Just a few days ago, I purchased a case of red wine, a Pinot Noir from a winery in the Anderson Valley. The wine was shipped via UPS and carefully packed in a typical cardboard box made especially for wine. The wine was delivered with no apparent damage… but I had a suspicious feeling that the wine might have gone bad when I laid my hands on one of the bottles. My guess is that the wine was at a nice and cozy 85º! Which means it probably was closer to 90º at the peak of the day. I was facing one of the five enemies of wine: HEAT. – “Five Enemies Of Wine” is a future Wine Ponder article and will be published soon.
I was the last delivery stop for that UPS driver, and the case of wine had been sitting in his truck for the entire day, during which the temperature was averaging a scorching 105º!!! The wine cooked all day in a brown truck that was nothing else but an oven on wheels. Shipping wine can lead to heat damage!
So, what do you do?
• Step 1 : Don’t panic ; )
When a wine goes up past 80º in temperature, you basically have a 50/50 chance that it has gone bad (I say optimistically), depending on the amount of variations and duration. Its aging potential has definitely been compromised, but it might still taste like it should.
• Step 2 : Inspect the bottles.
Heat can weaken the seal of the bottle, leading to oxidization problems. When the bottle content gets hot, it expands and slightly pushes the cork out as a result. If that’s the case, do not hesitate to return the wine. In spite of the weather being an issue while shipping, you should always check the condition of the bottles after receiving them, regardless. Steve J. (the other writer on this blog) received a bottle where the cork seal was broken and there was a very small leak. The winery replaced the wine within one day.
• Step 3 : Let the wine sit for a couple of days.
It was probably jostled quite a bit during shipping and its temperature went up and down a few degrees between day and night. Keep it in the box and set it down in a relatively cool area of your home. DO NOT PLACE IT IN YOUR WINE COOLER RIGHT AWAY (if you own one). The temperature change would be too sudden. Let it go down slowly to a nice and cozy “room temperature”.
• Step 4 : Give it a whirl!
Open a bottle and taste the wine. Considering what it’s been through, you might decide to open it and let breathe for a while, or use a decanter. The taste of heat damage can be quite unpleasant. When tasting, look for a sort of sour and bitter taste on the back of your tongue. It can be subtle, so take your time.
• Step 5 : Call the winery.
More often than not, the winery will make sure you are a satisfied customer. In addition to crafting the best possible wine, the winery always tries to build a strong relationship with their customers. It’s not just about the wine, it’s also the people. The winery’s number one priority is to please you and they will replace the wine in a heartbeat if you are not completely satisfied.
So this is exactly what I did. I didn’t panic, though I was a little upset thinking that all that fine wine might have gone bad. I inspected all 12 bottles for any signs of cork displacement but they were fine. I let it sit for a few days without touching it. I didn’t even look at it! I finally opened a bottle and waited 2 hours before tasting it. The wine had lost a lot of its characteristics. It wasn’t bad, it was just a tamer version of what I was used to. And yes, it also had a lingering bitter and sour taste as an aftertaste.
I finally called the winery and after describing the situation, they gladly agreed to send me another case. Except this time, there will be no shipping during a heat wave.
HOW TO PREVENT WINE HEAT DAMAGE
• Don’t leave the wine in the car for too long. When going wine shopping, make sure this is your last stop and run your errands before. If you’re wine tasting, try to park your car in the shade and keep the windows slightly open for ventilation. If there’s no shade, carry the wine to the next winery. Wine is precious, don’t waste it!
• Check the weather before buying wine. If it’s too hot, wait until the temperatures cool down before buying and shipping wine. If you’re concerned about availability of the wine, you can buy it and ask the winery to store it. They will gladly keep your wine in a safe and cool area of their facility, until the weather improves.
• Styrofoam is better than cardboard. If you have a choice of packaging, ask for styrofoam rather than cardboard. With time, cardboard will let heat get inside the box and slowly cook the wine. Styrofoam will act as an insulation device and protect the wine for a longer period of time.
• Stronger is better. The stronger the alcohol content, the safer your wine will be during transportation. The alcohol in the wine will safeguard the wine against temperature fluctuations.
Check out this article about how to safely and properly store your wine in your home. Happy storing and happy drinking ; )
Speaking of temperature, make sure to check out one of our most popular articles and learn about the Optimal Wine Serving Temperature.