Like many things about wine, the answer can be simple and complex at the same time.
First of all, all wine does not need to be aged, but some wines will indeed “mature” and become better over time. Eventually all wine will go beyond the “mature” date, and it will go over the hill faster and uncontrollably, if not properly stored. Warmer temperatures accelerate the aging process. That may sound good if you want to drink it sooner, but if it is aged gracefully and slowly the way it was meant to, it will allow it to develop more complexity, soften harsh tannins, and develop “bottle bouquet”.
The greatest hazard to wine storage is elevated temperature as well as temperature fluctuations. In general, any temperature above 60°F begins to accelerate the maturation process faster than optimal, and can shorten the life expectancy of a wine (especially white wines). Temperatures above 75°F greatly and untypically age most wines. Just a short exposure to 86°F will rapidly sound the death knell for wine. Temperature fluctuations, not just elevated temperature, can also wreak havoc on your wine and quickly destroy it if your wine is subjected to a rapid 20 degree swing in temperature.
Enter Phoenix. If you are away from your home and have a power outage, your house can quickly hit that 20 degree swing in a day as well as the 86 degrees. In addition to our high temperatures and large temperature swings, Phoenix is also wine cursed with excessively low humidity. That’s a problem, and a problem that many Phoenicians forget to consider. Humidity is generally not a large factor in most areas of the country, as their climates already average the welcomed 50-70% humidity level that wine and specifically wine corks enjoy. In Phoenix, our average relative humidity is 36% and it can go as low as 9% or even 5%. If you have a wine refrigerator or cellar in your home, and if it does not control the humidity, even without power failures or interruptions, over time your wine still runs a high risk of being destroyed due to a crumbling cork.
Between high temperatures, wide temperature swings, and low humidity, Phoenix has one of the worst climates for storing wine, so protect your wine. When it comes down to it, the reason we buy that great bottle of wine is to find the perfect moment to share it. There is nothing more disheartening than finally arriving at that special birthday, wedding, or other celebrated moment and realizing your precious treasure is ruined. Treat your wine with grace and it will return that to you tenfold.
“Life is too short to drink bad wine” -Anonymous
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