Cleaning out the fridge
A reader's note the other day prompted me to go prospecting for old wines at the back of the refrigerator. What I found there, as it turned out, seemed to substantiate the conventional wisdom: Don't store wine for a long time in the back of the fridge.
Here's the story:
The question was a simple one: A bottle of French white wine, vintage 1995, had been stored in a refrigerator for at least 3 years. Would it still be good?
The answer depends on the wine, of course - top White Burgundies, Loire Chenin Blancs and Alsace Rieslings, among others, will hold up better and longer with age than most whites.
But using the refrigerator as a wine cellar has both benefits and risks. In theory, at least, the refrigerator's cold temperatures can actually retard aging and possibly extend a wine's life. The optimal temperature for cellaring wine is 55F (13C), the natural temperature of underground caves. Wine kept warmer will age more quickly but not as well; wine kept colder may evolve more slowly, although temperatures near freezing may cause harmless tartrate crystals to form in the bottle. Most refrigerators hold their contents around 40 to 45F (5 to 7C), significantly colder than "cellar temperature."
That sounds good for long-term storage, but consider the hazards. Some experts speculate (although without any firm scientific underpinnings that I can find) that frequent vibrations from the compressor motor are bad for the wine. More credibly, the combination of vibration and the fridge's low-humidity environment may cause corks to harden and work loose, admitting air. This is particularly true if the bottles are stored standing up.
As it turned out, it was easy to put this theory to a real-world test. Like most wine enthusiasts, I've got more bottles in the refrigerator than my wife wishes I did, and some of them have been lost in the back for quite a while. I dug around in the archives and found a couple of 1998 whites that had been in there, sitting upright and forgotten, for at least two to three years. (In fairness to the producers, I won't name the producers of these wines, since my careless storage wasn't their fault.)
A quick pour of a 1998 Hawkes Bay Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand told the sad tale. Its bright-gold color hinted at severe oxidation even before I swirled and sniffed its telltale strong, Sherry-like aroma of walnuts and pecans. The flavor was no better: Harsh, tart and dull, no hint of fruit remained.
Let's try another: A 1998 French Colombard and Chardonnay blend from California's North Coast wasn't quite so far gone, but a bronze hue was creeping into its pale color, and whiffs of hazelnuts and honey in the aroma, while not unpleasant, didn't come from those varieties. Less-than-pleasant nutty-bitter flavors told the rest of the tale: Not quite as far down the road as the Sauvignon Blanc, it was nonetheless well around the bend.
Chances are that keeping these bottles on their sides would have helped, although my wife would have been even more irritated with this space-consuming option; in any case, it's clear that the refrigerator's cold-storage didn't help.
My advice? Don't use the refrigerator for long-term storage, more than a few months at most; with the possible last-resort exception of keeping treasured antiques cold, on their sides, for the summer only, if you live in a tropical climate where seasonal room temperature rises to unacceptable levels.
What do you think? Talk about this topic in our forum:
To participate in an online discussion on this topic, click to "Refrigerator cellaring: Pros and cons" at
Now, for today's tasting report, let's take a look at a white from Cassis in Provence, a style that's often somewhat "oxidative" but, one hopes, within reasonable limits. Eric Texier's Cassis is predominantly Marsanne, although the regulations also permit Clairette, Ugni Blanc and Sauvignon Blanc in the blend. It's not to be mistaken for creme de cassis, the blackcurrant liqueur that's often used as a tasting descriptor for Cabernet Sauvignon.
Eric Texier 2000 Cotes de Provence Cassis ($13.99)
Very clear, pale straw color with a faint pinkish hue. Its scent is pleasant if idiosyncratic, perfumed mint and white fruit, a bit "grapey." Soft but dry, the flavor shows gentle fruit at first, with tangy acidity more apparent in the finish. Its subtle oxidative qualities become more apparent as the wine warms and airs in the glass, opening up to delicate and appealing notes of hazelnut and bitter almond. U.S. importer: Vintner Select, Mason, Ohio, and other regional importers. (May 20, 2003)
FOOD MATCH: Very fine with a braised chicken and onion dish; the food's flavors seem to enhance the wine's bright, fresh fruit. RECIPE: This dish, "concerto for chicken and onions," was featured in the May 22 Wine Advisor FoodLetter,
VALUE: Very good value; complexity and flavor interest exceed expectations for this price point.
WHEN TO DRINK: With the caveat that the oxidative qualities will increase with time, it should hold up for several years under good cellar conditions. Not the refrigerator!
WEB LINK: You'll find Eric Texier's Website (in English) at
Planning to Come to Napa Valley? Do You Love Napa Valley Garage Wines?
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For years, we've been emailing friends who ask what they should do, see, drink and where they should eat during their next visit to Napa Valley.
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Chase Hayne Vineyard Zinfandel: Same vineyard, but half the price of Turley! (Regularly $36/bottle, with coupon, $34.20).
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Wednesday, June 4, 2003