store and age a fine wine:
- Keep out of the sun
It’s no secret that sunlight (and the heat it generates) is the enemy of ageability, but what many people don’t know, is that household light bulbs can even negatively affect the way a wine ages over time. Fluorescent bulbs are marginally better, but all bulbs and light generate heat, which is something you want to avoid. This brings us to point number two.
- Keep it cool, but not too cool
Aim to store your wines at a cool and constant temperature, ideally at around 12-14°C, but definitely not exceeding 20°C. Any hotter, you risk losing aromas and flavours; but any colder could result in spoilage from drying out your cork. More important than achieving this ideal temperature, however, is avoiding any rapid, extreme or frequent temperature swings.
- Don’t rock the boat
Along with avoiding any swings in temperature, it is also crucial that your wines do not experience any undue movement or vibrations while they are aging. This is because significant vibrations are said to disturb the sediment in older wines and keep them from settling, potentially making them unpleasantly gritty.
- Keep things horizontal
Not only is sideways storage the most efficient way to store your wines in terms of space, it also keeps liquid against the cork, which prevents it from drying out.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff
The ideal area for wine storage, in terms of climate, should be ventilated, with humidity consistent at around 80%. This is because dry air is believed to dry out the corks, which would let air into the bottle and spoil the wine. Conversely, extremely damp conditions can promote mould, which is also something you want to avoid.