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Heatwave   

Itís hot. Today was the hottest day in London for ages. Ever, apparently. 36 degrees centigrade (thatís 97 on the F, for those, like me, who prefer the older measurement Ė interestingly, I find it easier to use Fahrenheit for the top end of the scale, but centigrade for the bottom end). But this is pretty tame compared with whatís happening in the rest of Europe, which is having a terrible time Ė both France and Portugal have experienced devastating forest fires. In the southern regions it has been unbearably hot for ages, and thereís been virtually no rain all summer.

So itís anxious times for anyone relying on Ďpassiveí wine storage. If your cellar or stash is in a cupboard under the stairs or an unused room, then the mercury rising will have caused a fair bit of nervousness. My wine stash has been boxed up and is currently in a north-facing room in our rental accommodation. How worried should we be? Well, there arenít many data on what constitute wine-cooking temperatures. I heard a recent report from an unquotable source about the sort of temperatures experienced in transit from new world regions Ė the wines are typically shipped in non-refrigerated containers. One of the key UK retailers measured the temperatures experienced by wines coming from South Africa, and they were well over 30 C for good portions of the journey. Apparently.

I reckon that a week of very hot weather like this a year isnít a terrible worry, as long as the wine is stored somewhere sensible, such that the temperatures arenít above 30 C for a consistent period, and the maximum doesnít exceed this by much. This is just a guess. Much higher than 30 even for a brief period and you risk cooking your wines.  Older wines will be more susceptible to high temperatures than younger ones, and they will also be more at risk from changes in temperature.

A real concern is what happens to wine before you purchase it. Transport of wine on hot days runs the risk of exposing it to enormously high temperatures. And many wines shops Ė perhaps most of them, in fact Ė lack air conditioning. Iíve been into branches of Oddbins and Threshers where the staff have been sweating away with two or three fans trained on them. If itís too hot for people, then itís too hot for wine.

It will be interesting to see whether vintage 2002 wines currently in cask in the cellars of European producers will be affected by the higher-than-usual temperatures. Those that are lucky enough to have underground cellars wonít have a problem, but producers without will likely be pushed to the limit if they donít have air conditioning. Could we be seeing a lot of spoiled wine on the market six months from now?

Is this hot weather good news for the current European vintage? Normally hot summer = good vintage. But if itís too hot the vines simply shut down in protest and the grapes stop ripening. And water shortages could mean a reduced crop, too Ė remember that in most European regions irrigation is a no-no. Itís looking like this hot weather isnít unalloyed joy for growers after all. This all raises the bigger issue of global warming: if the planet really is getting hotter, then this has implications for classic wine growing regions. Time for a nice cold beer, I feel.

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