SPACES – MAY 2008
By Joshua Bodwell
Photography François Gagn
“Wine is the most civilized thing in the world.”—Ernest Hemingway
There is little that symbolizes our sense of romance more perfectly than a bottle of wine. Wine is a harbinger of celebration and merriment. With wine, we make our heartfelt toasts, clink our glasses, and cry “cheers!” “salut!” or “l’chaim!”
First cultivated in the Fertile Crescent around 3000 B.C., wine is as old as Western civilization itself. Yet it was not until the late 1600s that wine began to be packaged as we know it today. The English perfected a stronger glass bottle that was then married to cork stoppers, which a Benedictine monk named Dom Perignon had discovered (or rather rediscovered, since the Romans had used cork) were ideal for preserving his sparkling wine. Today, more homeowners are discovering the pleasures of storing wine in their homes. Wine cellars, once considered an indulgence, have become more accessible, convenient, and practical.
While the long-term storage of wine in the home might seem as complex to the mind as a Brunello di Montalcino Biondi Santi Riserva 1955 is to the palate, there are just a handful of things that homeowners should keep in mind. They are easily remembered as the Four Ds: Degrees, Damp, Dark, and Dirt-free.
Temperature is probably the most important factor when storing wine. The ideal environment for wine storage is 50 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit. While a few degrees in either direction won’t matter too much, consistency is essential—dramatic fluctuations in temperature can cause wine to age too quickly.
Another degree to remember is the degree, or angle, at which your wine bottles are stored. While it may be tempting to display a few of your finest wines standing at attention with their handsome labels on full display, this urge should be avoided. Wine is stored horizontally to keep the cork moist from direct contact with the wine. This small detail is critical.
Just as one side of the cork is kept in contact with the wine, a damp room ensures that the other side also remains moist. This is crucial to keep the cork from drying out, loosing its shape, and allowing air to attack the wine and turn it to vinegar. A relative humidity of 70 percent is considered perfect. Luckily, since few of us live in stone castles with damp cellars, today’s climate-control options make the adjustment and regulation of humidity in a room quite simple.
Though the Italian astronomer Galileo once quipped, “Wine is sunlight held together by water,” light is unquestionably the enemy of wine. It comes in dark bottles for a reason! For the most part, wine should be stored in darkness. When your wine cellar must be lit, even for the time it takes to select a bottle, keep the following in mind: ultraviolet light is the worst for wine, followed by fluorescent, while incandescent or sodium-vapor lights are the optimal choice.
Lastly, cleanliness and ventilation will reduce the chance that corks, and therefore the wine itself, will be compromised. Besides the obvious damage insects or debris can cause, even strong odors can seep through the porous crevices in a cork and taint the wine. A successful wine cellar will likely require that space be given over exclusively to your precious vino.