Wine Talk

Snooth User: ArubaMike

Wines in my cellar do not seem to be aging properly.

Posted by ArubaMike, Dec 18, 2010.

Hi Everyone,

I built my own cellar from a pantry adjacent to my dining room 11 years ago. I insulated it very well, installed a foil vapor barrier, and built mahogany racks to hold 620 bottles. I installed an exterior glass door and recessed lights with a granite floor. It looks great! We get amazing compliments from our visitors. But...

I did cut one corner. Instead of a 'Wine Cellar Cooling Unit', I used a commercial walk-in-cooler split system cooling unit. Instead of costing us thousands, it was like $800. I keep the cellar at 57 degrees and it pegs the temp year round. The fan on the evaporator in the cellar runs 24/7.

So, if I open a five year old bottle of red, no problem. Guaranteed good. Seven or eight year old, most likely good with only a few lost. Ten years or more, well let's just say this. I hold my breath while I open those. Especially the expensive ones.

The older bottles have a light mold or dust on them. Not sure why, because it's not real humid in there (40-60%). Older bottles are full and have not lost any wine through evaporation. All the 'bad' wine tastes exactly the same. Just like vinegar.

Anybody have an idea what's going on here? I would upgrade my cooling unit to a Wine Cellar Cooling Unit', but I am not convinced there is a difference. There is no pattern to the bad wine (such as location in the cellar, wine type, etc.).

Thanks, Mike.


Reply by GregT, Dec 18, 2010.

Cooling technology is cooling technology.  All of those things operate on the same principle - the walk in cooler, an air conditioner, a refrigerator, a wine cellar cooler.  Your temp and humidity seem OK although the humidity is a bit on the low side.  The "wine" coolers are more expensive because they're sold to wine people, who are willing to spend a lot of money. 

I don't think that's the problem at all.  Vinegar is the result of bacteria which turn the alcohol into acetic acid, but to do that they need air.  Or more properly they need air. 

I'd imagine that most of the acetobacter problems were carried in from the wineries, so first thing I'd wonder is whether the problem occured across all wineries or only certain ones?  What kind of wines are you storing and in what kinds of wines are you finding the problem? 

I suppose in theory, if you've got any kind of air leak into your bottle, just perhaps that's a contributing cause but I think you'd be more likely to have oxidized wine than vinegar.  So what other problems do you have?  Do any of your wines seem oxidized?

Just doesn't seem related to your cooling unit. Many wines are kind of known for a little VA anyhow, and maybe you just stored the wrong wines?

Reply by zufrieden, Dec 18, 2010.

My thoughts exactly.  What is the general profile of your collection?  For example, do your "off" wines seem to follow a pattern of some provenance or another?  I do not have an especially sophisticated cellar and have never experienced these kinds of problems so would be inclined to suspect the wines themselves - as GregT suggests.  Might you give us a hint as to your collection and which wines are getting whacked the worst?  That might provide you with some indication of the cause of your problems.


Reply by ArubaMike, Dec 19, 2010.

Thanks for the comments. My 'off' wines do not seem to follow a pattern other than age. For example, last night I opened a 2000 Pine Ridge Rutherford Cab. nothing special, but a good donation for the party we attended. It was 'off' like the others. I also brought a 2002 of the same wine. It was fine. I bought both bottles new and they have lived in my cellar since. Two nights ago, I opened a spoiled 2000 Bordeaux and had to dump it. Last week I forced down a slightly 'off' 1999 Paul Hobbs Cabernet because I couldn't stand to dump it, but I have dumped others. I love Hobbs and have several bottles left. I'm a little scared to open it.

Most of my older bottles are California Cabs and Merlots, French Bordeaux and Austrailian Shiraz.

I do not have a lot of experience with spoiled aged wine so maybe I have oxidized wine and not vinegar. I have tasted the 'musty' flavor many times which improves with decanting. I'll try and describe the experience. It's fresh in my mind from last night with the 2000/2002 bottles.

The cork is fully seated and dry. No evidence of wine running up the sides. Bottom of cork is slightly crystalized and dark red. Wine pours fine and color is perfect. If I opened and poured the two years side by side, you wouldn't know the difference.

Slightly different smell between them, but nothing alarming. You really need to taste it to tell. First sip of the 2000 'bites' your mouth with a tangy dry flavor which persists even after some swishing in your mouth. I usually spit it out and take a second sip after a couple of minutes to be sure. That one is no better.

