Heat, light and wine

Wine is both tough and vulnerable. Handled correctly, some wines can remain fresh, even improve, for a century or more. Expose wine to heat and/or light, and you invite trouble.

Your car is a major heat threat. You buy a bottle and put it in the back of your SUV on a warm, sunny day. You run several errands, then get hung up in the grocery store. You get home and the bottle is hot to the touch after five hours in your hot car.

Ruined bottle? Possibly. A cork bulging out of the bottle and/or some wine that has oozed out of the bottle are classic signs of heat exposure.

There are many factors involved, but wine is best stored between 53-57 degrees Fahrenheit. It is safe from the low 40s—the likely temperature in your refrigerator—to 70 or so, a possible temperature in your home.

You store your wine in a rack in your 74-degree kitchen pantry. Are you safe? Yes, but these are not ideal conditions for aging wine. It will be fine for many months, likely longer. But those conditions may cause the wine to age faster.

The best part of “rack in the pantry” storage is the wine is unlikely to be exposed to much light. Red wines, because they usually have some bottle age even before release, typically are in brown bottles to protect the contents from light.

White and rosé wines, because they typically are consumed young, often come in clear bottles. If you expose your white wine to light—say in the window sill in your kitchen or on a countertop with extended time exposed to artificial light—you run the risk of light strike. The indicator of this flaw is your wine will turn brown. If brown, your wine is in deep trouble. It will likely smell like cooked cabbage, even a skunk, and will have surrendered its freshness and fruits.

Wine is hardy. Almost all wine is made to be consumed as soon as you buy it, which means those five hours in your 90 degree car probably did not destroy it, but you have affected its best drinking lifespan and its peak flavor. Light strike takes time, so don’t leave the white or rosé exposed for months and you will be fine.

Better-made wines tend to withstand exposure to temperature and light better than cheap wines.

Last round: Mimosas. How classy, rich people get drunk in the morning.