Ask Wine Wizard

I think I might have ruined 350 bottles of my Merlot when I stored it in a wine locker and the odor and taste changed. What do you think happened?


Chris Ferrari — San Jose, California asks,

One of my favorite batches is a 2002 Merlot, which was naturally fermented (no added sugars or yeast), aged in an oak barrel for 10 months or so, stored in stainless kegs for six months, then filtered, polished and bottled in early 2004. I would pass out bottles to everyone, boasting of my winemaking skills, and everyone was very complimentary of the taste. Since I had 350 bottles of my Merlot in the garage, I thought storing the wine in an ideal wine locker (55 °F or 13 °C with 70% humidity) would preserve it. Unfortunately, after several months of storage, the wine has a different odor and taste, not to my liking. Did I just ruin my Merlot? Can this be bottle shock? I’m thinking I should have just left the wine in my garage. Is it possible this may be part of the aging process? Please help. I’m in the process of building a temperature-controlled wine cellar, but this experience is making me second-guess my intentions.


It’s hard to say “what went wrong” in this situation as the life of every wine is a fog of carefully guarded secrets that even my scrying glass can’t penetrate. However, the one thing that sticks out for me in your telling above is the drastic change in environment from your garage to the wine locker. In my experience, it’s better to keep wine, in barrel or bottle, in a constant set of conditions, even if the temperature and humidity is a bit above or below the “perfect” digits.

In contrast, your bottles could just be going through what we call a “dumb phase,” which often happens during the aging process. Every wine has a life cycle and, like humans, often aren’t at their peak when exposed to stresses like moving or a drastic change in the weather. I suggest waiting a couple of months to see if your wine experiences a change in attitude.

With respect to your plans to build yourself a wine storage cellar, I say bravo! Go ahead with your plans with 55 ºF (13 °C) and 70% humidity as the goals and don’t worry about those numbers being the cause of your problems. You’re setting yourself up for some good wine storage conditions, which your wines will appreciate all the more when there from the outset.

Response by Alison Crowe.