Now sip the 2002. You could compare it to sipping milk after sipping Listerine. It is instantly clear that the older wine is spoiled. I have probably dumped 20-30 bottles this year. Every single one tastes the same.

Decanting doesn't help. After washing the decanter too many times, I always taste them first now, and decant if it passes.


Reply by Richard Foxall, Dec 19, 2010.

Here's another idea:  If you can, go back and check where you bought the wines.  Is it possible that one of your vendors is either not storing the wine properly (two years of bad storage when you got it could make a difference between the 2000 and 2002, of course, especially if you bought them both when the 2002 was released) or is (hate to say it) not 100% honest? It's hard to imagine that a vendor would go to such trouble--like, take back the empties and refill them?  or buy himself from a counterfeiter?--but I am really mystified.  This, to me, is an astonishing number of bottles to go bad considering the great care you store them with, and the fact that there is no obvious problem with the wine when you open it. 

Of course, if you were taking certain medications, have certain illnesses, or undergoing, say, chemotherapy, your wine could be fine and taste bad to you.  In most instances, though, both the 2000 and 2002 bottles would taste off. I trust that you are not tasting these alone and the people with you are observing the same things. 

One other idea: you mention your fan is on 24/7--could vibration be the problem?  I understand the chemistry of heat with respect to wine much better than that of vibration, so maybe someone will want to weigh in on that.

GregT--I noticed in a couple posts that you mention that cooling technology is cooling technology. I agree, for the most part. But I do have a friend who "tricked" an air conditioner into cooling his wine cellar, something I think you mentioned.  Not a very successful idea for him, as a/c units are just not made to run at the temps necessary and for such a long cycle to keep a space at 55 or so degrees F.  (The rating of "duty cycle" is largely ignored in basic home a.c. units, it seems.) His blew up when it was most needed and he had to scramble to get a WhisperKool.  The commercial cooler unit is a good idea, though, and a good way to save money.  So far, I am just doing the passive bit--we'll see what happens.  Luckily I live in a place that rarely gets hot, never stays hot more than 3 days, and my basement is reasonably stable even then.

Reply by GregT, Dec 19, 2010.

Interesting that his system blew out.  Was it a Haier??

Actually I've been using that method for a few years and I've got friends who've been using it a lot longer than I, as well as a couple of hunter friends who use it to hang their meat.

Not to derail the thread, but maybe I wasn't clear about cooling units being cooling units.  I didn't mean to suggest that they're all interchangable, only that the principle on which they operate is the same.  You compress a gas into a liquid, removing energy, then pass it into a different area and let it shift back into a gas.  The expansion needs heat, so your temperature drops. If you've got the gas in little pipes, you can blow air over those pipes and you're blowing cool air out into the space you want cool.

That's the simplistic explanation.  The difference in the particular devices comes in the size of the compressors, the size of the evaporator coils, etc.  So if you want to drop the temp of an area around 20 - 25 degrees, which is the standard for residential AC, you size your coil, your compressor, etc., to be optimum for the cubic feet you want to cool.  If you want to get the place cooler than that, you will need bigger evaporator coils, etc., and then you're worrying about the dew point, and sealing the area.  So while a fridge and a Kenmore AC operate on similar principles, the sizing of their components is vastly different and your fridge is sealed almost hermetically, while your house isn't.

THat's all I really meant.  So I don't think the commercial unit or any other type of unit should make a difference in his wine storage - however he cools it, vinegar isn't what I'd expect.

Re: the duty cycle - I don't actually need mine year round - right now the ambitent temp is about 59-61, so I shut it off for a few months.  But the way you get the right size evaporator coils, etc., if you want to trick an AC unit is you get a unit far bigger than you'd need for a comparably sized room.  It will cycle on and off more than you want for a room AC, so your Energy Star efficiency rating goes to hell, but you're not running 100% of the time.

There's actually a company that makes a little device to trick your thermostat - it's called the Coolbot.  I imagine you could probably build it yourself for about $2 instead of the $299 they charge, but hey, they gotta make a buck too.

And if you want to waste some time reading, here's some more:

Reply by Richard Foxall, Dec 19, 2010.

