The Celler Treatment Of Wines
( Originally Published 1907 )
IN the popular mind wine is too often classed with those things which are supposed to be endowed with the inherent power of looking after themselves. As a matter of fact, however, to view it in this way is to make a very great mistake, for not only does the actual preservation of wine in a state fit to drink largely depend upon the treatment it receives, and the place it is kept in, but, short of its being entirely spoilt, any carelessness and neglect in respect of the treatment accorded to it, is sure to be followed by a deterioration in its quality, and the loss of those vinous properties and ethereal products which can only arrive at perfection if the maturing processes of nature are allowed to proceed under conditions which are favourable to their growth and development.
In the first place then it is of the utmost importance that, whether wine is in casks or bottles, there should be a proper cellar to keep it in. This should be dry and well ventilated, and, if possible, underground, where a fairly even temperature can be maintained at all seasons of the year. This temperature should be about 55° Fahren heit, but a few degrees one way or the other is not of much consequence, the important point being that there should be no marked or sudden variations. If the cellar, or other place of storage, is likely to be exposed to extremes of cold it will be necessary to adopt some means of warming it, but, unless there is good ventilation, gas should never be used, as the effect of burning it for even a short time in a small cellar is to raise the temperature very considerably, with a corresponding fall afterwards; and, in addition, it vitiates the atmosphere in a way that is likely to be very injurious to delicate wines. Apart from any artificial heating, however, there will always be a slight difference in the degree of warmth of the top bins as compared with the lower ones, owing to the tendency of warm air to rise, and, in consequence of this, it is best, in arranging wine, to bin the light varieties such as Hocks, Moselles and all sparkling wines, at the bottom, Clarets and Burgundies in the middle, and Sherry and other fortified wines, in the top bins. It is hardly necessary to say that bottles should always be laid on their sides, as the wine would soon deteriorate if stood upright, and Port should be. so placed that the chalk mark is uppermost.
Air, which is good for most things, is a great enemy to wine, and it is therefore very important that corks should be in good order, and decanters well-stoppered. Wine should also always be consumed as soon as possible after the bottle has been opened, as the lighter varieties, of the Claret, Hock and Burgundy type, are hardly fit to drink if they are kept for even two or three days after being decanted, and though the fortified wines, such as Sherry and Port, will last rather longer, they are certainly not the better for it.
It is always best to decant wine before serving, and although this may seem a very simple operation, there is nevertheless a right way and a wrong way of doing it. A glass of wine when it is poured out should be perfectly clear and bright, and in order that it may be so, the wine in the de-canter must be in a similar condition. This, at all events in the case of old wines which throw a deposit, depends entirely upon the care that has been taken in drawing the cork and transferring the wine from the bottle to the decanter, and the operation is a delicate one. To begin with, the bottle should not be seized ruthlessly from its place in the bin, swayed about, turned upside down perhaps, and treated generally like a bottle of medicine whose ingredients have to be well mixed before being taken, but it should be removed gently, and stood up-right for several hours before it is required. The cork should then be slowly drawn, and the wine poured carefully into the decanter. As soon as the deposit approaches the neck, which can easily be seen by having a lighted candle on the other side of the bottle, the pouring must cease, and the wine in the decanter will then be found to be perfectly clear. In the case of comparatively light wines of everyday use this elaboration is not, of course, necessary, but more care is required in the de-canting of wines than is generally given to them, and where there is any chance of a deposit, it is better to err on the safe side than to run the risk of showing any disrespect to a good wine.
The habit of warming such wines as Claret and Burgundy is not to be recommended, and in cold weather it is quite sufficient if they are brought up from the cellar into a warm room a few hours before being opened. If they are too much warmed the bouquet evaporates, and the delicate freshness of the wine is spoilt. Ice should never be put into wine as it is merely another way of watering it. The right way to cool it is to place the bottle in ice previously to being served, but it is a great mistake to make good wine too cold as, by doing so, much of the flavour is lost.
Few people seem to realize that apart altogether from the gratification which comes from partaking of an exhilarating and healthy beverage, there is a genuine plea-sure to be derived from the mere possession of even a very mode-rate assortment of good wines which, with a little discrimination and forethought, or advice, almost anyone can indulge himself with at a reasonable price if he goes the right way to work about it. Not only is this a very interesting occupation in itself, but when a collection has been made, to enter one's cellar is an event which can hardly fail to bring with it many pleasurable and refining sensations, which amply repay the trouble that has been taken, and which those .who have felt them would not willingly forego. To conjure up the history of the various living and seductive forces which rest so peacefully side by side, unconscious, in their quiet dignity, of the high and lofty part they have to play in making glad the human heart, and bringing health and vigour to human lives; to let the mind wander "in fancy free" to other lands; to pass with lingering affection from the stately Chateaux and glorious vineyards of the famous Medoc, to the sunny slopes of the Cote d'Or; from the smiling and joyous vines of the Marne to the sombre and old-world castles of the Rhine; to cross the portals of this world of mythical romance with reverence, as in the presence of unknown and mystical powers, is to enter, for a time at least, into another existence, and to experience in some degree the feeling that must have inspired the great poets of old who sang so lovingly of the divine juice of the grape; and which must also have impelled the jovial ecclesiastics of days gone by to train and nurture the vine with a care and skill that has never been surpassed, and for which succeeding generations will owe them a debt of gratitude for all time.
What would the world be without wine? And should we not, in return for all it so fully and freely gives us, at least try to do our part in seeing that we get it good and pure, and in showing by our care and treatment of it that we are not unworthy of so priceless a gift?