Aging Gracefully Is Easy – If You’re Wine
My husband, DC, likes to learn about wine. Me, I like to drink wine. Before I met him, I didn’t know a French Chablis from a French chateau, and thought a good cab was a nice taxi. Now I go with him to wine-tasting classes, where we explore and contrast wines of a region. He learns. I taste. It’s perfect.
One recent evening, a fifth-generation winemaker was talking about how wine evolves as it ages. “A young wine,” he told us, “is nice to have dinner with, once. A middle-aged wine makes for a more interesting dinner companion because it has more to talk about. An old wine has even more complexity, and is one you want to have dinner with again, and again.”
This made me feel better about myself. See, I had been in the throes of lamenting my own bygone youth, specifically those assets I use to take for granted. Those days when my skin would hold its own self up, when I could read the fine print without rummaging for glasses, and when my knees did exactly what I asked them to without argument.
The winemaker’s analogy hailed the upside of aging: I’m not getting older. I’m getting more interesting! So I’d like to think. He reminded me of a conversation DC and I had on our second date. Before anyone got hurt, I decided I’d better warn him. “I am not everyone’s cup of tea,” I said. “I’m a handful.”
He smiled, and said enigmatically, “I think of you as a very complex wine.”
He’s not the first to compare prospective partners to wine. Karen MacNeil, wine blogger and author of “The Wine Bible,” the nation’s top-selling book on wine, wrote in a blog: “I think about tasting wine the way I think about men. Some are pleasant. Some take work. Some you’ll never forget.”
I would add: Some you don’t want to have dinner with a second time. Some have great structure but lack character. Some get better with age.
Getting better with age is the key, not only for wine, but also for us and our relationships. As I read more of MacNeil’s work, this insight struck me: How wines and we and our relationships hold up all depends on how well we care for them.
So, I called MacNeil, to talk about how to store wines at home so they turn into even better dinner companions, and also to get a few tips on aging gracefully myself.
“Most wines will last for a couple months without any special handling,” MacNeil told me, but if you want to store wine for longer, avoid light, heat and vibration. Here’s how:
Keep it dark. Direct sunlight can cause chemical reactions in wine that negatively influence the flavor, said MacNeil. “Don’t put your wine rack on a window sill.” A closet or basement is better.
Keep it still. Wine does better when it’s left alone, without a lot of movement. Vibration is typically not an issue unless you live on a train car, she said. And short-term bouts of jostling, as happens during shipping, aren’t worrisome. But when that wine arrives, let it lie down undisturbed.
Keep it sideways. Cork is a miraculous substance and a marvelous stopper, but for a cork to do its job, which is to swell and keep the seal tight, some amount of the liquid must touch it. Even still, microscopic bits of air seep in through the cork, and help the wine evolve. Screw caps prevent all air from getting in the bottle, and are fine for wines you plan to drink in the next few months. But wines that you want to hold onto, that will improve with time -- a great French Bordeaux or a Napa cabernet – need a cork.
Keep it cool. “Heat can easily destroy wine,” said MacNeil. Never put bottles near the stove or on top of the refrigerator. All wines, both red and white, are best stored at temperatures under 70 degrees. Keep finer, expensive, collectible wines, which you want to keep for a long time, even cooler, in the low 60s or 50s.
Keep it constant. Wines don’t like change. It’s better to store wine for three months at a steady 70 degrees than to have the temperature fluctuate between 65 and 75 during that time, she said. The garage, which often has huge temperature swings, is a terrible place to store wine.
Cooler or cellar? Unless you’re stockpiling a lot of rare or expensive wines, you don’t need a wine cellar. A wine cooler can do the job just as well for a lot less. You can order coolers that store 30 bottles online for as little as $150. “Sure, it’s lovely to have a beautifully designed cellar with custom racking, but the wine doesn’t care,” said MacNeil. “It just cares that it is cold, dark and still.”
Wine gone bad. Wine can taste like anything from lemons to cowboy boots and be okay, but a wine that’s gone bad has one of several characteristics: It smells like rodent, wet sheepdog or wet newspapers, rotten eggs or fecal matter. Minus those smells, you still might not like the wine, but it hasn’t gone bad.
When to open? Wine is not like a cake, said MacNeil, who also writes a free, weekly online newsletter, which you can subscribe to at www.winespeed.com. It’s not ready at a given moment. Great wine gets more interesting as it ages, so hang on to one as long as you can bear to. If cared for properly, it will just get better – like the rest of us.
Let it evolve -- If you want your wine to age gracefully, keep it cool, dark, still and sideways. Photo courtesy of Dreamstime.