Storing wine is an iffier business than one might think – despite everything we’ve known from books and movies and those reality cooking shows going on about the older the wine, the more delectable the taste, it’s not as simple as just stashing our bottles somewhere for a couple of years before they’re ready to drink. While this is true (in the case of some wines), for centuries wine-lovers with the means have invested in whole cellars to keep their acquisitions for a reason. To do your wine justice, how you store it is key to make sure that when you pop a bottle out to complement a fancy dinner or in celebration of that promotion you just got, it gets to fully realize itself instead of leaving a dull, flat taste in your mouth, .
So how do we go about storing wine? We’re glad you asked.
It stands to reason that one of the main reasons for keeping wine stashes in cellars is to keep them cool – from way before the advent of refrigerators, maintaining a constant, chilled temperature has been a mainstay of wine storage protocol. And while we do have refrigerators now, we don’t recommend you keep your bottles in them either, not for too long at least.
Contradictory though it may all sound, the trick is to actually maintain cool, steady temperatures, rather than anything excessively warm or cold. Heat makes wine mature faster, so rather than titillating your tastebuds with the fruity sour-sweet blend of your reds you might feel as though you’re chugging vinegar if you’ve left a bottle out in the open – perhaps in your kitchen or atop the dinner table you’d not felt up to cleaning right away, without an ice bucket to keep it cool. In fact, we highly recommend keeping your wine away from any room that tends to get too warm, especially the kitchen – while it might be more convenient to have it handy, this is likely the one place in your home that generates the most heat, and that’s bad news all round for wine, even if you decide to tuck it into the fridge instead. Fridges cool by reducing humidity, and the lack of moisture in there is going to make your cork dry up and shrink, letting the wine seep out.
If you have a handy basement where the temperature doesn’t tend to get too warm or too cold, say falling within the range of 50 to 60°F, this would be an ideal place to set up your wine racks, since even room temperatures are too warm for wine. Alternately, if there aren’t any shady, pleasantly cool closets or rooms in your home, you can invest in a wine cooler instead. This would be an efficient, practical way of maintaining steady temperatures, too, since wine doesn’t fare well from fluctuating temperatures.
Horizontally stacking wine bottles isn’t just a space-saving hack created by our forefathers – it’s got some solid reasoning behind it. By keeping wine bottles on their sides, we can ensure that the liquid inside is constantly touching the cork, keeping it moisturized, so it won’t dry out over time and cause wine to seep. If your bottles come with metal or plastic screw-caps or corks, though, this is less of a concern.
Don’t sweat it
Speaking of moisture and your cork drying out, humidity is another concern we want to keep constant when it comes to wine storage. Too little, and we’re risking the cork drying out and shrinking – too much, on the other hand, and we might have a mold outbreak on our hands. While properly sealed wines won’t be affected, it’s likely the labelling would, and no one wants to present a perfectly-aged bottle at the table with the label barely legible because of the mold – not to mention, that stuff’s just unhealthy to have growing anywhere inside our home. Ideal degrees of humidity fall anywhere between 50 and 80% – you could choose to invest in a humidifier if your chosen storage location gets too dry, and a de-humidifier if it tends to fall on the damp side. And speaking of sides –
Embrace the dark side
And no, we’re not telling you to become a Sith-lord. Ever wonder why wines traditionally come in dark, colored bottles? It’s more than just aesthetics at play here – wine and sunlight, like vampires, don’t go well together. The UV rays cause wine to prematurely age, altering and damaging the taste, and while the darkened bottles of most wines offer a little UV protection, it’s not enough to fully keep your wine’s integrity intact – another reason those wine cellars are a good idea. Wherever you ultimately choose to stack your wine, make sure it isn’t anywhere accessible by direct sunlight, or in rooms with plenty of bright, electrical lighting. Try out LED or incandescent lighting – we’re looking for light sources that illuminate without emitting too much damaging heat and light.
Shaking a wine bottle around is thought to alter the natural chemical processes going on in our bottle of spirits, which is another reason why keeping your wine atop the fridge – or any electronic appliance, really – is a bad idea. Movement, including the movement of a constantly running electronic device, can unsettle the natural aging process of your wine, mixing up the sediments and leave you with a gritty, grainy texture instead of a smooth, full-bodied mouthful. Not to mention, appliances running on electricity are also most likely generating heat, which we’ve already discussed isn’t good news for the longevity of your wines.
Location, Location, Location
In the end, it all boils down to picking the perfect place – dark enough, cool enough, humid enough and, if you’re a fervent collector, spacious enough. If you don’t have a basement, spare room or closet fitting these requirements, you could always opt for a cooling unit, such as a wine refrigerator or storage cabinet (often also used as humidors for cigars), which you can program to maintain a steady temperature of 55°F (considered the perfect temperature for wine storage), preferably with tinted glass for an extra layer of protection if you can’t get the storage location to be dark enough.