The dogma around wine storage can be off-putting, but not as off-putting as a 1996 Barolo that tastes like seaweed. And even if it doesn’t completely deteriorate, wine stored in substandard conditions can age at unpredictable rates and develop ‘off’ aromas and flavors. There are several factors to keep in mind, but each of them are easily addressed.
Temperature control is the bellwether of wine health. Consistency is key—a gradual temperature fluctuation is much better on wine than a 55-degree day followed by a 75-degree day—and the goal, for both white and red wines, is between 55 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Temperature swings make the wine expand and force gases in the bottle to push on the cork, allowing in oxygen. Oxidation is good when intentional, but can drain wine of its fruit and freshness.
Cork is still the most common wine closure, and it needs some humidity to maintain its seal; aim for about 70 percent humidity. It’s why refrigerators aren’t ideal—their low, steady temperatures also come with low, drying humidity. Keeping bottles on their sides help prevent the cork from drying out, but still allow air to penetrate where wine doesn’t touch the cork, making the storage environment’s overall humidity all the more important.
Wooden crates and tinted bottles aren’t aesthetic decisions; light—both sunlight and artificial—can react with the phenolic compounds in wine to contribute to its deterioration. Basements can be dark but are often subject to frequent on-off light switching; wine fridges can negate this effect.
The jury is out as to the exact long-term effects of vibration on long-term wine storage, but as with temperature, we know that abrupt variation is a problem (i.e.: don’t subject your Champagne to daily refrigerator door use). Avoid storing wine near laundry rooms—or oft-slammed doors—and choose stable flooring for wine storage units.
With the move towards non-compressor, thermoelectric units and low-decibel energy-efficient compressor units, modern freestanding cellars can be placed in living and dining rooms without worrying about background ‘refrigerator’ noise, while stylish furniture-style cabinetry adapts to any room and decor.
SPACE and BUDGET
Large and custom cellars needn’t be ostentatious luxuries. For the space- and budget-challenged, two small units—or one home and one office unit—can be a better option than one larger home unit. And with proper construction and insulation, oddball nooks and crannies—under stairs, small closets, unused alcoves or pantries—can be converted into climate-controlled cellars that are both functional and attractive. Professional off-site storage works well in conjunction with in-home storage, as a way to expand your storage capability and take advantage of case discounts, winery clubs, and auctions.