If I am going to waste time, I am going back to that wineberserkers thread about fruit bombs.  ;-)

I am pretty sure my friend just underestimated the size of what he needed.  Keeping a small space at 55 degrees is a lot more BTUs to deal with than keeping a small space at 70. 

So far, I haven't noticed my basement getting very hot, and of course the heat has to get to the wine, so the nice, thick bottles are some help... but to be safe, I go visit them when we have a heat spell, and I have thought about just putting in a couple cheap wine fridges anyway.  Given all the complaints about how the inexpensive ones don't last, I think I am just going to wait until I move to a bigger house and start from scratch.  The odds are we won't stay where we are, so I'm keeping the basement in the neighborhood of 100 bottles, with 30 to 40 bottles in the house for drinking in less than a year.  The house stays pretty cool where the wine is, and a year isn't that long. I'll probably drink the cellar bottles a little on the young side, anyway.

But I am mystified at the problem ArubaMike has.  What a loss of wine, or the money it represents that could be used to buy wine that hasn't gone bad.  I hope Snoothers can help him figure it out.

Reply by GregT, Dec 19, 2010.

The more I think about it, the more I believe the best way for Aruba Mike to find out is to fly a few of us down to Aruba for a first-hand inspection of the problem.  What do you think?

Reply by Richard Foxall, Dec 19, 2010.

If only I could get away... but plainly, he needs objective palates.

Okay, from now on, every thread is about "What's happening to wine?" and the solution to all problems is, "Fly us in and we'll drink your wine." NG is running out of space to store wine, that works.  Someone wants to know what wines they should be buying to lay down, it works again. Food pairings?  No worries, we fly in and drink your wine.

GregT, you're brilliant.

Reply by ArubaMike, Dec 19, 2010.

Guys, I'd love to fly you to Aruba for a tasting. Problem is, my wine cellar is in Massachusetts (I have a condo in Aruba and wish I was there right now).

Good News: As I type this I am drinking a 2000 Insignia which is perfect.

Bad News: I just dumped a 2000 Pine Ridge Howell Mountain Cab and a 1998 Chateau Montelena Cab to get to the Insignia. The 1998 was so horrible I swear I poisoned myself.

I've read there are six ways wine can go bad. As strange as it sounds I would love to attend a tasting of 'bad wine' to help me identify it now and in the future.

As for vendors, I don't patronize any one in particular, and I brought my Pine Ridge bottles home with me from the winery when we were in Napa at that time (I highly recommend the French Laundry by the way).

Reply by Degrandcru, Dec 19, 2010.

Yes, Greg is right. Its Aruba Mike after all. I'd accept an invitation as well. Nothing wrong about wine tasting in the caribean...

Mike if you really live in Aruba and deal with the few vendors down there, I would look to Foxalls recommendations. I've seen some quite expensive wine stored at horrible conditions in beach towns in Mexico. (E.g. a store with quite an impressive selection supplying hotels in Puerto Vallarta without cooling, about 28 C during a hot day). How they got away with it? Well, quite simple, they were the only ones in town.

Reply by Richard Foxall, Dec 20, 2010.

The mystery deepens.  I love the idea of tasting wine under almost any circumstances, but I think I will let ArubaMike do the "bad wine" tasting and report back.

How did you ship your Pine Ridge?  Frankly, I am running out of ideas to control for variables, but something is going on.  Unless, of course, there's someone who is poisoning you.  Have someone else take the  first sip from now on. Look for needle marks in the capsules and corks.  This is just too strange.

It's also possible that all the vendors are mis-storing the wine.  I've noted in other threads that MA wine culture, imho, left a lot to be desired in the past, and the changes aren't complete.  But that still doesn't explain the Pine Ridge...

Reply by GregT, Dec 20, 2010.

Mike - if you're in MA you're pretty close. I worked the Boston Wine Expo for a few years but alas, looks like this year I'm not going up, or I'd say let's get in touch. 

Honestly - I'm w Foxall.  I"m running out of ideas.  Not to be condescending, but it may simply be the wine itself and you're not liking some of the character of those wines.  You're way too high in terms of percentages to be getting that many corked wines, and if you're buying from random shops, you're way too high in terms of bad storage too. 

Vintages matter, as does storage before you get it and perhaps there's a problem with the distributor?  But that's grasping at straws. 

I opened a wine last night that was completely flawed - reeked of VA and seems like what you're complaining about.  But it's the first wine from my cellar that was like that and I think it's the winemaking.  Australian - 2004 Colonial Estate Envoy if you're interested.  And I'm going to try a glass tonight just to see, but I think it's going to be drain wine.

