Recently China’s first investment with Perfect China’s purchase of Val de Vie’s wine cellar, vineyards and manor house has been in the news. The immediate plans include transforming the historic manor house into a Huguenot museum and extending the barrel maturation facilities to create the ideal maturation environment for the L’Huguenot wines.
That made me think about what is considered to be the ideal environment to ensure the optimum maturation of wine.
As with everything else wine-related, the story starts in the vineyard. The terroir and quality of the wine grapes will be the first factor determining the maturation potential of a specific wine. New world countries are generally known for their fruity character while it is the wine from Old World countries with their minerality and natural acidity that usually matures better. For our La Motte wines, we combine grapes from various growing areas in the Cape Winelands to ensure a combination of New and Old world styles – wines with a good percentage cool climate grapes, minerality and elegance to ensure excellent maturation potential.
Temperature plays a very important role in the maturation potential of a wine – the temperature of the growing area, the temperature during the growing season and vintage, the temperature at which the wines are harvested (we use a cooling room for grapes that gets to the winery at too high a temperature), the fermentation temperature and the temperature at which the wines then mature in the barrels and eventually in the bottle.
For Shiraz especially, we go to a lot of trouble to manage the fermentation temperature. We use fermentation tanks with a shorter cylinder than usual to ensure the temperature of the cake of skins does not get too high and we keep the lids open. The effect is less hydrogen sulphide and more oxygen and we really feel that it has an effect on the quality of the wine and its maturation potential.
In the barrel maturation cellar, temperature, humidity and light are the important factors.
We have found that a constant temperature of 14– 16°C (around 60°F) and a humidity between 80 and 90 percent works best in the barrel maturation cellar.
Also read a very thorough article by Dr. Murli Dharmadhikari on the maturation of red wine in barrels with reference to the type of oak, the size of the barrels, etc.
It is important to note that even the packaging used when bottling the wine can play a role. Darker glass will preserve the wine better and although the type of closure used is a contentious subject and one that has been discussed and written about extensively, we still feel that excellent quality cork closures are better for wine destined for maturation.
Maturing the wine in the bottle is again a subject on its own and the latest trend seems to be maturing wine under the ocean! Not going to that extend, we mature our bottled wines in optimum conditions – being dark and cool with minimum fluctuations or interference.
Once the wine leaves the maturation facility, the conditions are of course out of our control, but in an ideal work the following guidelines would ensure the best possible results. Keep in mind that maturing a bottle of wine in the perfect conditions alone is not a guarantee for a beautiful wine after a few years. All the prior points as to the origin and quality of the wine, the winemaking process and barrel maturation play an important role.
- Temperature – ideally around 13°C (50°F). Consistency of temperature is very important, so rather have it a degree or two warmer but without ups and downs. A kitchen is never a good choice.
- Light – darker is better. Sunlight and even fluorescent lights should be avoided. Dark glass bottles are much better for maturation than flint (clear) glass bottles.
- Humidity – between 55 and 85 percent humidity. This prevents the cork from drying out and will keep the seal airtight.
- Position – keeping bottles on their side also helps keeping the cork moist and prevent shrinking and oxidisation. Bottles with screwcaps or T-stoppers (like many fortified wines) can be stored upright.
- Vibration – rather store the wine away from washing machines, clothes dryers, dishwashers, and stereo equipment. It is also better to store in a wooden wine rack as it relays vibrations less efficiently than metal.
Hope your wines age beautifully and deliver when you open them for a special occasion! Perhaps you would like to share your experience with maturing wine at home?