Friday, November 9 2007
Aged to Perfection, or Dorian Grey?
The Picture of Dorian Gray is Oscar Wilde's classic tale of the dangers of falling into temptation and paying the price for transgressions. I got to thinking about this after reading the Washington Post's article about the dangers of selling wine for a living. To quote the authors:
Even if a bottle of wine leaves its winery in immaculate condition, the road it travels to your glass is fraught with peril every step of the way. Because wine is a living, breathing substance, it can be mortally wounded by improper handling. A wine that starts out perfect can be ruined by many factors: how it is shipped and stored, when and with what it is poured.
Wow! It sounds like you might as well give up and drink warm gin out of a paper bag! Although I find the artivle a bit alarmist, it does make a couple of points. But what does this have to do with Dorian Gray?
Well, lots, if you look at it the right way. Dorian lets a picture pay the price of ageing and bad actions, while he hops along, consequence-free. If you're serious about ageing your wine to improve it, you need to make sure the conditions are good, and the cellar provides the right conditions, or the out side of the bottle will continue to look pristine and lovely, while the wine inside crumbles to dust. I'm the guy who tells winemakers nearly every day that the only magic ingredient they need for their kits is time: properly aged kit wine can really kick butt. But 'properly aged' is the key, and cellaring correctly takes a bit of care--even, steady temperatures at 12-14C (55F), darkness, vibration free, and about 70% relative humidity. Wine stored in a paint shaker on top of the furnace in a solarium doesn't stand a chance.
But unlike the authors of that article, I'm much less worried about home winemakers. Most people are keeping their wines in the basement, and take care to use a good cork. Only two things really worry me: people who don't age their wine long enough before trying it, and those who age it too long. The first group never gets the maximum benefit from the wine, and the second gets the Dorian option. Sometimes people want to put down a batch of wine to honour the birth of their child, to be opened on Junior's 21st birthday. There are only a handful of commercial wines that will survive that long, much less improve steadily for two decades!
But if you want to know more about cellaring, I'll put in some guidelines and explanations in an entry next week. Start digging those caves now!
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