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Dear Dr. Vinny,
I have never bought a corked bottle from a climate-controlled wine shop. The shop owners insist that this temperature-controlled model is necessary to preserve the aromatics of the wine. Is this true?
—Aaron W., Berlin, N.J.
I always recommend storing wine at optimum temperature, humidity, light level and vibration control. The ideal cellar condition, both at a wine shop and at home, is a constant 55° F, about 70 percent humidity, and away from light and vibration. Do I believe that these conditions preserve the aromatics of the wine? Absolutely. They also help prevent against a cork leaking, a bottle prematurely aging, the development of “cooked” flavors and bottle shock.
These standards are set up for long-term storage, but a wine shop that takes care of wine is a wine shop that I’d like to frequent. Likewise, when storing wine at home, how much you invest into your storage—from the corner of a dark closet to a wine cooler or something more elaborate—should depend on your budget and how long you plan on aging your wine.
I’d like to comment on your observation that you’ve never bought a “corked” bottle from a temperature-controlled shop. I realize that sometimes people use the word “corked” to just refer to a bottle that they think is off, but for most wine lovers, “corked” refers to a very specific type of wine flaw, a compound known as 2,4,6-trichloroanisole, or TCA for short. TCA isn’t harmful to drink, but it adds an unpleasant wet cardboard note to wines.
TCA originates from phenols found in wood products like barrels or pallets when the wine is being made. Or TCA can originate after a wine is bottled, when the cork is the cause, hence the terms “corky” and “corked.” The temperature at which a wine was stored doesn’t have any effect on whether or not a wine will be corky. That said, serving a wine at an overly cool temperature can mask the presence of TCA. I’ve had bottles that seemed perfectly fine, but it wasn’t until they warmed up and had more exposure to air that TCA’s telltale wet dog smells showed up.
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