I’m really happy to answer this question because I’ve been in your shoes. I went from buying a bottle and “aging” it for a couple hours or however long it took to get it home and open it to having a few bottles on hand to now storing multiple cases. And whether you’re storing your wine for a week, a few months, or even years there are a few basic principles that you want to consider.
Imagine for a moment that you’re visiting an old wine cellar in Bordeaux, France. You’re probably thinking of a place that is dark, cool, a bit musty, and the bottles – stacked on their sides from floor to ceiling -haven’t been disturbed for years or perhaps many decades.
There’s a reason wine has been stored underground for centuries That is the best atmosphere for aging a preserving wine.
So let’s look at the components of those old cellars. The main considerations are light, temperature, humidity, vibration, and position.
LIGHT: Wherever you store your wine, you’ll want to keep it in a dark place, definitely out of any direct sunlight. Essentially, the UVA and UVB rays from the sun can adversely affect the oxidation and flavor of wine. I’m not going to get into the crazy complex science behind this, mainly because (a) I’m not a scientist, and (b) I don’t want you to fall asleep. Just know that for your wine, sunlight = bad, dark storage = good.
TEMPERATURE: We need to remember that wine is a living thing. All of the components of wine are reacting to each other throughout fermentation and aging, whether in a barrel of steel vat or five-gallon pickle tub. And these reactions don’t stop once it’s in the bottle. Again, there’s a lot of science that goes into this, but know that the generally-accepted ideal temperature for storing wine is about a constant 55 to 57 degrees Fahrenheit. Yeah, that’s pretty cool, and not a temperature most of us want to have in our homes.
HUMIDITY: Remember that old French cellar and the somewhat mustiness of it? That’s because a really good relative humidity for aging/preserving (the complex chemical process of wine components reacting to each other) wine is about 60-70%. The average home is a little drier than that, with a humidity of about 40-50%.
VIBRATION: Wine needs to stay undisturbed. In addition to screwing with the natural aging process, vibration can stir up sediment. Those are two things we want to avoid, so we want to keep our wines still and free from vibration.
POSITION: Finally, this is something most of us know already. It used to be that most wine bottles were closed with natural cork, which could dry out and then allow air into the bottle, which would speed up the oxygenation of the wine. So to combat that, wine bottles are best stored on their sides so the wine itself can stay in contact with the cork and keep it from drying out. Nowadays, bottles can be closed with synthetic corks, screw caps, you name it. Most wine storage systems still focus on storing bottles on their sides, so no matter what stopper the bottle has, you’re covered.
How do all of these things factor into how you store your wine when you don’t have a French chateau cellar? Let’s look at the possibilities, from the most basic to the more complex.
Everybody’s home is different. Some people live in a small apartment, while others may have a large single-family home with a basement. While not every situation is ideal, there are things you can do to store your wine in the best way possible for you.
Just keep these things in mind:
– Keep it dark. (out of direct sunlight)
– Keep it cool. (as close to 55-57 degrees F as you can)
– Maintain around 60-70% humidity.
– Minimize vibration.
– Lay bottles with natural cork closures on their sides.
Let’s say you live in a city apartment like I do and perhaps you’re on a budget. Not a lot of extra space. No basement. What can you do? Do you have an interior closet? I found that when I cleared out part of a closet, I had enough space to put some basic wine racks where they would be out of the sun, a little bit cooler (I tested it and found that for some reason, this particular closet is about 4 to 5 degrees cooler than the rest of my apartment), no perceptible vibration, and bottles can be on their sides. Admittedly, I couldn’t do much about humidity.
Was this solution perfect? No, but it began to address several of the major issues. And I’m guessing that if you’re in this situation you probably are storing wine for weeks or a few months and maybe not years.
What should you avoid?
Many apartments and some single-family home kitchens are designed with a wine rack built in to the cabinetry. It is often over the refrigerator or above the counter. The designers who did this are obviously not wine aficionados. The heat, vibration, and sometimes direct sunlight that bottles in these racks are subject to would harm them quickly.
If you’ve got a basement, you’re a step ahead. Again, look for a closet (maybe under the stairs) that is cool, dark, and undisturbed. Often basements can have a higher humidity than the upper floors of a house so it is generally a better location for your wine.
Want to go a bit further and keep your wine longer?
It’ll cost more than some racks in a closet, but you may want to consider a wine storage chiller. When I decided I wanted to start collecting more seriously and purchase wine that I might not drink for five or ten or even 15 years, I bought a wine storage chiller. They can be a good option because they can hold wine out of the sun, at a constant, cool temperature, at the right humidity, with little to no vibration, and with bottles on their sides.
Chillers run the gamut in size, features, and price, so you really need to decide what your needs are…and what you think they are going to be in the future. You may be holding on to a couple dozen bottles or so at a time now, but a few years from now will you want to be storing five cases or more?
How much do you want to spend? Chillers can run anywhere from a few hundred dollars to many thousands. Keep in mind that this is something you will (hopefully) be using for many years to come, so it is an investment. And with that, you do need to determine how important it is to you to have your wine stored this way.
Where you put it is also a consideration. Chillers come in all sizes, so chances are you’ll be able to find one that works with the space you have. They can be built in to fit under a kitchen or bar counter or free standing.
When I decided to upgrade from wine racks to a wine storage chiller, I simply put the chiller in the space where I’d put the racks – my coat closet. It took some shifting around of other things I store there, but I’m happy with the result.
(The lights in the chiller aren’t on all the time, but they look good for a photo!)
How to find a good wine chiller?
Like any other big purchase, you need to do your homework. A good place to start is www.wineenthusiast.com. They’ve got a range of chillers with different features and price points, so it is a pretty good resource for seeing what’s available. From there, you may want to shop around so you can get exactly what you want for the price you want.
There are a couple more options for wine storage, but these are really for the serious collector. Most major urban areas have wine storage facilities. They are temperature and humidity controlled and your wines are kept safe. This ain’t cheap, but if you’re storing expensive wines, it could be an option.
Bottom line: How you choose to store your wine is really dependent on your unique situation – your budget, how many bottles you think you’ll be storing, and how long you’ll be storing them. Whatever you choose, remember that wine isn’t meant to be looked at; it’s meant to be enjoyed. So create a great space for your wine, but don’t forget to drink it!
How are you storing your wine? Leave me an comment in the comments section.