Sign up for our Newsletter
Wine Storage

(Credit: Vera Chinese)

Wine Storage

Over the weekend I got sucked into a Facebook discussion about where and how to best store wine once you bring it home from the store or winery. It was sparked by a picture someone posted of a standard refrigerator jam-packed with wine — and not just white wines intended for consumption over the next couple of days. There were reds in there, too, including some moderately expensive Napa cabernet sauvignon and Bordeaux.

It was a nice break from the flood of politically charged Facebook posts, of course, but it was also interesting to see how differently wine lovers — including many wine professionals — approach wine storage.

This isn’t a concern for most Americans; as a group we tend to drink that bottle of wine we bought today within the next few days. In that scenario, how and where you store wine isn’t nearly as important as if you buy a case of Long Island’s finest cabernet franc or red blend and want to age it over the next decade or more.

If tasting how a wine changes as it spends time aging in the bottle is important to you, how and where you store it is much more important. But before I get into how to do that storage, a caveat: I’m not an expert on wine science. This is how I approach wine storage with my current options and situation. What works for me may not work as well for you.

First, store wine on its side if you can. You don’t want the cork to dry out, so keeping it in contact with wine is important. This is one important downside to long-term aging in a standard refrigerator — even if you do lay it down, the dry environment can dry out the cork over time. This is less important with screwcaps and synthetic corks.

Second, I always take the capsules off the bottle tops. They may look pretty, but they don’t serve any real purpose and they can conceal a leaky cork, a hint that the cork may be failing. Without the capsule, you can see these leaks and open those wines sooner than you might have otherwise. No one talks about how little value these capsules offer.

One little side note: A cork that is leaking or has leaked doesn’t necessarily mean the wine is bad. It might be fine. I just open the bottle soon after I notice the leak to maximize the chances that what’s inside is still good.

Next, you need to think about temperature. The complex chemical processes that happen as wine ages take place faster at higher temperatures. On the surface, that may sound like a good thing, but storing wine at a higher temperature for five years won’t result in a wine that tastes like it’s been aged for 10. This high-temperature “speed aging” is likely to result in muted, less complex flavors, something nobody wants. If wine is kept at too high a temperature, the wine will “cook,” leaving you with flat, flabby, stewed flavors. Some people may enjoy those flavors, I guess, but I don’t — and they certainly aren’t what the winemaker had in mind.

The best temperature range for wine is between 55 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Typically, I store white wines toward the 55-degree mark and reds a bit warmer. Don’t store wine in your refrigerator long-term either. It’s too cold and I’ve heard it suggested that the refrigerator’s vibrations will dull flavors as well.

Perhaps even more important than the actual temperature is the consistency of that temperature. As the temperature changes, the wine in the bottle expands and contracts, and if the cork isn’t forming a perfect seal, small amounts of air can enter the bottle. Wine matures via a reductive process that takes place in the absence of oxygen, and if any air does get past the cork it can be detrimental to the wine inside.

I store most of my wine in my basement on cheap racking I got years ago from IKEA. The temperature down there does vary depending on season and weather, but changes are gradual, which is better than sudden, and the wines never get below 50 degrees or above 65.

Humidity is another factor to consider. Your “cellar” should stay between 60 percent and 80 percent humidity. Any more humid than that and mold becomes a possibility. And humidity below 60 percent can cause evaporation and oxidation. This is the battle I fight in my own cellar, which gets drier than that in the winter and more humid in the warmer months. I use humidifiers and a dehumidifier to moderate things, but it’s probably not perfect.

But that’s OK. Lastly, I’d suggest that wine is far tougher than we give it credit for. It doesn’t need to be stored perfectly for its entire life. Keep it cool. Keep it consistent. Keep it dark. Keep it moderately humid. If you can afford a large wine refrigerator, that’s awesome. If not, you can make things work in most cases. On the floor of a dark closet may work. Or in a less-than-ideal basement.

Just don’t store it long-term in the refrigerator. And never store it on top of one either; that offers all of the vibration without the temperature control or protection from sunlight.

Lenn Thompson