The Storage of Wine
People have been storing wine in various ways for thousands of years. Perhaps the most familiar to us from ancient times are the amphorae of Greece. Amphorae are earthenware vessels holding about 28 litres of wine.
These elegant tapering jars, with handles at the top, were designed to be stored upright in sand or soft earth. They were bunged with cork, or sometimes cloth, and sealed with a layer of cement. The resulting wine was often thick, dark and sweet and was usually drunk by mixing with water in varying degrees.
The Ancient Greeks believed wine could alter consciousness and should therefore be treated with respect. Dionysus, the god of grape harvests and wine, was heard to say that 3 bowls - or kylikes – from the amphora is the ideal quantity to consume – a quantity equivalent to the modern bottle.
The first bowl is drunk to health, the second to love and pleasure and the third to sleep. But ensuing bowls lead progressively to violence, uproar, drunken revels, black eyes, the police, biliousness, and finally to madness and the hurling of furniture. We have been warned.
Wine in amphorae could be kept for extended periods, sometimes over a hundred years. Remnants of amphorae have turned up in archaeological digs all over this country.
By medieval times wine was usually stored in barrels, poured off as required and drunk quite young.
It wasn’t until the 17th century that glass bottles became common, although they’d been around since late Roman times.
Luckily, we don’t have to think about transporting and storing amphorae or wooden barrels in the wine bar or restaurant.
Mind you, I can remember buying wine by the tumblerful in Yates’ Wine Lodges in the 1980’s. The wine was dispensed from huge barrels behind the bar. Australian White was my favourite; it was sweetish, heavy and more rose colour than white. These places were packed in those days and certainly very profitable.
Looking after your wine
The profit margin that hoteliers and restaurateurs make on sales of wine to their customers is a vital element in overall profitability. Perhaps that’s an obvious statement, but it is nevertheless true.
And it’s an important point to make because the great thing about selling wine compared to say, preparing, cooking, plating-up and finally serving a meal, is that it’s relatively simple and doesn’t take lots of expensive labour time - just a bit of thought, and care.
All we have to do is ensure that the wine we’re offering - by the bottle or the glass - has been stored properly, is then attractively presented and served at the correct temperature.
If a customer orders a bottle of Saint Emilion at 20 or 30 quid it’s no good if the wine is freezing cold. Equally disastrous to building a clientele would be a Sauvignon Blanc pulled out from the back of a dodgy-looking wine rack and served lukewarm.
In fact, it’s fairly safe to say the customer, and friends, won’t be coming back – no matter how good the food was.
Wine, the nectar of the gods, is a foodstuff too. But unlike most other foodstuffs it improves with ageing; it evolves and matures over time – up to a point, of course. That point might be 12 months for a young wine or 12 years for a fine wine.
No one expects a restaurateur to buy a case of expensive wine and sit on it for 12 years before making a profit. Although some enthusiasts will do just that, assuming they have the cellaring capacity and the insight to buy a good wine relatively cheaply when it’s still young.
So we rely to a large extent on the diligence and integrity of the wine merchant or winery we purchase from. For long term storage, all wine bottles should remain in the dark, preferably on their sides (except bottles of Champagne which are stored upright), at a constant temperature of around 55°F and at humidity levels of 70-75%. All this should happen in a place where there is little air movement, certainly no draughts, and no vibration, which may originate from electric motors or machines.
Not much to ask for, then.
You could query your supplier about all these issues the next time you’re putting a wine list together!
Storing wine in your business
In the hotel, wine bar or restaurant environment we have two scenarios to consider. First, the attractive display of wine in a front of house setting, which is bottled up frequently, perhaps on a daily basis and second, the slightly longer term storage of wine back of house.
Let’s start with the actual storage of your newly purchased cases of wine. The best place to store them must then be somewhere cool and of even temperature, not too dry, not prone to draughts and preferably not bathed in bright light. Beer cellars therefore, while fulfilling some of the requirements, are not perfect. A room large enough for the storage of other bottled drinks, is good. Preferably somewhere handy to point of service – there’s little sense in storage areas miles from the bar or dining room.
Wine is a naturally perishable foodstuff and if bottles are exposed to fluctuations in temperature or humidity, or to excessive light or draughts and vibrations, then all types of wine will eventually spoil.
When wines are carefully stored they will improve in complexity and depth of flavour, as well as in aroma.
So we should store all our wines – white, rose, sparkling, red and fortified wines such as port – at one constant temperature, around 55°F or 13°C.
But for drinking purposes, for the enjoyment of our customers (and ourselves no doubt), these different wines must be served at their different optimum temperatures.
And that’s where, front of house, we need to consider various racks, coolers and merchandisers for the best display of our seductive and alluring wines.
Temperature management equipment
Serving temperatures vary, even within the broad categories above, but generally speaking the following guideline temperatures hold good: sparkling wines and champagne, 42-52°F or 6-11°C; white wines, 45-50°F or 7-10°C; rose wines, 45-55°F or 7-13°C; red wines, 53-65°F or 12-18°C; fortified wines, 55-68°F or 13-20°C.
Wine racks for the storage and display of red wines come in all shapes and sizes; they’re also available in different mediums, predominantly wood or metal. A choice, or decision, will be made depending on the mood, the atmosphere you wish to create in the bar or restaurant. Oak or pine cabinets can look fantastic, but may be out of place in a contemporary, minimalist setting where the bar furniture and environment is sleek steel or glass.
Wine racks are inexpensive and can be free standing or wall mounted. They are available in natural wood colours or a combination of say, natural pine and galvanised steel. Some are modular units, each of which may hold 72 bottles, with connecting clips to join racks together neatly and attractively. A lot of wine can be stored in this way, which makes for a stylish and pleasing display in the bar area or against a restaurant wall by staff-only service points.
Refrigerated wine cabinets, or merchandisers, or wine coolers – they are described in different ways - can also add to the ambience of the establishment. These too are available in a wide variety.
The simplest have a single temperature operating throughout the cabinet. These are called single zone cabinets and the temperature can be set precisely to suit, for example, white wines at 10 or 12°C. Some operate on a temperature range of 2-18°C, and others at 5-15°C.
These cabinets vary in capacity from 11 bottles to 196 bottles. Smaller coolers are inexpensive, often with a matt black painted steel construction.
Premium wine cabinets usually have a stainless steel body, an aluminium interior and glass doors – although solid doors are an option. They are lit by a LED display. For top-end wine bars and brasseries, very stylish cabinets with walnut finishes are available; they feature adjustable wooden wine shelves. Bottles may be stored upright for maximum visual effect.
Dual zone wine coolers have 2 independently controlled temperature zones within the cabinet so red wines and white wines may be stored satisfactorily. The operating temperatures to choose from are typically between 5 and 18°C.
There is a wide range of models to consider, some of which have special features such as reversible doors, energy efficient systems to reduce running costs, reclining shelves and height adjustable feet.
The effective storage of wine is essentially quite simple – we just need to make sure we get the basics right: even temperature, little light, some humidity and still air. There will be some upfront costs to the business in achieving these aims, but customer satisfaction, and consequently profitability, will follow.
We seem to have come some way since the amphorae of Ancient Greece. The only question now remaining is: how many kylikes of wine would you like?