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Warning signs for wine abuse

Do's and don'ts for wine storage

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According to many high-falutin' wine experts, storing wine in anything but a state-of-the-art, temperature-controlled cellar is nothing short of wine abuse. These misguided folks claim that wine is so very delicate that, if you so much as hiccup while holding the bottle in your hand, the wine will be forever ruined by the sudden vibration. At the other end of the spectrum are the flagrant rebels who insist you can store your wine outside in direct sunlight all summer long without causing any damage.

Well, guess what? They're both wrong. The truth about wine storage lies somewhere in-between the two extremes. While an expensive wine cellar is far from a requirement, there are some basic "do's and don'ts" that will help keep your wine from going south before you get a chance to drink it.

The main thing to remember is that wine has three natural enemies: excessive light, heat and movement. If a wine is exposed to extreme heat or bright sunlight, it can end up having a weird "cooked" taste. Movement can cause a wine to age too quickly and become "over the hill" before its time. Expose your poor wine to all three of these enemies and it may even start leaking through the cork in an attempt to escape its abusive environment.

I know about these negative reactions from experience. As research for a book I contributed to called The Wine Brats' Guide to Living, with Wine, I conducted an experiment to see how a bottle of wine would respond to a couple weeks of torture. With gleeful sadism, I transferred the unlucky bottle from my freezer to the refrigerator and then into the trunk of my car, where it rolled around for a week. After that, the bottle baked in a hot, sunny office for a couple days, then finished out its torture session with an hour in my gas oven. The result was a thoroughly pissed-off bottle of wine that bled from its cork like a wounded animal. And let me tell you, it didn't taste very good either.

To protect your wine from a similar fate, it's best to avoid storing it on sunny kitchen countertops, next to heat registers or inside vibrating refrigerators (or on top of them, for that matter).

In an ideal world, wine prefers a cool, stable environment with decent humidity. Because it doesn't respond well to change, wine should be stored in a place where temperatures are fairly constant (50-60 degrees Fahrenheit) and should be moved around as little as possible. A 70 percent to 75 percent humidity level helps to keep corks from drying out and letting oxygen in.

But for the rest of us, an average living area contains many appropriate resting places. For example:

  • A cool closet -- Just stack your bottles on their sides in an empty milk crate and shove the crate in.

  • Under the bed -- Dark enough to make any bottle happy.

  • The basement -- Cool, dark and damp: what more could a wine want? But you probably want to avoid any wet areas, because the labels will mold.

  • The extra bathroom nobody ever uses -- What do you think those shelves are for? Toilet paper?

    The idea is to be creative. Think of the coolest, dampest place in your house or apartment and make some room for wine.

    Tina Caputo is a San Francisco-based wino who supports her nasty habit by writing for wine publications. Comments? Email corkscrew@creativeloafing.com.

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