Wine Storage - Some Helpful Advice

Have you bought some nice wine that you are planning keep for a special occasion or maybe you wish to start your own wine collection. What are the best tips for successfully storing your wine?

Firstly, it’s useful to remember that only a small percentage of fine wines on the market benefit from long-term aging. Most wines are best enjoyed within a few years of release. If you’re looking to buy wines to mature, you should really consider investing in a proper wine fridge or an external wine storage solution, but more about that later.

For everyone else, however, following a few simple guidelines should keep your wines safe until you’re ready to drink them.

1. Keep It Cool

Heat is enemy number one for wine. Temperatures higher than 21°C will age a wine more quickly than is usually desirable. And if it gets too much hotter, your wine may get “cooked,” resulting in flat aromas and flavours. The ideal temperature range is between 7°C and 18°C (and 14°C is often cited as close to perfect), though this isn’t an exact science. Don’t worry too much if your storage runs a couple degrees warmer, as long as you’re opening the bottles within a few years from their release.

2. But Not Cold

Keeping wines in your household refrigerator is fine for a couple months, but it’s not a good bet for the longer term. The average fridge temp sits between 3 - 4°C to safely store perishable foods, and the lack of moisture (humidity) could eventually dry out corks, which might allow air to seep into the bottles and damage the wine. Keeping wine in a fridge for a longer time will also slow down the aging process which is not ideal.

3. Consistency Is The Key

More important than worrying about achieving a perfect 12°C is avoiding the landmines of rapid, extreme or frequent temperature variations. Temperature variation is likely to be more critical for older wines where the seal of the cork is less tight (corks lose some elasticity with age). The problem with temperature variations is that the volume of the wine expands as temperature rises, decreasing the ullage volume, and then contracts as temperature falls, increasing the ullage volume. If the closure is providing a completely airtight seal then this is of relatively little consequence. Aim for consistency, but don’t get paranoid about minor temperature fluctuations; wines may see worse in transit from the winery to the store. (Even if heat has caused wine to seep out past the cork, that doesn’t always mean the wine is ruined. There’s no way to know until you open it—it could still be superb).

4. Turn Off the Lights

Light, especially sunlight, can pose a potential problem for long-term storage. The sun’s UV rays can degrade and prematurely age wine. One of the reasons why vintners use coloured glass bottles? They’re like sunglasses for wine. Light from household bulbs probably won’t damage the wine itself, but can fade your labels in the long run.

5. Humidity Is Important But Not Critical

Conventional wisdom says that wines should be stored at an ideal humidity level of 70 percent. The theory goes that dry air will dry out the corks, which would let air into the bottle and spoil the wine. Yes, this does happen, but unless you live in a very dry desert or arctic like climate, it probably won’t happen to you. Anywhere between 50 percent and 80 percent humidity is considered safe, and placing a tray or saucepan of water in your storage area can improve conditions. Conversely, extremely damp conditions can promote mould. This won’t affect a properly sealed wine, but can damage the labels. A dehumidifier can fix that.

6. Flat or Standing – Storing Or On Show

Traditionally, bottles have been stored on their sides in order to keep the liquid up against the cork, which theoretically should keep the cork from drying out. If you’re planning on drinking these bottles in the near-term, or if the bottles have alternative closures (screw caps or synthetic corks), this is not necessary.

7. Limit The Movement

There are theories that vibration could damage wine in the long term by speeding up the chemical reactions in the liquid. Some serious collectors worry about even the subtle vibrations caused by electronic and other appliances, though there’s little evidence supporting the impacts of this. Significant vibrations could possibly disturb the sediment in older wines and keep them from settling, potentially making them unpleasantly gritty.

So Where Should I Store My Wine?

If you do not have a cool, not-too-damp basement or underground garage that can double as a cellar, you can improvise with some simple wine racks in a safe place. Rule out your kitchen or laundry, where hot temperatures could affect your wines, and look for a location that is generally less effected by climate control systems and not directly in line with sun light pouring in from a window. Perhaps there is a little-used closet or other vacant storage area that could be repurposed for storing wine?

If I Want to Buy a Wine Fridge, What Should I Look For?

If you have decided it is time to bite the bullet and invest in a good quality wine fridge then do some research to find out which model will best suit your current but more importantly future needs.

For some further reading please visit my article on ‘How to Choose the Right Wine Fridge’.