Beating the Heat

It’s that time of year again, when our thoughts all turn to how to keep wine safe during summer heat waves.  Here are answers to some common questions about helping your wine beat the heat:

Can I ship wine?  We recommend you avoid shipping wine during the hottest months of the summer.  If you do ship, especially if you’re shipping UPS Ground, try to have the package go out on a Monday to avoid having the wine sit in a UPS warehouse with uncertain temperature control over the weekend.  This feature from the National Weather Service is a handy, graphical way to see what the temperatures will be like in the parts of the country where your wine is going to make its journey.

What if I leave wine in the trunk on a hot day?  If the wine was only exposed to high temperatures for a short time, like a few hours, it’s probably OK.  Check to make sure that the corks haven’t pushed out.  This is a common consequence of overheated wine that can bring on the companion problem of oxidation since the cork is no longer fully sealing the bottle.  What we’ve found is that short-term heat damage takes some time to show itself.  It can affect the long-term aging potential of a wine, but it seems to not affect its short-term drinkability very much.  In short, if you’ve left a case of moderately priced Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio in the trunk for a few hours on a hot Thursday for a party you’re going to throw on Friday or Saturday night and the corks are intact, you’re most likely fine.  If it’s Barolo you’re planning on aging for 10 years or more and you like to drink wine at the mature end of its window, we’d recommend exercising caution and opening those bottles a little sooner than you might otherwise.

Is my wine storage too warm?  A temperature-controlled storage space isn’t an option for everyone, but even if you don’t have a custom wine cellar, there are some steps you can take to make sure you don’t end up with heat-damaged wine.  In addition to finding the coolest spot in your house that you can, your wine storage area should also be dark and free of vibration.  So, your kitchen, boiler room or laundry room aren’t great candidates.  Your best bet is a corner of a basement or a closet – anywhere relatively cool, without a lot of light streaming in from a window.  The ideal temperature range is 45 – 65 degrees Farenheit, but if your wine storage area is a few degrees warmer than that, it’s not the end of the world.  Almost as important as the actual temperature is having it hold steady – rapid swings in temperature cause the liquid inside the bottle to expand and contract, which can cause those pushed-out corks we’re trying to avoid.  And remember, capsules that don’t spin or stickiness on the neck of the bottle are telltale signs of leakage, which means the cork that has either been pushed out or was damaged in some way.  If wine can get out, air can get in, and oxidation from too much air exposure is just as bad as heat damage!

What does heat damage taste/smell like?  Heat damage can present as prune-y aromas and flavors, or as very strong, almost flamboyant fruit aromas that fade into nothing on the palate.  Wine that is heat damaged can also take on Madeira-like aromas and flavors, since Madeira is a style of wine that is created by intentional heat damage.

We hope this helps ease your wine-related worries!  Tips or heat damage horror stories to share?  Let us know!

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