Foxall - we need to get capes.

If we're going to be flying around checking people's wine, we need capes like any respectable super hero.  Purple seems like a nice idea.

Reply by Richard Foxall, Dec 21, 2010.

I am down for the whole supehero thing, but I think webshooters are a risk for knocking over a lot of glasses.  Capes are tres goofy. How about we just lurk in forbidding shadows with fedoras pulled down over our eyes, like the Shadow? "The Shadow knows... wine."  I kind of like it. 

Reply by ArubaMike, Dec 21, 2010.

Thanks for the thoughts guys, but now I am on a crusade to clean this garbage from my cellar. Easy come, easy go. I poured out four more tonight. Lakoya, Shafer, and Duckhorns. A crying shame.

After a lot more reading, it seems I have oxidation problems. I am replacing my humidity gauge and investing in a small humidifier which I plan to set for 60%. Then I'll start to keep a close eye on my older wines.

Wish me luck!

Reply by schellbe, Dec 21, 2010.

I don't buy the humidity theory. No place is drier than Casper, WY,  and I don't have this problem. I try to humidify my wine, but sometimes I forget, and the humidity drops into the 40s. Besides, you do not have low fill, something I sometimes have for old Bordeaux and Burgundy per 1995. And most of my bottles are good.

I know a lot of French Bordeaux go through a dumb phase for a few years. Try some of those expensive bottles the second night, to see if they have opened up, before you dump anymore down the drain. Or ask the opinion of a number of people with different palates.

The only ones I would dump immediately are the ones that smell like wet cardboard upon opening.


Reply by ArubaMike, Dec 22, 2010.


I read that oxidized wine tastes like 'cheap sherry'. That is the closest taste I can compare to my 'spoiled' wine. I have had other people try it, and they all agree it's battery acid.

I have an open bottle of 2002 Worthy in front of me. I opened it last night. I hesitated before pouring it out and opened something newer to drink. Tonight, it still smells nasty (I gave my tongue a rest) but not like cardboard. More like the cheap sherry.

I will say that I have no problems with low fill. They're all full to the cork. I don't have 'cooked' wine because I never see wine running up the cork or the cork rising up.

My cooling unit does have an aggresive fan which you can hear running anywhere in the house. Maybe I have vibration problems, or maybe too much air circulation is a problem. Could I have an organism or fungus problem which may be uncommon, but contagious?

I've been drinking wine nightly for at least 15 years. I've had wines from around the world and old wines from other peoples cellars. I have never tasted wine like these bad ones before, and I seem to have way too many.

As far as I am concerned the humidifier idea falls into "Do something, even if it is wrong".

Reply by GregT, Dec 22, 2010.

Mike - there are many types of sherry.  Do yourself a favor - go out and get an inexpensive oloroso.  Those have been aged with air contact.  And maybe an inexpensive Madeira too - same story.  You don't need to spend more than maybe $15 or so for each.  They will have a distinctive flavor, some liken it to nuts and caramel, but they're not sweet.  There's a distinctive aroma too.  See if that's what you get. 

A cooked fruit flavor and aroma is different - if you've ever burned a little bit of fruit syrup, like when you're making an apple or peach pie and something gets a bit too overcooked, or if you have tasted lekvar, there's a savory note to the sweet and fruity part. 

I'm not sure how to describe it, but you're pouring out a lot of wine and it seems like you've got a problem that's fixable, since your percentages are so out of whack.

Reply by Richard Foxall, Dec 23, 2010.

You know, everyone warns about the vibration problem, but I don't know what the result would be.  Anyone have any ideas?  Could one test this by taking a new bottle of wine to a paint store and putting it on the paint shaker?  (Probably not--I think the size and shape of the bottle would prevent it. And I'm not serious.)  Would it make sense to buy a young wine (2 bottles) and put one through serious vibration, like putting it right on top of the compresssor, then compare? 

GregT makes a good point that there are many kinds of sherry and oxidized wines.  That experiment would be not very expensive.  I am not sure that "battery acid" is the word I would use to describe them, but I drink very little sherry, so maybe you would feel differently.  But plainly something has to be done.  Everytime you pour what was good wine down the drain, a Snoother loses a second from his/her lifespan.

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