Wine Opinion

The four worst enemies of wine in hot, burning bright Hong Kong

We tell you how to beat heat, light, vibration and the risk of oxygen contamination

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 13 August, 2015, 11:22pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 13 August, 2015, 11:39pm

It seems likely that one of the biggest barriers to broader wine consumption in Hong Kong is the tricky question of how to store it.

The seemingly obvious answer is the mini wine fridge (I am the proud owner of two). However, what follows is advice for those who are not willing to put down cold, hard cash for this admittedly rather chichi home appliance. For the person merely seeking a way to keep the occasional bottle in drinkable condition until it can be relieved of its delicious contents, are you doomed to a lifetime of caramelised chardonnay and stewed shiraz? Not necessarily.

Most commercially available wine is designed to tolerate a certain level of abuse (you didn't hear it from me). Producers of wine for sale at supermarkets, for example, are well aware that most wine isn't stored in a fridge and may be sitting on a shelf for some time.

Room temperatures in Hong Kong supermarkets can rise to 22 degrees Celsius in summer, above the "recommended storage" range of 10-18 degrees Celsius advocated for most fine wine. Thus, most of the compounds that might cause something to go awry - proteins that congeal into an ominous haze, phenols that turn white wines a creepy shade of pink - have been yanked out of most supermarket wines.

But even supermarket wines don't have an unlimited capacity for abuse. There comes a point when a wine must acknowledge that it is derived from natural ingredients that can't stand the battering that a can of cola might.

Here is a list of the worst enemies of wine, guaranteed to ruin a poorly stored bottle.

One, heat: Why? Anyone who can remember their high-school chemistry knows that chemical reactions generally double in speed with every 10-degree increase in temperature. As with people, wine that ages rapidly has a hard time ageing gracefully.

But more pernicious than heat in itself are temperature swings, which can tamper with the cork seal.

Reaching 28 degrees can actually break the cork seal, allowing air to seep in and hasten your wine's demise. Also, beware extremes of cold, and never store a sealed glass bottle in the freezer (something I learned the hard way long ago, with an unwisely forgotten bottle of champagne).

Two, light. Bottles are the main barrier between your wine and its mortal enemies heat and light, and thus colourless bottles are anathema. A recent informal tasting of similar wines in green and colourless glass subjected to several Hong Kong summer days left the former in reasonable shape and the latter a hot mess. On the other hand, a clear bottle will at least reveal when the wine has given up the ghost. Pinot grigios more amber than lemon and white zinfandels of a rusty hue can be left on the shelf.

Three, oxygen. Which brings us back to closures, the main point of which is to keep wine in and air out. Cork has a tendency to shrivel up if not kept moist. Stiff plastic synthetic corks with their poor oxygen seal are often worse. Cork shrivelling can be limited by storing bottles on their sides, but with non-absorbent synthetics it makes little difference.

Screw caps, however, are not foolproof. Although generally more resilient to heat changes, they can also get dinged easily, leaving the seal imperfect and air free to rush on in and wine free to flow on out. Look for screw caps with smooth rather than ridged exteriors to avoid this conundrum.

Four, vibrations: on top of the refrigerator or washing machine is a good place to store vodka perhaps, but give wine a better home. Granted, this warning is applicable mainly to fine wines, but even less hallowed bottles aren't such big fans of getting a buzz. Much like a five a day coffee habit, all that jiggling can send your wine to an early grave.

Less important? Humidity. Yes it's a factor in fine wine storage, but in Hong Kong's year-round cork-friendly roughly 80 per cent humidity, it's not something I'd fret over.

Sarah Heller is a Hong Kong-based wine writer