How to get the best out of the bottle when you are all at sea
By Simon Greaves (Financial Times)
November 21, 2015 6:01 am
In the becalmed heat off Torbay this summer French skippers in the Solitaire du Figaro used a race radio channel to tease British rivals about their wines. Eventually the conversation on the radio waves turned to more serious matters — how to store wine on board boats.
The ensuing debate reflects challenges that have been faced by those responsible for buying provisions for crew and guests ever since the fruits of viticulture were first spread around the world by early traders and colonialists.
Then, as now, the advice is to select a dimly lit cabin’s locker and avoid the damp corners of bilges. Because vibration can disturb sediment in older wines, often the best spot is midships, where there is less movement, and low down at a boat’s central pivot point.
Unfortunately the best spot is often unavailable. “With restricted accommodation, many clients, who may have 500 to 1,000 bottles on board, look at the last unutilised space for securing and storing wines,” says Andrew Azzopardi, general manager of Malta-based merchants, No 12, adding that this often means choosing locations that are particularly unsuitable.
He explains that wines can age or “move forward” faster at sea because of the movement and engine vibration, possibly causing change at a molecular level, disrupting the tannins and affecting the structure of the wine. “It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what happens but we know that heat and the quality of air conditioning are important because when wines are tasted after storing in different areas they can taste quite different. Something is changing the quality of the wine,” he says, adding: “At sea, the roll and vibration, the extra heat and humidity can affect wines, especially the heat that is generated within the vessel itself.”
A specialised wine fridge is the best long-term solution and merchants suggest keeping stocks fresh by holding wines for the shortest possible time. The fridges themselves are sometimes on gimbals — pivoted supports, which minimise movement.
No 12 has just delivered one of these “floating cellars” with a capacity for 500 bottles that will be fitted under the stairs of a yacht and has recently taken an order from another client requiring a dedicated room to store 1,500 bottles on board a superyacht of over 40m.
Meanwhile, crew training is advancing. Enjoy Discovering Wines, is one of several wine education companies, offering courses in the off-season specifically aimed at superyacht crews.
For the less equipped boat owner, however, there is always the tried and tested method of keeping wines chilled — simply tie a halyard around the neck of the bottles and trawl them in the sea behind the stern.