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Making It Last


There are two competing schools of ageing in home winemaking, and both of them have their issues. The first school are folks who never have enough wine to age over even in the short-term. The poor folks who are in this pickle have discovered Vandergrift's First Law of Home Winemaking: Wine Consumption Will Rise to Meet All Available Sources of Wine.

These are not idle!
Fortunately, the solution is pretty easy: double the amount of wine you make. It may sound like a lot more work and wine, but hear me out: all you need is an extra carboy or two and resources to double the current production. If you make one kit a month, get a second carboy and as soon as your wine is out of the primary fermenter, make another immediately, and keep in mind Vandergrift's Third Axiom of Home Winemaking: An Idle Carboy is Nobody's Playground. When it's empty, fill it again. This will give you enough wine to put some away to age--unless, of course you run right back into the first law again, in which case it's time to double production again, until you reach equilibrium and finally have enough wine to put some away.

The second school of wine ageing is represented by folks who've conquered the production curve and now need advice on how to age their wine. There's not a lot of useful information out there about where to put the wine you're trying to age, what conditions it should be kept in, and just how long it will last.

A few people have the impression that wine made from kits won't age as long as commercial wine, but that's just not the case. Over the course of my career I've had red wine from kits that was 15 years old that was heavenly--richly ethereal and wonderfully balanced. Even the whites do pretty well: I found a bottle of Riesling in a forgotten place after eight years and when I opened it I was rewarded by the most perfumed and elegant white wines I've ever drank. As long as you follow your instructions, especially if where they discuss the possibility of adding extra sulfite for ageing, you're set to put the wine down for the future.

The key to long-term ageing is steady temperatures. After that try to get as close to 58F as you can manage. Don't get too hung up on the absolute temperature. Most homes don't have a space that hovers at 58F (unless they have an actual root cellar or similar, in which case this discussion is moot: put your wine down there with the beets).

Many homes get cold in winter, but over the course of the year, they warm up again, and that's really bad for the wine. It's better for storing your wine to have a much higher temperature that remains constant. You'll get vastly better ageing results in a space that's 75F that never changes up or down than you would in one that's 58F but goes up 10 degrees over the course of the year, or (even worse) spikes up and down over shorter periods, such as a day or a week. Steady temperatures will keep the wine inside the bottle from expanding and contracting against the cork, 'breathing' and oxidising.

My usual suggestion is to hit a hardware store to buy a Min/Max thermometer. They're cheap and easy to find, and feature a dial that will record the highest and lowest temperature through any period you like--if you check it daily, it'll tell you the daily swing, weekly the same. Put it in any likely ageing place in your home--the basement, the crawlspace, the spare bedroom on the north side of the house, etc. and see what has the steadiest temperature.

My usual advice is to shoot for a basement or ground-floor room against the north side of the building. There's less chance of radiant heat from the sun heating up the rooms on the north, and closer to the slab or basement will keep things steadier than a higher floor.

Once you've chosen your ageing area you'll need to conduct empirical research to determine the ageing potential of your wine. There are so many variables that it's just not possible to give broad recommendations on how long your wine will improve or last--but that's true for commercial wine as well. No producer is going to guarantee the exact ageing periods for their wine, because they can't eliminate all of the variables that exists.

If you've already got this, you're ahead of the game
Instead, you need to hark back to the actual and true purpose of an ageing cellar: it's a place to put wine so that you can get at it over time, taste it on a schedule, and then, when it's perfectly ready and wonderful to drink, you can indulge and drink it up to your heart's content. Your empirical research will consist of opening a bottle every three months or so, and when you feel it hits its peak of flavour development and deliciousness, you can start enjoying it to your heart's content.

And here's the secret to that: however long it took your wine to reach its peak, that's how long it will hold that peak of deliciousness. If you make a blockbuster red like our Rosso Ardente with grapeskins, it may take two years to knit up all the gigantic tannins and deliver the rolling layers of fruit and power to your palate. And then it will last two full years in that state of grace.

Of course, you'll need to plan ahead, because if you hit that perfect mark and drink it all up in a couple of months, it'll be two years before you get to taste something that good again--which brings us to Vandergrift's Third Law of Home Winemaking: The Last Bottle of Any Batch Will Always Be the Best.

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