Keeping wine safe in China
Jeremy Oliver looks at the problems associated with storing wine in China.
Wine drinkers in emerging markets cannot afford to take for granted what Australians generally – but certainly not always – can do, which is to assume each bottle has been warehoused and cellared correctly. China, of course, is no exception to this, especially given its well-documented extremes of temperature and the nascent levels of knowledge throughout its systems of wine transport and storage.
Temperature is very important. Try to store your wine in as cool a spot as possible, and keep summer heat in mind. Between 13°C -15°C is ideal, and it’s not too cool to prevent you from watching your wine develop. Much cooler, and your next problem will be to live long enough to enjoy it. I worry, however, when I see cellar temperatures go above 20°C, since this invariably results in accelerated development and a loss of potential quality.
It’s most important that even if it’s a little high, temperature remains constant. Fluctuating temperatures cause damage, and the change from cool nights to warm days can be ruinous. So, find the most stable place in the house, preferably an insulated area, for your cellar. Keep wine well away from windows and external walls, unless they’re very thick. Seasonal temperature changes are typically much slower, and while hardly desirable, are not as severe as daily changes.
Think about humidity. If a cellar is too humid then labels and racks may go mouldy. A small fan can help to keep air moving. If there’s not enough humidity in the cellar, the outward ends of wine corks may shrink and reduce their ability to impart a seal, which can shorten a bottle’s longevity. My own cellar is regulated at 70 percent humidity.
So if your home isn’t suited to cellaring wine, one option is a temperature and humidity-controlled wine cabinet. Then you won’t have a worry in the world about the health of your wine or your ability to access it. Some enable you to zone temperatures within the unit to provide different compartments for ‘drink now’ wines. The Viking unit in my office has zones set to 6, 9 and 14 degrees Celsius, for aromatic whites (rieslings and gruner veltliners), non-aromatic whites (chardonnays and semillons), and reds. Before you choose one, check whether or not fresh air circulates throughout the unit, that the inside of the unit is dark, that it is lockable, that any glass doors are UV-treated, and that the degree of vibration caused by motor units is minimal.
As a frequent visitor to places like Singapore and Hong Kong, I now expect to see at least one such unit in the house of a wine-drinking friend in these cities. Many apartments in major international cities might today be built without serious kitchens, but not without under-bench wine refrigerator units in their place.
Another solution, especially if you’re a player in the industry or have too large a collection for a cabinet or two, is to find yourself a commercial cellaring facility. Crown Wine Cellars (pictured right), which has just opened in Shanghai, following its operations in Hong Kong and Beijing, offers underground cellars and tasting rooms, has room for up to 250,000 bottles of wine in its cellar, which is six metres underground. Like many operators in this space, it also offers inventory control and insurance, as well as an entertaining space and kitchen. Interestingly, the take-up of 80 percent trade and 20 percent private to date at Crown’s Shanghai operation is the reverse of what it has experienced in Hong Kong, which illustrates a potentially enormous opportunity in providing a major piece of infrastructure for industry in Chinese cities.
If the Australian experience is anything to go by, wine fridges and commercial cellaring facilities for wine will shortly become an integral part of the wine scene in China, for trade and public alike. They enable retailers and restaurateurs to age wine in sound conditions, and protect the investments made by private customers and trade. It’s the modern wine equivalent of peace of mind. ■
* Jeremy Oliver has been a professional wine critic and commentator for 25 years and is one of Australia’s foremost wine writers and presenters. He is the author of The Australian Wine Annual and most recently published Wine with Jeremy in Mandarin Chinese – the first Western wine critic to create and publish a book in China especially for the Chinese audience.
To contact Jeremy: firstname.lastname@example.org