One of the great pleasures of learning about and enjoying wine is curating a wine collection that is personal to your tastes. But choosing and buying wines are only part of the process: they also have to be stored. When preserved correctly, wine can last for decades, even centuries, growing in value and quality. But poor storage can spoil even the greatest wines in the world.
Here are some simple tips for storing wine effectively.
- Store Wine at the Proper Temperature. Of all the factors influencing the quality of stored wine, temperature is perhaps the most important. Unsuitably warm or cold temperatures are a sure way to spoil wine. In general, the ideal temperature for long-term or short-term wine storage is around 55ºF (13ºC), but this can vary from wine to wine. For temperature recommendations about specific wines, consult the manufacturer. Regardless of the type or label, wine should never be kept below 25 °F (-4ºC), which can cause wine to freeze, or above 68°F (20°C), which can accelerate the aging process and destroy volatile compounds. Most importantly, your wine storage temperature should be kept as stable as possible: temperature fluctuations can cause the cork to expand and contract, allowing wine to seep out (or air to seep in) around it.
- Store Wine Bottles Horizontally. For bottles with corks, be sure to store your wine horizontally in a wine rack. Keeping wine on its side helps keep the cork moist, which is key for long-term storage, as a dried out cork can cause seepage and premature aging. While it’s not necessary to keep screw top wine bottles on their sides, horizontal storage is nevertheless an efficient way to store your wines for maximum space and easy access.
- Protect Wine from Light and Vibration. Whether you’re storing it for months, weeks, or days, keep your wine in the dark as much as possible. UV rays from direct sunlight can damage wine’s flavors and aromas. You should also keep wines away from sources of vibration, such as your washer and dryer, exercise area, or stereo system. Vibrations can disturb sediments in the bottle, disrupting the delicate process that causes wines to age favorably.
- Store Wine at the Proper Humidity. Humidity extremes in your wine cellar or storage area can also impact your wine’s longevity. At lower humidity levels, your corks can dry out, leaving the wine vulnerable to the effects of oxygen, while higher humidity can cause labels to peel off the bottles, making them difficult to display or sell. In general, your wine cellar humidity should be between 60 and 68 percent.
- Store Wine in a Wine Fridge, Not a Regular Fridge. If you don’t have a wine storage space that’s consistently cool, dark, and moist, a wine refrigerator (also known as a wine cooler) is a good idea. Unlike a standard refrigerator, which keeps your food very cold and dry, a wine fridge keeps wine between 50-60˚F (10-15˚C) and at the proper humidity. (A good fridge will also have a cooler setting for champagne.) Keeping your wine in a separate wine fridge also helps prevent cross-contamination from food odors. If cost is a concern, remember: wine can be an investment, and in that case a good wine fridge is a way to protect your investment.
- Serve Wine at the Proper Temperature. When preparing to serve a stored bottle to fellow wine lovers, allow time for it to come up (or down) to the proper serving temperature. This ensures full expression of wine aroma and flavor. Red wine should be served chilled slightly below room temperature, somewhere between 58 and 65˚F (about 12-19˚C). The precise temperature is determined by the age of the wine, with older wines being held better at 61-65˚F and younger wines on the colder end of the spectrum. Reds with stronger tannins should be kept on the warmer end of the temperature spectrum than lighter red wines, which can go as cold as 55˚F. White wines, meanwhile, can and should be served colder than reds. But they mustn’t be kept so cold as to affect the aromas. Instead, white wine should be chilled between 45-55˚F (8-12˚C). White sparkling wines should be on the colder end of that spectrum, as should sweet white wines. Champagne should be served coldest of all, at 38-45˚F (5-8˚C).
- Store Open Bottles of Wine Properly. Stored properly, an opened bottle of wine can last 3-5 days. The key to extending the shelf life of an open wine and retain its original qualities is to recork it promptly and tightly. To recork wine, place some wax paper around the cork and slide it back into its original position. The wax will ease the cork into the top and also ensure that no stray parts of the cork drop into the bottle. If recorking isn’t an option——for instance, if the cork is splintered or has been discarded—a rubber wine stopper can create a tight seal. Finally, an upgrade option for recorking is a wine vacuum pump, which enables you to suck the air out of an open bottle, creating a nearly airtight seal.
By: James Suckling, MasterClass Instructor