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The Humidity Myth

December 12th, 2012 by Dean Ricker

Filed under: Wine

A recent piece ran in the Wine Spectator exposing the myth about how your wines should be kept in a cellar with a certain amount of humidity. The figure cited is anywhere from 70 percent to 95 percent humidity. The reason, so-called, is that you need to keep the cork moist. This is nonsense. Think about it. Your wine is encased in a glass bottle. It’s sealed by a tightly compressed cork, one end of which has a dime-sized exposure to air. (Actually, that’s not even fully exposed, as most corks are covered by a capsule.) The other end of the cork is kept outright wet by the wine if the bottle is stored horizontally. How much humidity, if any, is going to penetrate the cork, which is already very tightly compressed? Virtually none. And no scientific study has demonstrated otherwise. So why does this myth persist? Fear, mostly. And history. Wine used to be shipped and held in wooden barrels or casks, even in private homes and certainly in restaurants. Private consumers bottled their own wines when they saw fit. A wood barrel, unlike glass, is porous. When wine is held in a barrel you most definitely want a high humidity, which helps keep the staves tight and reduces the amount of evaporation through the pores of the wood. In a conventional winery cellar, about 10 percent of the contents of a barrel is lost through evaporation every year. This is why wineries like to have caves, which have an ultrahigh, 95 percent humidity. In Napa and Sonoma, which have high-priced wines, the cost of constructing a cave pays for itself in about seven years from “saved” wine. All of this again points to another advantage of Skolnik stainless steel wine barrels. Stainless acts like a tightly corked bottle eliminating evaporation and the need for a humidity controlled environment.

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