Years ago, I took a tour of a California winery with a few friends. Our guide took us through the gem of the estate: a carpeted wine cellar hidden away behind the kitchen. In the beginning of the tour, our group was loud and boisterous, but the moment we stepped inside that cellar, the mood instantly changed. Our guide spoke to us in a whisper, pointing to a sign hanging on the wall that said, “Quiet Please.” I asked my friend in a hushed voice, “Are they worried we’ll wake the bottles up or something?” It wasn’t until later that I realized why this winery had a rule against loudmouths in the cellar: vibrations. They were worried that loud guests might make enough noise to vibrate the bottles, and that this would harm the wine.
This is an extreme case of vibration paranoia, but the winery wasn’t necessarily overreacting. Although researchers still don’t agree on why vibration ruins wine, they have found that certain kinds of vibration impact how bottles age. Knowing which types of vibration cause the most damage–and how they do so–will help you store your wine safely.
How Vibration Ruins Wine
Wine experts have two theories about why vibration ruins wine: sediment and chemical reactions. According to the sediment theory, as a wine ages, solid matter in the wine naturally sinks to the bottom, leaving only pure liquid on top. When a wine experiences vibration, the sediment doesn’t have the chance to sink to the bottom and it mixes in with the rest of the wine, altering the flavor. This is partially why most collectors decant older wines before drinking them; they want the sediment to settle again.
Researchers also suspect that complex chemical reactions impact the way the wine ages over time. Expert Maria Lorraine Binchet says that when a wine bottle shakes, it creates kinetic energy inside of the bottle. This energy, researchers suspect, causes the following chemical reactions:
- An increase in refractive index, propanol, and isoamyl alcohol: This causes the wine to become too sweet, less aromatic (with a smell similar to cooked potatoes), and produce high levels of acetone (causing a fuel-like smell).
- A decrease in tartaric acid, esters, and succinic Acid: This causes the wine to look and taste less like wine. Tartaric acid is the main acid in grapes, and it reacts with succinic acid and other molecules to form esters. Without Esters, the wine looks and tastes dull.
Major Damage: Earthquakes
Most experts agree that seismic-level vibration events can ruin anyone’s wine collection. To start, your bottles can slip off the shelf and shatter, but events like earthquakes can also shake up your bottles enough to disrupt decades of sediment accumulated at the base. Preventing this type of vibration requires padding your cellar and choosing the safest wine racks. Some experts recommend using wooden racks over metal because the wood is better at shock absorption, but I’ve found that metal racks hold onto your bottles more tightly and, when combined with styrofoam or cork padding, can absorb shock just as effectively.
Moderate Damage: Railroads and Appliances
A 2008 study found that slight, constant vibration can impact the flavor of your wine within 18 months or less. This means that even if you’re not in an earthquake-prone zone, your bottles could still be at risk. The two biggest culprits of constant vibration are public transportation systems and common home appliances. Houses that are close to railroads or subways often rattle without residents realizing it; it doesn’t have to be a noticeable shake for your bottles to suffer. If your house is located close to a major railroad or subway system, consider using professional storage instead. As for appliances, never store your wine against a shared wall with a washing machine or refrigerator. To test out a wall’s safety, touch it while you have any common household appliances running. If you can feel any vibration at all, choose a new wine storage location.
Mild Damage: Infrequent Rattles
Once you have your cellar earthquake-proofed and you’ve stored your wine in a vibration-free location, you should prevent accidental shaking as much as possible. One or two moments of vibration likely won’t ruin your bottle of vintage Bordeaux, so if you accidentally bump into your wine rack, it’s not the end of the world. However, the more accidents like this happen, the greater the chance your wine will age improperly.
Keep your wine stored as far away from the door of your cellar as possible to prevent shaking the bottles whenever you open and close the door. Store your bottles individually, and avoid stacking them on top of one another. This will keep you from having to move other bottles around to get to the one you want. Finally, when it comes time to take a bottle out of storage, slowly remove it from the shelf and set it upright on a counter, doing your best not to disturb the sediment. Let it sit like this for a day or two so it has the chance to recover from the movement. As long as you handle your wine with care, you can safely age your wine for decades.
Whether you are starting your high-end wine collection or adding to an established portfolio, Vinfolio is your partner in buying, selling, and professional storage. Contact us today to get access to the world’s finest wine.