Member Inquiry: Transporting Wine

“Paul, I have heard that the jos­tling of wine during transportation can damage it. Is this so and, if so, will it help if I let my bottles rest after I have received them from you?”       S.R., Emeryville, CA

People often ask me this when I tell them that I will be shipping wines to them via UPS. Here are some basic gleanings about trans­portation factors.

It is often said that wine must be handled gently because it is “a living thing”. This does not mean that there are living organisms in it… heaven forbid! But that there are complex natural organic chemi­cal entities that are fragile and that they are undergoing slow chemical changes during the maturation pro­cess. The fact that these changes occur is described as a “living” process. These large organic chemical molecules react with each other, combine with each other, and modify each other to produce some of the changes and complexi­ties we observe as a wine ages and matures.

Most wines improve or deteriorate according to how they are transported and stored. Excessive shaking of wine starts or encourages chemical reactions that are occurring in a wine that is maturing.

It is suggested by some that wine which has undergone a journey needs to rest. I concur. Depending on how severe the vibration or jostling has been, and the duration of it, it is sometimes pos­sible to detect minor (and sometimes just temporary) taste differ­ences. It is hard to say whether, after a rest, the wine has come back to its original condition or whether it has reached a new level of maturation after the shaking. I suspect, in the majority of cases, it is the latter. The point is… a change can sometimes be detected.

In the era of sailing ships, a cu­rious tradition developed around this. A ship’s captain would keep a cask of Madeira wine suspended by his cabin door. All visitors were required to give the barrel a good shove before entering. This, along with the natural rocking of the vessel, resulted in a superior wine by the end of the voyage!

No doubt it is best to allow a rest period to wines that have trav­eled, prior to opening them. A good rule of thumb for young wines is 24 hours. For older wines, especially well-aged wines that have thrown a sediment, three days or more is preferable.

Wine will and does hold up to travel. Chateau Lafite-Rothschild makes a 6,000 mile voyage, half of which is at sea, and arrives here delicious. The effect of jostling must not be very drastic for so many good wines to be tasty when we open them in our homes.


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