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Wine Oxidation: The Five Reasons That Make Wine Go Bad

Wine Oxidation: The Five Reasons That Make Wine Go Bad

Though this might be common knowledge for some, most people don’t know what makes wine go bad. The last thing we want is to open a bottle only to find out it has turned to the dark side. Typically, wine can age for 5 to 10 years in average, as long as it is kept under ideal conditions… And no, your kitchen counter is NOT it! So what are the enemies of wine? What can we do to prevent wine oxidation, ensure proper wine aging and optimize wine safety? Let’s ponder!

5 Ways Your Wine Is Being Attacked! Find out what makes a bottle go bad, how to prevent wine oxidation, and how to improve your experience.

What Makes Wine Go Bad?

There are 5 dangerous enemies of wine… Well 6 if you count my mother-in-law. She can do quite the damage on the ol’ wine cellar when left unattended. But we’re not here to talk about mother-in-laws, are we? For now, let’s focus on the other problems instead, starting with…

• Air

Enemy number 1 –and perhaps the most hostile of them all– is oxygen. We’ve all tasted leftover wine from the day before… It’s completely different! And after 3 to 4 days, it’ll taste and smell like the inside of a shoe, having lost its flavor, aroma and color. Wines benefit greatly from oxygen on day one, hence the common expression to “let it breathe” before drinking. There’s a short window during which wine will taste best, and it’s all downhill from there.

Though this may be confusing, wine does need some oxygen inside the bottle to get to full maturation, but in very small quantities. Wine aging is just a very slow and controlled oxidation. Wine bottles are supposed to lay horizontally to prevent cork dryness. If and when a bottle is left standing for long periods of time, the cork will shrink and loosen, letting excessive air to enter the bottle. A dry cork is the first sign of oxidation which, over time, changes the wine’s flavor and color drastically.

• Temperature

Heat and cold are both enemies of wine, equally. The ideal storage temperatures are about 55º for reds and 50º for whites. Make it too hot and the wine will age 4 to 8 times faster than the normal aging process, and not in a good way. Conversely, storing wine under colder temperatures will result in flavor loss and encourage compound separation, a chemical reaction that causes tartrate crystals. While those crystals are completely harmless, they can ruin the entire wine experience. Nobody wants crystals in their wine, unless they’re diamonds attached to a ring ;)

In addition to excessive temperatures, the fluctuation between the 2 extremes also affects the wine. You want to make sure that the location of the wine has very little temperature changes. Anything above a 3-5 degree amplitude will greatly affect the aging potential of your wine.

• Light

Soft Blue light For Proper Wine AgingWine doesn’t like bright light. UV rays breakdown certain compounds of the wine composition which results in loss of taste and color. Once again, this would happen regardless after a few years, and after the wine has reached its prime. But under a bright light, the wine will turn much quicker.

Wine should be kept in a dark place, away from direct sunlight. Avoid harsh lighting such as the fluorescent kind. A soft neutral blue light is best type of lighting you can get for your wine collection. If you don’t have a wine cellar or a wine fridge, store your wine inside a cupboard or an enclosed armoire.

• Humidity

Digital Thermometer With Humidity Sensor

Dr. Murli Dharmadhikari from the Iowa State University conducted a comprehensive research covering every aspects of wine corks, including structure and properties, production, faults and quality controls, etc. More information than you’ll ever need but it is interesting.

A relative humidity (RH) of 50% to 70% is recognized as an adequate wine cellar humidity level, with 60% the ideal. Without ideal humidity, wine quality may be affected in a number of ways. When the humidity is lower than 50 %, the cork may dry out and cause wine and air displacement. Conversely, a humidity level higher than 70% will likely cause mold and degradation of the wine labels. It is completely normal for humidity levels to vary slightly. If you’re not sure about the humidity levels of your cellar, get a digital temperature gage. Most have a humidity sensor built in.

• Vibration

Last but not least, vibration. An 18-month storage study with the presence of vibration demonstrated that the evolution and transformation of the wine is substantially accelerated by the vibration. As the wine ages, the yeast present in the wine will produce sediments. When those sediments are stirred around due to constant vibration, they increase direct contact with the wine, which may taste a little sour as a result. Once again, decanting and filtering the wine prior to drinking may reduce the undesirable taste.

Wine aging is a patience game. While it may seem like a good plan, speeding up the process will result in wine oxidation and ruin your wine experience. I don’t believe in instant gratification. Nothing works that way and wine is no exception to that rule.

Wine Bottles Aging In A Wine Cellar

In addition to the above conditions, the wine’s composition must have the right balance of alcohol, tannins, and acidity in order to improve. Not all wines are age worthy, but if all the adequate conditions are met during wine aging, such as temperature, humidity, and light, you will enhance your wine experience quite a bit.

Though the winemaker is the best person to trust when it comes to wine aging potential, if you have any doubts… Drink it!

There you have it… The five enemies of wine! And my mother-in-law ;)


Quick Wine Aging Q&A

Do Wines Expire? – Yes they do! Chances are, a 20 year old wine may have been impacted by some of the above five enemies, if not all. This is why it is recommended to use a decanter for older wines. Many of the imperfections can be minimized greatly with decanting, providing a better wine experience.

How Long Do I Wait To Open It? – As mentioned above, the winemaker is the best person to ask in regards to wine aging potential. Furthermore, the wine industry knows that not everyone has the ability to store wine properly, nor do they have the patience. As a result, most wines are produced to be enjoyed the second after it is purchased. Don’t feel bad about not being able to age your wine and enjoy it!

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