What is the shelf life of most white wines? Clearly it is related to temperature, but is cooler always better? Should I refrigerate my whites if possible? Is there an ideal temperature? I generally prefer the more acidic whites – sauvignon blancs, pinot gris etc.
It’s tough to generalize, but most crisp whites have a best-before date of roughly two years from the vintage date on the label.
I’m heartened by your preference for acidic whites, as you call them, a style often overshadowed in this age of big, smooth reds. There’s mouth-watering satisfaction – and great food harmony – in crisp whites.
Most crisp whites are designed for early consumption. There’s virtually no tannin in such wines, and tannins – an astringent compound found in grape skins – provide the antioxidant protection required for long-term cellaring. Some sauvignon blancs, particularly those of Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé in the Loire Valley, can gain complexity with, say, three to four more years. But this assumes you’re the type of person who enjoys the nutty, sherry-like tang that comes with age in a white wine. I’m such a person, but I suspect most people are not. Good riesling, which contains plenty of acidity, is one white that’s famous for improving with age. Over the course of a decade or more in the cellar it can develop prized notes of petrol and honey.
But the wine won’t suddenly go bad after two years, like milk after a few weeks; it will slowly lose its freshness and eventually merely taste stale and lifeless.
Your hunch about the fridge is wise, though. Cooler temperatures slow down chemical reactions, so if you lack a cool cellar, the fridge is not a bad option. You’re essentially placing the wine in a state of suspended animation. It won’t evolve much, but it will at least be well-preserved.
On the downside, some people would submit that fridge temperatures are so cold as to force the wine into a dumb – or flavourless – state after many months next to the mayo and pickles. My experience tells me they’re wrong, but I’ll grant that it’s a debatable point. And, of course, I’m assuming you are speaking of sealed bottles. If the bottle’s been uncorked and left half-empty, the freshness will be pretty much gone in three to five days.
E-mail your wine and spirits questions to Beppi Crosariol. Look for answers to select questions to appear on The Globe and Mail website.