The alarm sounded yesterday while our tasting room associate, Cathy, was pouring wines for some of our visitors. Turns out, the ambient temperature was too high as our overburdened heater kept chugging along battling the winter temperatures. But the fans weren’t working properly, and the heat was rising, making it about 70 degrees upstairs and impacting the top tiers of our stacks of wine cases. We not only have to monitor the winery for fire, flooding and security…we also must keep close tabs on the indoor thermostat. Yes, we essentially have to “baby” the wine!
For both wineries and customers’ cellars, the stability of the temperature is critical. Wine should be stored in a space that can maintain a consistent temperature, ideally 55°F, because fluctuations in temperature cause expansion and contraction. Wine in its bottle contracts and expands much more than the bottle itself; as wine warms, this discrepancy causes the pressure in the bottle to increase, allowing a small amount of the wine’s bouquet to escape through the cork. When the bottle cools down, the wine contracts more than the glass, causing a vacuum that pulls a greater amount of air in through the cork.
The amount of oxygen wine gets is critically important. When oxygen reacts with alcohol, it creates acetic acid, or vinegar. This can help bring out the woodsy barrel flavors of young wine, but too much oxygen over time will alter the balance, and result in a wine that has “turned” or oxidized.
In our tasting room, we try to keep wines at room temperature for tasting as it best provides a wine’s characteristics. But for drinking purposes, chilling white wines (except oaky Chardonnays) brings out its acidity, and white wine tends to have more pronounced acidic flavors—the citrus and green apple of our Rieslings, for example. Conversely, chilling red wine increases the flavor contributions of tannins, that add bitterness and astringency. Tannins come from grape seeds and skins, as well as from the wood barrels wine is stored in. Red wines have significantly more tannins than white, because whites are typically fermented without the grapes’ skins and seeds. The taste profile of our Pinot Noir is markedly different when chilled. The tannins completely overwhelm the fruit and you get bitterness. Give it a few minutes to warm and soften, and you get a much better representation.
Make sure you take this into consideration before serving your favorite bottle of Hickory Creek wine. We want you to experience the best of what our winery and AVA has to offer. And should a restaurant serve some wine by the glass that’s overly chilled, do what we do and encircle the bowl with your hands to warm it up a bit – ’cause baby it’s cold outside!
Eric & Jayne