The question of storage.jpg

The question of storage

By: MAURICE LEE

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I USUALLY answer emails directly to the sender, but as I feel the two latest ones will be of interest to readers I will answer them in this article.

IT IS far easier to buy wine and drink it, than to buy wine and store it. However, there are occasions though when you see a very good wine selling at a reasonable price. It’s what we call a bargain. So you buy a case or two, which you are going to keep and drink only on special occasions. This brings up the question of storage.

If possible, store your good wines separate to your cheaper ones, but under similar conditions. This will reduce the risk of you using one of your better wines when you only intended to drink a cheaper one. Also, have a small amount of ‘quaffing’ wine for when the unexpected guest calls.

For your daily drinking wine you only need a Vinho de Mesa, (Portuguese table wine). These are very reliable wines and inexpensive, as are French, (Vin de Table), Italian (Vin Tavola), Spanish (Vino de Mesa) and German (Deutscher Tafelwein).

They may only be table wines but they should be treated and stored the same as more expensive wines, which means they should be stored lying down. Bottles with screw caps need not be in a horizontal position. It has been said that bottles with plastic stoppers may also remain standing, but of course you do not know the stopper is plastic until you take the capsule off.

Lie your wines with the labels facing uppermost for easy identification so you can select your dinner or lunch wine without undue disturbance.

The Greeks stored wine in a clay jar called an amphora. Not being porous, the wine could mature without being affected by the air. Although bottles replaced the amphorae, corks were not introduced until early in the 17th century so bottles were only used to carry wine from cellar to table.

Surprisingly it was the Portuguese, not the French, who discovered that bottles firmly corked and lying on their sides, keeping the cork in touch with the wine, would perform like an amphora.

Methuen Treaty

It was William of Orange who unwittingly brought this about. After he drove James II into exile, his next objective was to ruin the French economy and did so by taxing their wines heavily. Unfortunately his actions also deprived the average Englishman of his wine. William didn’t want his poorer subjects to stop drinking wine altogether, so he did a deal with the Portuguese. I mentioned the Methuen Treaty in my last article, which allowed Portuguese wines to be imported into England at a minimal cost. The Treaty was finally confirmed in 1703. The downside was the English could not drink the harsh bitter wines from Lisbon and Oporto.  

However the indirect benefits of the Treaty is the huge amount of superb vintage wine we have today. Realising the English couldn’t drink the Portuguese wine; the bottles were left lying in various cellars. It was because of this that the West learned that wine matures in a well corked bottle. So make sure your bottles are lying down.        

Back to storing. The temperature, while important, is not critical. What you have to avoid is sudden changes of temperature. Don’t keep wines in the kitchen, for example. The temperatures can vary from very hot to very cold. When you’re cooking a dinner the oven, hob, probably the grill and the lights will be on, making it very hot in a confined space. When everything is turned off, the temperature can drop considerably in the middle of the night. This is the worst thing that can happen to wine.

If you have a cellar, store your wines there. Underground cellars have an even temperature of around 8° – 14°C and are free from vibration. In older villas in Portugal the stairs are mainly made from marble, so underneath them is also a good place. There they will be protected from vibration, similar to a cellar.

At all costs, no matter where you live, avoid rooms with central heating. They can vary between 15°C and 5°C depending on how often the heating goes on and off.

If you don’t use your garage for your car, then store your wine there. If you bin them properly you can get hundreds, if not thousands, of bottles into them.

Young cheap wines are not renowned for ageing. You’ll just finish up with old cheap wines, which will probably have deteriorated. So don’t waste your time and valuable space with them. They are for buying and drinking immediately.

There has been a lot of talk recently about ‘binge drinking’. I am not one of them, although I usually drink two bottles of wine each day. In my younger days that would have been my lunchtime tipple. Today though, it takes me a little longer to get the cork out of the bottle which slows down my drinking!

Raymond Postgate wrote, “Our ancestors, who spent whole days fox-hunting, were three-bottle men no doubt, but we don’t live their lives. Also, they died young, purple or yellow, gouty, savage tempered and inflamed; the memoirs of the 18th century are full of the results of port drinking”. Maybe they should have stuck to two bottles a day.

Drink is not evil as some people think. After I read that drink was evil, I gave to give up reading.

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