My Cellar is in the Closet

I’ve gone from buying one bottle at a time (and drinking it) to having about a case at home at any given time. What is the best way to store my wine?

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 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.


Fighting Crime….Wine Crime

How fast does an opened bottle of wine go bad?

By “go bad” I’m assuming you’re not wondering if your wine joins a gang or becomes a criminal.

Bear with me. My humor (much like an opened bottle of wine) can go bad.

Yes, opened wine will eventually lose its original flavor and can develop a vinegar taste. When a bottle is opened it’s exposed to oxygen. The oxygen interacts with the wine and begins a chemical process that will make the taste of the wine different. And by different I mean bad. Essentially, oxygen provides fuel for bacteria to produce molecules that affect the taste. And when you think about it, that’s kind of criminal.

So how long have you got to fight this crime?

That depends on the wine.

Let’s assume that you put the cork back in all open bottles and put sparkling wines and white wines in the refrigerator, and that you put red wines in a cool, dark place. The following chart gives you a pretty good estimation of how long your wine will last under these conditions.

Chart showing how long opened wine lasts

Why do some wines last longer than others?

For a few reasons. 

First, fuller-bodied whites like oaked Chardonnay are not going to last as long as lighter whites because through their aging process they’ve already been exposed to a certain amount of oxygen. It’s not enough to make the wine taste bad, but it has given the wine kind of a “head start.”

Second, red wines have tannins. And the higher the tannins (and acid) the slower the oxidization process will be when a bottle is opened, giving red wines just a bit longer time to enjoy. But remember, different red wines have different tannin levels. So your Syrah is going to last longer than your Grenache.

Third, fortified wines like Sherry and Port will last much longer because of their higher alcohol and sugar content. They’ve got higher alcohol and sugar because a grape-based liquor like brandy is added during the production process. The higher alcohol and sugar will slow down the oxidization process. Port can last three weeks or longer, and Sherry can go for a couple months.

So how can you make your opened bottle last longer?

The key is to slow down the oxidization process, and there are a couple of steps you can take to do this.

1. Recork the bottle right after you pour. Too often we pour a glass and let the bottle sit out uncorked, letting in lots of oxygen.

2. Put the bottle in the refrigerator – even the reds and fortifieds. Oxidation is a chemical process and the cooler temperature in the refrigerator will slow down that process. Just remember to take the bottle out to warm up before serving the next time. For more on that, see my previous post on serving temperature.

There are also a couple of gadgets you can try to make your opened wine last longer.

The cheaper option is vacuum stoppers. These are stoppers that you place on the bottle then use a pump to remove the oxygen. Do they work? Maybe. Some wine experts love them; some think they’re a waste of money. There have been some studies done on these that have been fairly inconclusive about their effectiveness. But they’re pretty affordable (you can get the pump and two stoppers for $15 or less) and easy to use. I use them and believe I get about an extra day from an opened bottle with them.

The more expensive gadget option is the Coravin®. At about $200 for the basic model, this had better work! And according to wine experts, it does. Essentially this contraption sticks a needle through the cork so you aren’t removing it. It then injects an inert gas into the bottle to increase the pressure so you can pour out wine through the needle. Then you remove the needle and the cork expands to reseal the bottle. So no oxygen gets to the wine and therefore there’s no oxidization. In full disclosure, I’ve never used the Coravin® but I hope to one day.

So there you have it. Opened wine does go bad, but you can take steps to make it last longer. Personally, I think the best way to ensure an opened bottle’s taste is to invite enough friends over to finish the bottle together because wine should be enjoyed with others.

But wait! One more question: What about boxed wine? Doesn’t it say on most boxes of wine that it will last six weeks?

Ok, technically that’s two questions, but yes, boxed wine will last longer. And it had better, since a lot of boxes of wine have the equivalent of four bottles or more! What makes boxed wine last longer is the spigot and bag help keep oxygen from getting to the wine. When you pour a glass, air doesn’t get in the bag. The volume of what’s in the bag (wine) just gets smaller. I don’t have experience seeing how long a boxed wine can last, but perhaps that’s an experiment I’ll try and report back to you.

But for now I’m going to go make sure that bottle of pinot noir I opened last night hasn’t gone and joined a gang.


(Note: Mention of products or brands on this blog does not imply endorsement.)

Have a question you’d like to see answered on Grapevines, Sunshine, and Dirt? Send me an email and I’ll cover it in a future post.