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By Joe Gilmour
Like any perishable item, wine changes over time. How rapid that change is and what it involves can vary enormously depending on how it is kept. The differences between the great, the merely good and the undrinkable really can be explained by how and where you store your wine.
If one is in any doubt as to the importance of storage, a trip to a wine auction is always informative. The same case of wine with different provenance can provoke some wildly different estimates. For example, a case of 1961 Château Latour with perfect provenance (released direct from the Château) sold for £34,000 at Christies recently. The same wine, badly stored reached just under £12,000 in the same year. This is, of course, an extreme example, but the reason that the premium was paid was simply that the wine released from the Châteaux will taste better then the badly stored case. It will be a perfect example of this legendary wine, whereas in the other case, some bottles might be good, some might be great, some may have to be poured down the sink. You just don’t know.
Obviously, the longer you are planning on cellaring a wine, the more you need to think about storage. Anything over ten years requires careful consideration of the wine’s health. Any area can be used as a ‘cellar’ but some are of course better then others and it is important to be realistic about what you can achieve. Today’s houses and flats, mostly without the cellars which used to be so common are difficult environments in which to achieve optimum long-term storage conditions.
So what are absolutely ideal conditions? Well, they pretty much replicate what you would expect to find in a good natural cellar:
The easiest way of achieving these conditions is to pay somebody else to store them in a bonded warehouse. This will also guarantee perfect, traceable provenance should you wish to sell the wines in the future. But of course, what we are talking about here is the optimum conditions for long-term storage. In most cases, certainly up to a few years, a wine rack under the stairs is fine (as long as it’s dark and not too near a radiator).
Wine is a surprisingly hardy creature, and some of the greatest-value bottles we have drunk here have been those which appear to have been stored very badly, and which should by all rights be undrinkable. So don’t shy away from trying the odd bottle of dubious origin if the price is right. It’s a risk, but there are wonderful surprises out there.
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