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What is the shelf life of most white wines? Add to ...

The question

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.

The answer

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.

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