Wine is among the oldest of beverages. Today, millions of consumers around the world drink wine to enjoy its beautiful aromatic bouquet, its complex flavors or its ability to complement fine cuisine. However, wine’s original appeal was its safety.
We began producing and drinking wine because it was easy to keep free of bacteria (killed by the high levels of alcohol) and the contaminants, natural and manmade, found in every premodern source of water.
Most people today are well aware of the health and safety issues that come along with drinking too much wine, or drinking it irresponsibly—accidents and poor choices from intoxication, and diseases of the liver, to name a few. However, most of us never hear much about the safety issues that are not related to intoxication or unhealthy over-drinking, but which have resulted in great injury to many consumers.
As a professional sommelier, I’ve seen (or heard stories of) it all. Here are five mostly unknown safety issues to be aware of when storing, serving and consuming wine, just as applicable to the restaurant wait staff as to the home wine enthusiast:
1) Flying Champagne corks can cause serious harm. Knowing that the pressure inside a bottle of Champagne is between 70 to 90 psi, it’s no surprise that many people suffer from eye and other injuries each year from improperly removed corks. When you open any bottle of sparkling wine, keep your thumb firmly planted over the cork, and place a serviette over your hand. Then, pointing the bottle away from every person in the room (or anything that could be knocked over), twist the cork gently until it begins lifting out of the bottle. Hold tight until the cork is all the way out of the bottle.
2) Storing wine in an unsecured high place can result in serious injury. A bottle of wine weights about two pounds, and the glass is surprisingly easy to shatter. Where I live in California and in many other places that are prone to earthquakes, this can be a serious issue. Many people store wine for years at a time, and don’t think about the bottles that could have rolled around during a small earthquake. Be sure to secure any top-shelf bottles in your wine cellar or cabinet. Of course, this principle applies to any wine storage space that might be shifted or moved across time. Keep your bottles secure in boxes, specialized shelving, or in crates to ensure against the danger of falling bottles when you next retrieve a wine.
3) Capsules of screw-top wine bottles are very sharp, if you attempt to remove them. If you’re used to removing a cork from a bottle of wine, you might expect the capsule that goes around the neck of the bottle (usually made from a non-heavy foil) to be easy and safe to remove. However, attempting to remove the metal capsule from a bottle of wine with a screw-top can be dangerous. The metal is several times thicker than a normal capsule and can create extremely sharp if you attempt to remove it from the bottle.
4) Wine is an extremely sensitive fluid that is easily damages by temperate fluctuations. While temperatures that are too low (below 40 °F) can slow down the aging process and possibly create freeze burn, the biggest problem will be high temperatures. Storing or transporting wine above 90 °F can spoil the wine quickly. Since most of the temperature damage occurs during transport, foodservice operators and wine collectors often don’t find out about a contaminated wine until years later. The damage is not visible from outside the bottle. Gladly, most spoilage is not directly harmful to human health, and a spoiled collection is easily identified by an experienced wine expert. The optimal storage condition for wine is 55 °F, without light and vibrations.
There are just a few of the common wine-related injuries reported each year, which we would all do well to be more vigilant about.
Sommelier Jörn Kleinhans is a certified specialist of wine and owner of The Sommelier Company. Visit www.SommelierCompany.com to learn more.