Monday, February 16, 2009

The Perils of Poor Storage

My obsession with proper storage for wine began about 20 or so years ago when the ship "Carla", laden with wine and other cargo was essentially broken in two during a violent storm between the coast of Spain and the Azores. Half of the ship went to the bottom, and the other half, miraculously, stayed afloat and was towed to safe harbor in the Azores. Here the cargo sat, waiting to be sorted and shipped on. While in port, average temperatures were in the 70's, and most importers of wine had no reason for concern. But one of our importers had already begun shipping year round in temperature controlled containers that failed during the transfer in the Azores. When the wines arrived, he noticed a marked difference in other samples of the same wines which were shipped at 56 degrees and those from the Carla where temperatures again reached the 70's (the low range of ambient temperature of your typical distributors warehouse and local retailers wine department!). He notified his insurance agent who sad this was the only complaint they had with regards to the Carla wines, and that the wines were fine. They dispatched their own wine expert who tasted the wines and said they were in saleable condition. Weinrott contended that that "saleable" was not the only condition: his wines tasted different, with less freshness than those shipped temperature controlled, were dull and less vibrant. It was part of his commitment t his clients and a crucial element in setting his wines apart from others who were not a meticulous as he in their shipping methods.
The end result was that I was retained to do a blind comparison with Carla wines and their temperature controlled counterparts: the results were dramatic. Clearly the temperature controlled wines were fresher, brighter and considerably better - a fact that could have been over looked if not done side by side, one would have thought the Carla wines o.k. but a bit dull.
While I knew that extreme temperature swings and high heat could impact a wine permanently and immediately, the slow loss of freshness even at moderate temperatures was new to me. However it made sense. Think about lettuce or other produce: handled correctly, it stays fresher longer, leave it out of the fridge and it rapidly loses its snap, and this was what happened to the wines. As a result, we temperature controlled the entire shop: not just for the high end expensive wines, but for all the wines.
The problem became more apparent when I had some guests for dinner and we were into a bunch of wines that had spent some time in my apartment during a time when priorities demanded that all disposable income be spent on wine rather than temperature control. One after another of pretty high caliber wines were opened, only to disappoint. Moral of the story is keep it chilled!

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