Notes & queries
Decanting double magnums; cellar fluctuations; bottle shock after travel
Mature double magnums
We recently enjoyed a double magnum of 1982 Mouton, removed from the cellar and immediately decanted. It had been perfectly stored and the colour was youthful. How long would you allow this wine to breathe either in the glass or decanter to maximise its beauty? Sterling DePew, by email Jane Anson replies: Decanting older wines is tricky, because often the main argument for doing so is to remove sediment, rather than to allow the wine to open up. A wine at 30 years old can have a delicate aromatic structure that you want to preserve, rather than allow it to escape into the room; as a result, decanting for too long is not advisable. Having said that, Mouton 1982 is still a richly tannic, relatively young wine, and in double magnum will have retained much of its fruit and power. Part of your enjoyment will be in seeing how the wine evolves in the decanter and glass over a few hours. Decanting it just an hour or so before service should be enough, but take your time and observe how its flavours deepen and evolve. I wouldn’t be surprised if the wine still tastes beautiful a full 24 hours after decanting.
Four years ago, I had a cellar built beneath my existing cellar, to age my wine naturally in the right conditions, but I am now concerned by fluctuations in temperature. In the middle of winter it drops as low as 8°C; by mid-August it will climb to 16°C. This occurs slowly, maybe half a degree per week: should I be concerned? I have installed sensors in the cellar and have been alarmed to find a difference of three or four degrees from top to bottom of the cellar. Alistair Macrow, by email Sebastian Riley-Smith responds: The accepted ideal of 13°C in the cellar seems to have arisen through regional custom and the desire to enjoy well-stored wine, rather than through scientific study. Fluctuation is not so easy, as it involves issues of range and speed. We know that a steady 10°C-15°C is acceptable for wine, and that deviation from this can seriously impact ageing ability. A wine cellared at 23°C will age (depending on the wine) on average eight times faster than at 13°C.
We know that wine exposed to excessive heat expands, the cork starts protruding and the bottle leaking. Conversely, when a wine cools, a vacuum forms and sucks the wine out of the cork. The ingress of oxygen into the bottle combined with changing temperatures creates a ‘pumping’ effect, which will have a negative impact on a wine’s quality. One proposed solution to counter this is to store bottles at an angle, enabling both wine and the air bubble to be in contact with the cork.
With fluctuation of around 10°C, chemical and enzymatic processes are accelerated many times over. But 0.5˚C of room temperature change per week will not mean the wine temperature is changing at that same level. A fluctuation of 8°C over the course of a year is a concern, even within the reasonable band of 8°C-16°C, because of the confused chemical development of the wine. However, if your cellar contains mainly red wines, there are good grounds to believe that – due to their higher concentration and tannins – these are better constituted to counter the vagaries of cellar temperature.
Bottle shock after travel
In a delectable wine shop in Le Marche, Italy recently, I was advised by an enthusiastic elderly gent to give a wine at least one month to rest on return to the UK before attempting to drink it. Is there any science behind the notion that wine needs to settle once stirred in transit? And how much could such transit affect the taste if consumed sooner?
Ged Cleugh, London Jane Hunt MW replies: This is one of those issues where opinions differ, because there is no specific science to support the need to allow a wine to ‘recover’ after travel. A short period of ‘rest’ might be desirable for a red wine which has some maturity and/or is of high quality, in case there is sediment or the wine was bottled unfiltered. I wonder what the wine you bought was? As an organiser of many tasting events over the years, where wine has travelled beforehand, I have not noticed negative effects of travel. Taste and aroma, however, frequently show ‘dumb’ characteristics in the immediate period after bottling which we call ‘bottle shock’, and a period of rest in this instance is desirable.