Keeping your cool
THIRTY eight years ago, as a recently-arrived wine purist workaholic from the east coast, I refused to accept a job in WA's finest wine store until the owner agreed to install airconditioning to protect the wine from the heat.
I had graduated through the wines in my father's extensive cellar in Ballarat and I was puzzled by the perplexing array of new flavours that I found here in the heat of the west.
I later realised these offputting secondary flavours were heat associated.
I know two Western Suburbs Weekly readers who have each thrown out tens of dozens of Australia's greatest wines after warm summer storage had left them undrinkable.
How do you know if your wines have been affected by heat?
Heat-affected wines show an increase in tannic acid, giving them an out-of-balance bitter finish.
Heat-affected wines lose their protein stability and deposit a fine haze (significantly different from normal crust or sediment) that can be whisked into the wine like a puff of smoke if the bottle is shaken. This applies to both white and red wines.
Fifteen to 17 degrees centigrade is an accepted cellar temperature in today’s world.
Above this temperature the wines mature more quickly and lose some of their subtleties.
The next benchmark is at about 25C, when the wine will begin to deteriorate.
Before saying that the cellaring is perfect in the limestone foundations of your grandmother’s Mt Lawley house, check the temperature on the third day of a 40-plus degree Perth heat wave.
A stable temperature is ideal, not essential. Hugh Johnson, one of the world's best known wine authors, says his cellar varies significantly (annually not nightly) and the wines remain in perfect condition.
The Texan oil billionaires built multi-million dollar cellars in the 1960s but found that the essential airconditioners dried the air around the corks, thus causing shrinkage which allowed oxygen to seep into the wine.
Humidity for much of the year in Bordeaux, Burgundy and Champagne averages 65-66 per cent and so we know this figure is fine.
Perth cellars need airconditioning and humidity control to keep within the professional guidelines of below 17 to 18Cand above 65 per cent humidity.
If you have a serious wine collection, you must look after it.
This may cost money, but so does servicing your car or looking after your pool, boat or pets and you have no alternative. SO WHAT TO DO? Buy a hygrometer (Altronics, 174 Roe Street. North Perth) as these measure and record maximum and minimum temperature and humidity, and evaluate your current storage facility.
Then either improve the cellar or contact a commercial wine storage operation such as Guardsman in Melville or Winex in Osborne Park.