Short Term Storage of Wine at Home

Many wine drinkers are concerned about keeping their wines safe in storage. A common misconception is that all wines will benefit from aging. In reality, most wines – with the exception of really high quality wines – are meant to be enjoyed in the first year or two after bottling, rather than aging for a few years in a cellar. In fact, a good rule of thumb is based on price – if it’s expensive, and made from a tannic grape (for examples, Bordeaux, Red Burgundy, Barolo, and the like), the wine could use aging for seven years or more. Other reds do not need, and will not likely benefit from, aging after purchase. Likewise, the vast majority of white wines will not improve with age at all. So, most of the time, you won’t need to age the wine at all; in fact, the wine can degrade with age.

It’s still important to safely store wine for a couple of years, for reasons other than aging – say, we collected a few bottles on vacation, received them as gifts, or got a particularly great deal on a case of wine that we really liked. So, our goal is to keep these wines stored carefully enough to preserve their goodness for a year or two.

The most important considerations in safely storing wine at home are: keeping it consistently cool, keeping it in the dark, and keeping it from being jostled. The most important of these is temperature control. The average temperature is of utmost importance, since any temperature above typical room temperature (72 degrees F) will accelerate the aging of the wine. As we’ve established, these wines don’t need aging, and aging may well degrade them. Particularly hot temperatures, those in excess of 90 degrees F, can “cook” a wine, ruining it completely.

In addition to the average temperature itself, it’s important to avoid fluctuations in temperature – both short term (night to day) and long term (through the seasons). The warming and cooling of the wine bottle can loosen the cork, letting in air, which leads to oxidation, damaging the wine. The more frequent and/or extreme the change, the worse it is for the wine.

Light is also detrimental for wine – especially sunlight, and to a lesser extent, fluorescent light. The ultraviolet light from these light sources can cause oxidation of the wine. Humidity can also be problematic, since too low relative humidity can cause the cork to dry out and let in air, again leading to oxidation. Finally, vibration increases oxidation, as it circulates any sediment that may be present in the bottle. One more thing – as most people know, it’s best to store the bottles on their sides, to keep the cork moist, preventing it from drying out and resulting in evaporation and oxidation.

The good news is, you may well already have all you need to store your wine safely for a year or two at home. You’ll want to find a place in your home that’s consistently cool, fairly dark, and still. Obviously, you should avoid heat sources like ovens (skip the kitchen altogether), dryers, and heating vents. Possibly the worst place, although a common choice, is a liquor cabinet above the kitchen fridge.

Your best
bets may be a basement or a dark closet. Many people consider the garage, but keep in mind that garage temperature swings are often extreme – both daily and across the seasons, and it can get very warm in summer. The kitchen refrigerator may seem like a good spot, but storing wine there for more than a week or so is not really a good idea. The kitchen fridge is too cold, which can flatten the taste of the wine, while the dry air can dry out the cork, leading to oxidation. Perhaps an even bigger problem is that other smells, like onions and garlic, can infiltrate the wine.

If you don’t have a suitable place in a basement or closet, or you plan to age your wine longer than a year or two, you’ll need a wine cooler – a refrigerator designed to keep wine at a cool, consistent temperature, usually with light and humidity controls as well. Wine coolers don’t have to be expensive – you can pick up a 12-bottle wine cooler of reasonable quality for around $100. Keep in mind, though, that once you actually have a wine cooler, you’ll likely collect a lot more wine. (We built our own wine rack in our basement to hold 36 bottles, then filled it completely within a couple of weeks.) So, you might consider a 50-bottle capacity wine cooler, or even larger. And, be sure to check out the reliability of any model you’re considering – some of the cheaper wine coolers may fail prematurely, ruining their contents in the process.

So, don’t worry too much about storing your wine for long periods of aging. Generally, you’ll just want to preserve their quality over a year or two, which can easily be accomplished in your own home, or with an inexpensive wine cooler.

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