Care and Enjoyment
Cellaring and Service
Penfolds believes that the cellaring and service of fine wine should be an enjoyable experience for everyone. While there is a marvellous tradition and culture that embraces fine wine some of the ideas and practices may seem antiquated or intimidating, especially to new comers. Penfolds wines appeal to a wide market from the deadly serious wine collector to the casual wine drinker. Not everyone is interested in building up a wine cellar. However there are a few basic guidelines that could be followed to maximise your wine experience.
Store your wine in a cool place
While many Penfolds wines will benefit from further bottle aging, not all wines within the range are made for long term cellaring. Rawsons Retreat, Thomas Hyland, Organic and Koonunga Hill ranges are generally made as fresh early drinking wines. Only very special unique vintages may have any cellaring potential. Generally these wines are relatively inexpensive (depending on taxes and duties). Most buyers will consume these wines soon after purchase. Older bottles lying on shelves for several years may not have their original freshness. White wines are especially vulnerable to fluctuations in heat. It is best to avoid old vintages of commercial wine unless it has been kept at home or you know where the wine has been stored.
Most of Penfolds bin, luxury and icon wines will benefit from cellaring. The optimum bottle maturation period will depend on whether the wine is red or white, its style and vintage. The Rewards of Patience provides detailed tasting notes and commentary regarding the cellaring potential of each wine. It should be noted that reds generally have a longer and reliable cellaring history. The changeover to screwcap closures (see chapter..) has had an immediate impact on maintaining freshness and quality of wine especially whites.
Wine collectors have the option of cellaring their wine at home or in public storage. The commercialisation of wine storage cabinets (wine fridges) is an exciting development especially in warmer climes. They have become a very economic and practical way of keeping wine especially in high density living areas. These cabinets are made to optimum cellaring specifications. Generally the ideal cellar temperature is a constant of around 14 °C to 16 °C with a relative humidity of 65-75%. These conditions are difficult to achieve naturally all year round. Some collectors have had their cellars made to these specifications using refrigeration rather than air-conditioning.
Air-conditioned cellars are a preferred option by some collectors. Temperatures – however - cannot be brought down below 17°C and wines can suffer from the ambient long term dryness. Corks can crumble in this environment. There are a number of incidents where air-conditioners have kicked into reverse cycle causing irrevocable heat damage. Notwithstanding these anecdotes, this option has worked extremely well in Australia – especially when buckets filled with water are placed nearby.
Public storage is a good option but can be expensive – especially if the purpose of maturation is wine investment. Asides from optimum cellaring conditions, insurance companies often prefer the detailed records and security advantage these storage companies provide.
The key issues are keep your wine in a cool secure place and avoid temperature variation. A constant temperature of 18°C is better than 14°C to 26°C over a year. The cellaring conditions need to be dark, free from vibrations and light.
Always lay bottles on their side
Bottles should be stored on their sides to ensure the cork remains wet. Corks can dry out if a bottle is left standing up; it will lead to ingression of air and oxidation. Screwcapped bottles are more resilient but its best to have these bottles lying down as well. If a bottle is damaged you will identify leaking earlier.
There is no need to turn the bottles. Believe it or not there are a dwindling number of collectors who have religiously followed this practice for years in the belief that it further protects the wine from leakage. It is always a good thing – however – to check bottles for any cork movement. It is not unusual to find “leakers” even in the best cellars.
Own a half decent corkscrew
The great thing about screw caps is that you don’t have to bother with a corkscrew. This is very useful when you need to open a bottle of wine and you are miles away from town. Unfortunately the “missing corkscrew” is also a general household phenomena. While a piece of string and a knot is the last resort, a half decent corkscrew is an essential tool for opening up bottles of wine. At the Penfolds Red Wine Clinics we use the long barrelled standard table model Screwpull © corkscrew. This has a Teflon-coated wire screw and a rigid frame which guides the screw into the centre of the cork and pulls it out automatically. We have also developed a method of getting really old corks out of the bottle by using two of these wire corkscrews. You can spend huge amounts of money on beautiful corkscrews but the simple “waiters friend” will do the job most of the time.
How to serve
White wines are best served at cool refrigerated temperatures. However if the wine is too cold you will find that it will deaden aromas and flavours. Red wine is best served at comfortable room temperature of around 18°C - 24°C. In Australia we sometimes cool the wine down a touch if it’s a hot day.
How to decant
Serving fine wine is can be something of a ceremony. It’s always best to bring red wine out of the cellar a good six to eight hours (or a day or two) prior to service. Let the bottle stand to allow the wine sediment to settle.
The world is divided into two types of fine wine people; those that like to decant and those that don’t. The purpose of decanting is to take wine off its fine film of sediment. At Penfolds we encourage the use of decanters because it creates a sense of occasion and suits our wines; especially old bottles of Grange, Bin 707 , St Henri, Magill Estate and Bin 389.
At Penfolds we often use the method of double-decanting especially for large wine dinners. Many wine collectors also double-decant for the sake of ease and identification of bottles on the table during a meal.
Unscrew the cap or pull out the cork. Pour the wine carefully and steadily into a clean jug or another bottle. Some people like using a funnel. Keep observing the wine through the neck and shoulder of the bottle. The wine will be crystal clear until the very end when sediment will appear. At this point stop pouring. Some people will use a candle or a torch while decanting. However it can be just as easy with bright room or day light. Rinse out the original bottle with water and then decant back.
You can decant white wine, but usually this is an issue of personal preference. At Penfolds we often decant Yattarna and old vintages of Riesling as we feel the wines benefit from the aeration. We don’t recommend decanting Penfolds Rawsons’s Retreat, Thomas Hyland or Koonunga Hill wines.
A warning about Wine Glasses
There are several wine glasses available on the market. The style and shape is very much a personal thing. Some glass manufacturers suggest that “the shape is responsible for the quality and the intensity of the bouquet and the flow of the wine.” Penfolds prefers simple but decent-sized stemmed clear cut glasses. However sometimes it is a question of what is available at the time. The poor storage of glasses is actually a problem that is rarely written about. If wine glasses are not regularly used they can collect a fine dust and attract ambient odours and taints. If the glass is not washed out thoroughly prior to filling it can actually overpower the wine and create a completely wrong impression. Wooden glass and antique cabinets are the worst offenders. Washing machines can also leave a film of detergent. If the glasses are not properly dried, they can pick up the odours very quickly. Penfolds recommends that you wash and polish glasses prior to use unless you are sure of how the glasses are stored.
Smell and taste before you enjoy
The practice of smelling and tasting wine before dinner or at a restaurant is a very practical tradition. It gives you an opportunity to check the wine is sound and free of fault before serving. The incidence of cork taint is – thankfully – on the decline. If the wine smells musty or like wet Hessian and tastes horrible it’s probably corked. Or it’s a poorly stored glass. If it smells flat or stale it’s probably oxidised. Sometimes odours will blow off. However if you are unsure, you should ask your sommelier to check the wine for you. If there’s no one else around for second opinion ask yourself “am I happy to drink this?” Penfolds does everything it can to make sure the wine arrives at your table in perfect condition. It is one of the reasons it has a long track record and reputation as one of the world’s greatest wine producers.
Source; “Care and Enjoyment - Cellaring and Service”
Penfolds “The Rewards of Patience” 6th edition,
Andrew Caillard, MW (Allen & Unwin, 2009)
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