Article by Francesco Properzi Curti
It is precisely in the month of December that there is the real and definitive transition from autumn to winter, from warm days to increasingly colder ones, and from light to darkness.
It is in this period that I think of the bottles that I jealously guard at home, some noble, others less so, others still totally unknown, but all equally important to me, both for the due respect that every producer deserves for such a heavy, difficult and demanding job, both because each reminds me of the moment lived on the day of our first meeting.
I think about how they could have been kept before they became mine, if they managed to rest well and if over the years, all the rules for good conservation have been respected.
That’s why today I want to talk to you about the Cellar, a place where you are not only surrounded by glass, corks and imaginative labels, but also and above all by history, large or small, and a lot of effort and sacrifices.
That’s why I would like to remind you of the basic rules for properly storing a bottle of wine, which could help not only the careful drinker, but also those who are thinking of creating a small winery at home.
Professional and amateur cellars
Of course, it is essential to distinguish between professional and amateur cellars, even if some wealthy wine enthusiasts have incredibly technological amateur structures, with real works of art preserved inside.
Let’s say that I would like to turn to everyday enthusiasts, to those who invest even modest sums to get excellent bottles of wine, simply because they are informed about the product: about the vine, the place of production, the famous terroir, the way it is produced. Of the producer and also on the maturation path that that wine has made up to that moment, and how much still remains.
Therefore, setting aside the professional wineries, which are born with an economic purpose linked to a production, conservation and distribution of the product, which can justify very high investments in the face of desirable future earnings, and also set aside the historic cellar of the aristocratic family that could have owned it for centuries, without even having ever seen it. Let’s focus on that cellar that, armed with good patience and a pinch of healthy passion, we might want to make at home.
There is nothing more frustrating for a passionate drinker who, by buying a good wine – I did not say expensive – spoils it for having stored it in the wrong place, because we can be sure that the bottle will be opened on a particular day, in which we absolutely wanted everything to go perfectly. In the presence of all those people for which failure was not even contemplated and instead, unfortunately, the wine was undrinkable.
Let’s try to focus on the things to avoid or not do when it comes to storing a wine.
Wine and light have never gotten along except in the brief moments preceding the tasting, as any light source, whether natural or artificial, can lead to the triggering of natural evolutionary and oxidative processes, risking to speed up ‘aging’. Therefore, a dim lighting is always suggested and only for the short periods. The bottle should return, as soon as possible, again to the dark.
High temperatures, unlike low temperatures, as well as temperature changes, can negatively interfere, that is, speeding up the evolution and aging of wine as well.
Therefore, in the hope of making that wine as long-lived as possible, it is advisable to maintain a constant temperature that is between 10 and 16 degrees centigrade, reserving the coldest area for white wines and the least cold for red wines.
Think that the fear of temperature changes is one of the main reasons why cellars are buried several meters underground, trying to maintain a north-east exposure.
This extreme location also protects the wine from noises and vibrations: noises, in fact, particularly when they are strong, cause vibrations which in effect represent a form of shaking that can cause the acceleration of the evolutionary process.
The degree of humidity is also a further factor of particular importance, so much so that it must be kept between 50% and 70%.
An environment that is too dry can lead to drying of the corks and create micro-cracks that would cause incorrect transpiration of the cork, with consequent alteration of the wine; on the contrary, in a too humid environment there is a risk that molds can form.
With reference to what has just been said, the bottles must always be laid down on their sides on shelves and never left “standing”, in oder to allow the wine contained inside, to always remain in contact with the cork and keep it moist and efficiently to perform its task of closure, impermeability, as well as ensuring the right exchange of air.
The environment must always be well ventilated to allow continuous air exchange and this anticipates the next concept. Namely that rooms should never be used where the ventilation is not absolutely healthy and free of external odors, such as the garage nor pantries with stored food, as it is certain that the wine will unfortunately absorb all the odours present in the room.
Furthermore, it is advisable to maintain a high level of hygiene in the room, preventing or in any case eliminating any form of organic and inorganic contamination with repeated odorless sanitizing washes.
In summary, if you are a wine enthusiast and want to take away the satisfaction of having your own private cellar, look for a room inside your home, even very small and if possible without a heating system, better if in the center of the house, i.e. away from the external walls.
At this point, if possible, insulate it with polystyrene or other insulating material, make sure you can ventilate it with a VMC (controlled mechanical ventilation) for air recirculation and install an air conditioner-dehumidifier with thermostat, which can maintain a constant ideal temperature.
Positioning of the bottles
Once this is done, it will be necessary to install suitable shelves for the horizontal positioning of the bottles, possibly in wood because it seems to be able to better dampen vibrations of any kind, but also of any other material, and make sure that the door does not have glass inserts that do enter the air, your cellar, even if not perfect, will be ready to give you a lot of satisfaction.
The simpler, quicker, cheaper and even resalable alternative on the day you change your mind, and above all more affordable for those who do not have the necessary resources or space, is to buy a nice bottle cooler. There are many, even used in good conditions, of all sizes, and if desired also with internal temperature differentiation for sparkling, white, rosé and red wines.