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Temperature Variation in Storage

May 13, 2012
Question by: Pedro, Oeiras, Portugal

Q:

Hi there, Port Wine has always had some mystique to me since a kid, which developed as, for the past 10 years, having a glass of (tawny, typically) Port almost every night. I've developed a short but nice collection of bottles (Vintage and Tawny) including some bottles of Dow 1994 and 2007, Graham's 2003 and 2007. I live in an apartment, no AC, which means the temperature varies with the weather outside, and although I keep the wine in the coolest place of the house and darkest, it is still subjected to variations.

I've been considering buying a Wine Fridge, but some things on the whole "wine temperature" raised some questions in my head. Some of the more renowned Port wines in history are from the 60's. I seriously doubt they were stored at 15 Celsius. I would believe that, even in cellars, the temperature variation would be steep, and still, there are some classics in there. So, does temperature variation really matter that much?

Also, I would be interested in your opinion as to how long after buying should a tawny (= 20 years) be consumed... Thanks & Regards

A:

Hi Pedro, You are absolutely right that not all bottles of Vintage Port have had the good fortune to be stored in perfect conditions at perfectly stable temperatures.  This is why two different bottles of the same Vintage Port, sourced from two different cellars can show such variations on the nose and palate.  Look at the tasting note databases on the two main discussion forums for Port, For The Love of Port or The Port Forum, and you will see that different bottles of the same Port tasted on the same date or within just a few months of each other, can show very different characters.  The reason for the variation is in fact down to storage conditions

Too high a temperature for an extended period of time, or sudden dramatic changes in temperature, or storing the wines in light conditions will all shorten the life of the wine, and after some years can make it appear at best more mature than it is, at worst, if it has been poorly stored for years, it could show quite "hot" on the nose or palate and a premature breakdown in colour. 

The best thing you can do, for starters, is get a wine cellar thermometer - these are not expensive and can record high-low readings and often humidity levels as well.  Use this to find the place in the flat with the coolest and most consistent temperatures to store your wines - consistency is probably the more important.  I personally have one and found the temperature in my flat - also with no heating or air conditioning - rose 4 degrees Celcius just in the past week here in Vila Nova de Gaia, and my wines are stored in the centre of the flat away from all windows and direct light.  That is a worrying level of change in such a short time.

If your plan is to drink your Ports young, in the next few years, then it may be enough to store the bottles in the coolest place you have, well away from sunlight.  And even then be careful:  if the wines are in a box or cupboard they may not get direct sunlight - but if that cupboard is in a sunny place the temperature inside the cupboard could go quite high very suddenly when the sun comes out - this is where testing with the high-low readings on the thermometer for a few days can help you find the best place.  But if you want to store and save some of your ports for the long term - and you have some wonderful Vintages there, Dow 1994 and 2007 and Graham's 2003 and 2007 are all beautiful and very highly regarded Ports - it would certainly be worth investing in a wine fridge or perhaps finding a friend with a cool dark cellar who can take your bottles at least for the summer if not year round.

Tawny ports, whether indication of age - 10, 20, 30 or 40 Year Old, or Single Harvest Tawnies (also known as Colheitas) - are all bottled ready to enjoy.  This style of Port does its ageing in wooden casks, and so it needs no further ageing in bottle, and the character will not develop further in bottle.  If you won't need it right away, store it in a cool dark place as well, but plan to enjoy it within a year or two.  Chill your Tawny and it will be very refreshing now the weather has warmed up again.



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