Why bother to store your wine “properly”?
Well, we’re assuming that every wine purchase you make is based on the anticipation of a truly rewarding experience in tasting that wine – either for yourself, or as a gift. You want that wine to be at its very best when the cork is removed, rather than a bitter disappointment. You want it to taste at least as good as the tasting you’ve already had, or read about. Therefore, you need to take steps to ensure that your wine ages gracefully. Many a bottle (or case) of wine has been stashed for a future day, without much concern for storage conditions, only to be found undrinkable when finally tasted, and poured down the drain.
So, what are the factors we should concern ourselves with? They are temperature, humidity, light, and to a lesser extent, vibration.
Temperature – cool and stable
Red wines should optimally be stored at around 55 degrees. And, that temperature should not vary much over time. Gradual changes of a few degrees up and down over longer periods of time (such as months) are not a concern, but larger changes, more frequently occurring, are a concern. Wine cellars typically vary 5 degrees or so across the seasons, whereas wine kept in a basement may well vary much more – maybe as much as 20 degrees, which is a concern. Likewise, wine kept in a refrigerator (while being too cool anyway), can vary by several degrees many times per hour.
Why is temperature fluctuation an issue? Because when the wine bottle warms a bit, a tiny bit of wine will be forced through the cork.Then, when the temperature drops a bit, a tiny amount of air is drawn in. Over time, with many such cycles, the wine is subject to overbreathing, and premature aging.
Humidity – damp, but not too much
Optimal humidity for storing wines is between 50% – 70% relative humidity. Too dry, and the cork can dry out, allowing wine to seep out and air to seep in, and likely ruining the wine. Too moist, and the cork and label can mold – much less of a concern, but an aesthetic concern, nonetheless.
Light – darkness is best
The UV rays in sunlight and fluorescent light can damage wine, causing it to be “lightstruck”, or having a wet cardboard taste. White wines are particularly vulnerable to this. Red wines are less vulnerable, due to their chemical makeup, and the fact that they are typically bottled in dark glass. It’s still best to store all of your wines in the dark, or at least out of direct light.
Other factors – vibration and the neighborhood
It does matter what other foods or chemicals are in the “neighborhood” of where you store your wine. Strong smells can certainly interact with wine over time, and seriously affect its taste. So, you should keep your wine away from onions, garlic, strong cheese, and of course any household chemicals. This is why the kitchen refrigerator is only a very short term solution.
The jury is still out over whether vibration is bad for wine. The thinking is that vibration stirs up any sediment, or other small particles in the wine, causing it to interact excessively with the wine. Not much testing has been performed on this factor, and those results have been inconclusive. So, vibration is not a major concern, but should still be avoided when the option is readily available.
Choosing a wine storage unit
OK, so what are our options for storing wine in order to enhance, or at least retain, its characteristics? Your choices depend on a number of factors, including the length of time you’ll be storing your wines, the number and type of bottles you’ll be storing, the space you have available, and the location of that space, the features you need and want, and, of course, price.
First, let’s consider the types of wine storage units available.