Are Most People Drinking Heat Damaged Wines?

wine storageWe all know that you’re supposed to store wine at about 57 degrees. This is ideal for wines intended to be aged. But I’ve often wondered how precise the data is that supports that recommendation. After all, most wine shops are considerably warmer than that, and most wine consumers lack wine refrigerators or professional storage yet keep wine around at room temperature for at least a few days.

So I found the data in this Wine Searcher article by Kathleen Willcox useful. The article is about the dreadful storage conditions for wines being transported, especially when imported, but some of the information is relevant for how consumers should handle their wines.

When a wine is exposed to temperatures higher than 77F, chemical reactions – including oxygen uptake, free sulfur dioxide decline, ethyl carbamate formation, anthocyanin decline – accelerate, according to studies carried out by eProvenance and ETS Laboratories. For 30 minutes, it’s not a problem. For three hours, issues arise. Any more than that and the color, taste, aroma and ageability will decline noticeably. If a wine sits in temps in excess of 81F for more than 36 hours, the damage will be extensive and will only increase with time.

Most wine shops will keep ambient temperatures below 77 degrees. So there seems to be little risk there at least for young wines not intended to be aged. But think about how often we allow temperatures in our homes to get above 77 degrees. Most people when they leave for a weekend getaway will turn their air conditioner off. Many people will turn the air off each day when they go to work since air conditioning is very expensive. I know many people who belong to wine clubs and thus have bottles to set aside. Few of them leave their air conditioners on just to keep the wine cool.

We can infer from this data that many serious wine consumers—those who are serious enough to have wine continuously on hand—are drinking damaged wine.

At any rate, the magic number seems to be 77 degrees. Below 77 degrees young wines can be stored indefinitely although the aging process will be advanced. Above that and your wine will rapidly deteriorate. And on really hot summer days without air conditioning you’re turning expensive bottles into swill.

In lieu of proper storage, It’s probably best to stash good bottles in the refrigerator. That isn’t ideal and may cause tartaric crystals to form but it’s better than cooking the wine.

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