Sunday, April 17, 2011

Remembering to Care About Proper Storage

The other night I was reminded of the the importance of proper storage as a factor in the life of a wine. Maybe that sounds trivial, but not to me. I'm aware of storage as an issue, and I know that the wines I've drunk in the very cellars where they were made are among the best wines I've had. Perfect storage, I guess, would mean that the wine never travels, no loading onto a truck, even if it is refrigerated, no bumpy ride to the coast, no sitting around on loading docks, no trip overseas, and then more trucks and warehouses, and more trucks to retail stores, and so on. Truly perfect storage is next to impossible, outside of the cellar that birthed the wine.

By the time a bottle makes its way into my wine fridge it has already been through a lot. My job is to prevent any further degradation, to provide an environment that is consistently between 52 - 55 degrees Fahrenheit, and without light or vibration. Then again, some of the very finest wines I've had were not stored by me since their release. Those bought on the secondary market may not have been stored properly at all, I really don't know. Would they have been even finer had they been stored properly? Honestly, I don't care either way. Why sully the memory of great wines passed with questions like that.

But there are little questions that I wonder about regarding the wines I am storing now. What if I need to move a wine fridge to another location - I have to take out the wines and leave them out for a few days while the fridge settles. The temperature will go way up, and then down again when I put them back in the fridge. If my wines are so fragile that they will be compromised because of this, well that's just too bad for me. And my friend who the other day I helped drive a few cases from his house to another location - he asked if driving and the bumpy trunk can hurt the wines. I really didn't know what to tell him. "Yes, they don't like the temperature change or the vibration" would be true, and so would "Ah, they'll be fine if you take them out of your fridge right before leaving, swaddle them in a blanket, drive carefully and not in the heat of July or August."

If someone has done the science and can share practical storage and transport tips for the average wine lover, I'm all ears. But part of me feels like throwing up my hands and just not looking into this very deeply - it just doesn't seem like there's a whole lot I can do that I'm not already doing.

That complacency was challenged, somewhat, when a friend served two wines over dinner at his house. He works in a wine warehouse, and these two particular wines had been sitting there in unopened cases for over 20 years. Temperature control, no light, completely pristine. They were both great wines, but the thing that struck me most about drinking them was how perfectly healthy they were, how well preserved and youthful, how vibrant and mobile and energetic they were, how much they changed in the glass over two hours. These wines are both from the 1983 vintage and should be mature. Both felt very young, however. Perhaps my understanding of what wine from 1983 (or from any old vintage) should taste like is colored by the fact that I so rarely drink wine that has been stored like these bottles were stored.

1983 Servelle-Tachot Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru Les Charmes was simply a delicious wine. This is apparently the producer now called Amiot-Servelle, by the way. There are several interesting things to say about this wine, for example, that it reminded us more of Gevrey in character than of Chambolle, with its earthy red fruit. But the point here is storage - 1983 is not thought of as a good vintage, but this wine was very well balanced, quite complex, and very expressive. And the thing is, although the nature of the flavors was somewhat mature, the feel, the texture of the wine was youthful. Think of one of those 65 year old guys who surfs, does a lot of yoga, and eats very well - 65 becomes a random number when you are truly well preserved.

The 1983 Domaine René Engel Grand Cru Clos Vougeot was even more impressive. This wine is 27 years old but I would guessed about 12 years old had I tasted it blind. It was still dense with dark animal fur infused fruit, pungent and fresh. After about a half hour the wine became more about stone, showing a dark and cool mineral side. Fascinating wine, and full of pleasure.

I've had a little bit of mature Burgundy before, and these wines were both striking in how young they felt. Not tasted, necessarily, and definitely not aromatically young. They felt young. And I must say, it was very compelling. I'm guessing it was a storage issue.


King Krak, Oenomancer said...

Clearly the Clos Vougeot needs another 12 (or more) years to come into its prime. This doesn't surprise me. But I get the impression you're still surprised that this can be true.

Anonymous said...

Of course, these wines are first shipped to the States before they're stored in the States. Kermit Lynch has a lot to say about that in his Adventures book. With all the possible variables in temperature, vibration, and light exposure between producer and consumer, unless one is dealing with a wine imported by a fanatic (like Kermit insisted on becoming), isn't it somewhat unknowable, especially for wine imported ~30 years ago, how well defended a bottle really is?

viNomadic said...

'...dark animal fur infused fruit...'-- unusually wild & wooly descriptor for you, Neal!