Storing Wines In The Best Environment
Temperature and darkness are two very important factors here. There is very little the average amateur can do about storing in the ideal temperature simply because he has to store wherever he can. But it is worthwhile during the maturing period to attempt to keep the temperature fairly constant at around 10°c (50°F). This is impossible for most people who have to store in outhouses, cellars or under the stairs. But where central heating and a spare room are available, this should not prove too difficult.
Darkness is very important to most wines. Those stored in stone jars or in wood present no problem, but those stored in glass jars which admit light must be kept in the dark. The effect of light is quite often disastrous. Direct light can quickly and irreparably ruin colour, flavour and bouquet, so that the wines simply are not worth a second tasting. Containers that admit light must therefore be kept in the dark. This is not to say that occasional opening of a door that admits light to the storage area would have a harmful effect; it would not. But prolonged exposure to moderate light certainly would.
Red wines are particularly susceptible to the effect of light: hence the need to store in the dark and in dark glass bottles. It does not matter if the bottles are dark brown or dark green, but clear or semi-clear glass should never be used.
The paler-coloured wines to the true whites seem unharmed by light, but I always take the precaution of never exposing them unnecessarily.
It is during storage that many beginners (and plenty of wine-makers with experience as well) come up against one big problem — that of re-fermentation. Yet this is a problem that should never arise. What usually happens is that the wine-maker discovers, much to his consternation, that a bung is missing from a jar. It may have popped out five minutes or a month earlier. Very often the wine is exposed to air for long periods without him knowing it. The result is that over-oxidation takes place or that the wine is attacked by wild yeasts or bacteria. Nearly always the wine is spoiled if exposure of this sort is prolonged.
It sometimes happens, when breaking the seal of a bottle, that the cork blows out and the wine fizzes up like champagne. Usually it is cloudy and tastes awful. The simple explanation for this occurrence and for blown bungs is that fermentation was not complete when the wine was put in store.
Many, many wine-makers experience this and are dismayed, simply because they think the wine, which was quite good when put away, has gone wrong. Nothing has gone seriously wrong unless the wine has been spoilt owing to exposure to air or attack by yeast or bacteria. This depends on how long the bung has been missing. In the case of bottled products, refermenting in this fashion does no harm other than make the wine become cloudy.
When the bung blows from ajar, a fermentation lock must be fitted and the jar brought into the warm where it must remain until all renewed fermentation has ceased. When bottled products referment, the remainder of the batch must first be tracked down. Then the whole lot must be returned to a jar with a fermentation lock fitted and left in the warm.
The trouble in both cases is that fermentation stopped prematurely, most likely owing to cold in late autumn or early winter. This often happens when warmth is not given. The fermenting must becomes cold and cause the yeast to go dormant when, say, only 10% to 12% of alcohol has been made.
Later, when the warmth of spring penetrates to the wine, the yeast becomes active again. So all that is really happening is that fermentation is continuing from where it left off. This can be a confounded nuisance and a blessing in disguise at the same time. Always bear in mind that, provided spoilage yeasts or bacteria have not attacked the wine while the bung was missing, you will get a far better wine after this renewed fermentation.
Renewed fermentation is much easier to avoid, and can be prevented altogether, by using a fermentation cupboard.