Wine collections are a point of pride in many households. In other households, a bottle of wine doesn’t last two weeks without being consumed. But, for those looking to stock up, collect, age or just save a specific bottle for a special occasion (is a gloomy Chicago winter day in a pandemic a special occasion?) here are some basic pointers for preserving the quality of those stored bottles.
First and foremost: don’t store it for ages, According to Richard Vayda, the director of wine studies at the Institute of Culinary Education, “Holding on to wines too long [is the] most common mistake I see people making.” Only a small percentage of fine wines benefit from long-term aging, most are meant to be enjoyed within a few years of release. This blog isn’t going to get into professional wine maturing, for that we’d recommend more research and investment in your storage equipment, but for your average wine storage needs…here we go:
Temperature. You want to keep those bottles cool, but not too cool. The sweet spot is often cited as ~55°F, but don’t stress about the thermostat too much; you are safe anywhere between 45° and 65°F. Temperatures over 70°F will age your wine too quickly or, worse, effectively cook your wine. Below 45° could eventually dry out your cork allowing wines old enemy oxygen into the bottle or, even colder, could lead to freezing.
Temperature consistency. Even more important than the specific number on that thermostat is that the number isn’t fluctuating constantly, rapidly and/or extremely. Just like water, temperature changes make wine expand or contract.
Humidity. Too low and your cork could dry out and let in unwanted air, too high and you could get yourself in a moldy situation. But, while conventional wine wisdom says the ideal humidity level is about 70%, the experts over at Wine Spectator say that unless you live in the arctic or you’re storing your wine too long in a fridge, freezer or midwestern garage in the winter, you probably don’t have to stress about the humidity. They also say that mold isn’t really a concern if the bottle has been properly sealed. “Anywhere between 50 and 80% humidity is considered safe,” Wine Spectator insists.
Light. Ever wonder why wine bottles are often colored glass? It’s because light, especially sunlight, can degrade and prematurely age wine. Store your wine in low-light or dark spaces.
Static and sideways. There’s a lot of tradition and theory around both of these items. The gestalt image of a wine collection features bottles stored horizontally. This is, again, a condition largely adopted to prevent the cork from drying out. As we’ve made this list of tips for the short-term wine storers and not the serious collectors, you can probably get away with storing your wine vertically (especially if they have screw caps or synthetic corks). But horizontal racking is often a space saver. Also, while there are theories that any vibration could damage wine by speeding up the chemical reactions in the liquid, the staff at Wine Spectator says you are probably fine unless you are “shaking your wines like a Super Bowl MVP about to spray a bottle of Champagne around the locker room.”
A slight upset in any of these conditions doesn’t mean that your wine is ruined. There’s really no way to know for sure until you open the bottle and have a taste–it could still be delicious. But, consistency and control is everything when it comes to achieving any desired result with wine. It’s why many winemakers entrust their precious cargo to Skolnik stainless steel wine drums during aging or storage, and it’s why we tend to open bottles shortly after they enter our homes.