The Basics: How To Store Wine

27 04 2011

I’ve mentioned previously that around 95% of all wine on the market is meant to be popped and poured (blog product placement totally intentional) within 6 months of purchase.  For these wines, unless you keep them in the trunk of your car or directly over top of your stove, storage conditions probably won’t be a huge concern.  However, for wines that are intended to be aged, or for any wine that you want to try and keep in optimal condition, storage techniques become much more important.  Proper storage helps ensure that your $20 (or $50, or $200) bottle of wine will give you your money’s worth and show itself as well as possible when you do pull the cork; best of all, you don’t need a high-tech humidity-controlled cellar to keep your wines in good shape.  If you follow these basic storage rules, you will be ahead of the wine-aging game:

  1. Keep those corks fed and watered.

    Store Wine On Its Side:  This is primarily a rule geared towards wines with natural corks, because storing wine horizontally ensures that the wine is always in contact with the cork, which prevents the cork from drying out, shrinking and allowing air to seep through into the wine.  Oxygen is public enemy number one to wine preservation, and keeping air out is a cork’s primary function.  A wet cork will swell up a bit with moisture and form a tight seal in the neck of the bottle, thereby keeping the wine from getting oxidized and prematurely aging.  I would assume that the side storage rule would be much less important for screwtop wines, which are sealed airtight by a closure that doesn’t expand or contract based on its moisture content, but you won’t go wrong if you store all your wine this way.

  2. Wal-Mart: your wine accessory store?

    Cool & Constant Temperature:  Temperature is the most critical factor in wine storage, both in terms of the measured storage temperature and in terms of how much that temperature fluctuates.  Constant fluctuation from hotter to colder temperatures will cause expansion and contraction in your wines’ corks, and that growing and shrinking process will eventually let air inside the bottle to attack the wine.  If your storage temperature is too warm (and yes, room temperature is too warm), then the chemical reactions that occur in the wines as they age will be accelerated and the wines won’t last long and won’t taste right when they are opened.  The ideal temperature for storing wine is around 12 degrees Celsius (54-55 degrees Fahrenheit), but anything between 10 and 15 degrees C (50 and 60 F) will probably be fine.  One easy way to make sure you maintain a proper constant storage temperature is to buy a wine fridge — these can be quite expensive, but the best cheap-ish model I’ve found is this one at Walmart, which is around $300, stores 45 bottles and keeps a steady temperature without constant monitoring.  If you don’t have a wine fridge, a cool corner of your basement or coldroom (provided it’s not TOO cold) could do the trick.

  3. Pretty? Yes. Good storage? No.

    In The Dark:  Just as warm temperatures interfere with wine’s natural aging process and prematurely break it down, UV light causes similar problems.  This is, incidentally, why most wine bottles are tinted green or brown:  the bottles are effectively acting as sunglasses for the wine within.  To avoid any unpleasant UV interaction, make sure you store your wines in a dark spot where they won’t come into contact with direct sunlight.  Again, this will probably make no difference at all over the span of a few weeks, but it will have an effect over a number of months/years.  A lot of homes nowadays have open-air wine racks built into kitchen islands or cabinets; while these may look nice, you should only keep your high-rotation wines in them, because the combined effect of sun and heat (why store your wine in the hottest room in your house?) will lay a beating on anything lying there for more than a few months.

Since I live in bone-dry alpine Calgary, I should also note that humidity has an effect on wine aging and that storage conditions that are overly dry can also lead to shrinking corks and air exposure.  However, since my wine fanaticism has not yet hit the point where I am humidifying my wines (it would be a little weird to let the baby sleep humidifier-free but keep my Cabernets and Rieslings moisture-protected), I think that if you follow the 3 rules above, your wines will age gracefully in almost all cases.
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