In my college days we said “cool”; these days I believe it’s “chill”. Whatever the currently fashionable term for being unflappable and “with it”, it is also appropriate for how wines need to be kept in our country: “cool” or “chilled”?
Wines are best stored at a temperature of 12-14 degree Celsius. This learning is backed by several hundred years of empirical evidence from Europe where the ambient cellar temperature is just that through most of the year. Take a bottle of wine from the cellar, open it and let it stand for a half-hour and voila! The ideal temperature for reds is achieved.
Which is why when old hospitality books talk of serving red wines at room temperature, they mean the room temperature of Europe — which would generally be between 16 and 18 degrees.
Now in our Bharat desh the temperature in non-AC premises is anywhere between 25-35 degree through most of the year. Served at these temperatures (by people who may have read about but not understood wine service norms) a red wine is horrendous: alcoholic, steamy, aggressive. Cool the wine down and it rewards you by revealing its true nature: aromatic, fruity and smooth.
But no amount of chilling or cooling will resurrect a wine that’s already been damaged by being stored in hot and steamy conditions — this is the single biggest problem with most Indian wines and wines in India.
Exposure for even a few days to 30+ temperatures (forget the 40+ conditions during our summers) serves to “cook” the wine, and the longer the wine is stored in such conditions the more the degree of cooking. A cooked wine tastes a bit “stewed” — the aroma will be flat and the body thin and lacking character. Whites sometimes develop a bitter aftertaste, a sure giveaway.
Unfortunately, most people have no idea that the wine is cooked, and so end up thinking that that’s the way the wine is supposed to be. Their loss, really — “chalk and cheese” is how I would put it.
High temperatures also aggravate another wine fault — oxidisation. This happens when wines are exposed to excessive oxygen during production, or when there’s a faulty cork that allows air to come into contact with the wine.
Now, for red wines a little oxygen is always recommended (the ritual of opening the wine to allow it to “breathe” does little good — it is better to decant the stuff before serving) but then, too much of a good thing is never beneficial. An oxidised wine will have little aroma and taste tired/ flabby — some like to call it “Madeirised” (“like Madeira”). Not so great on either the palate or the nose.
Lastly, since bottles in a carton get affected differently, this is reflected in the wine quality: some bottles may be just fine, while some so bad as to almost be undrinkable. I’m sure many people have faced this dilemma — inconsistency has many reasons.
No quick answers on how to solve these faults — one is of course to patronise vendors with decent storage facilities, the other to invest in a wine cooler that keeps the wines at a suitably low temperature — and without vibrations from conventional fridges. Buy your wines early on, and by the case rather than the bottle — the extra outlay will generally give you better quality.
6 months ago