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.


Talkin’ Temperature

My roommate puts red wine in the refrigerator. I thought red wine is supposed to be served at room temperature. Which one of us is right?

It’s tricky, but you both are.

Wine, whether it’s red, white, rose, or sparking, should be served at a temperature that fully expresses its aromas, flavors, and structure. That means that different wines should be served at different temperatures.

Here’s where you’re right: There is an old adage that red wine should be served at room temperature. And red wines are generally served at a warmer temperature than white, rose, and sparkling wines. But what exactly is “room temperature?” Everybody has a different idea of what that is.

Here’s where your roommate is right: Back when the whole “room temperature” thing actually began, which was before we had central heating, homes were much cooler than they are today. So red wine would be served cooler than what we think of today as room temperature. 

So how do you know what’s the best temperature to serve your wine?

I say drink wine at whatever temperature you like. Everybody’s tastes are different. But if you really want to bring out the best in a wine, serving it at the optimal temperature is the way to go. A basic rule of thumb is reds are served warmer than whites and the fuller-bodied the wine is, the warmer the serving temperature, and the lighter-bodied and higher acidity of the wine, the cooler you’ll want it. So your Merlot will be slightly chilled, while your Sauvignon Blanc will be well chilled.

Here’s a handy chart I use:

* White wines with oak aging should be closer to 55; unoaked whites should be closer to 50.

According to this guide and the old standard, “room temperature” is a cool 54-65 degrees. Brrrr! Now do you see why simply saying “serve reds at room temperature” doesn’t really give the full picture?

If you’re not convinced of the effect that temperature has on wine, try this experiment: Chill a bottle of red wine so that it is cooler than what the chart recommends. Then open it and pour yourself a glass. Sniff it and make a note of the aromas and how pronounced they are (or aren’t.) Take a sip and note the flavors and how intense they are (or not.) Then hold the wine glass for about five minutes, cupping it in your hand (not holding the stem) so that your hand warms it up a bit. Sniff and sip again. Notice any difference? Cup the glass in your hand again for about five to ten minutes this time. Warm it up even more. Again, sniff and sip. Did any of those flavors get more intense? Did they diminish?

Experimenting like this is not only a fun way to learn how a wine tastes at different temperatures, it’s also a great way to start to develop a sense of what you like best. 

So how long should you chill a bottle to get it to the right temperature? Let’s add a third column to the chart.

** Most refrigerators are set at approximately 37 degrees. (The US Food & Drug Administration recommends staying under 40 degrees. Most food safety experts say you should stay between 35 and 38.) You probably won’t need to change your chilling time if your refrigerator isn’t right at 37, unless you go outside the recommended 35 to 38.

If you’re short on time, you’ve got a couple alternatives for quickly chilling a bottle:

  • Put it in the freezer. Shoot for roughly a quarter of the time you would have it in the refrigerator. If you do this, I recommend setting a timer. I once put a bottle of Pinot Grigio in the freezer, then got distracted and forgot about it. The next day I had a slushy mess in my freezer because the water content of the wine expanded as it began to freeze and pushed the cork out, leaving me with a Pinot Grigio disaster to clean up.
  • Place the bottle in a large bowl or ice bucket filled with ice water…and salt. The salt lowers the freezing point of water, which makes the ice melt (that’s why salt is used in the winter on roads when they get icy) and the water gets colder. That will make the bottle get cooler faster. Try about 15-20 minutes for whites and 8-10 minutes for reds.

Also note, if you’ve had a bottle of wine (even white or rose) in the refrigerator for a few days, you’ll want to take it out and let it warm up for a while before you serve it.

What should you do if you’re served a wine at the wrong temperature?

First, don’t be a jerk, especially if you’re at somebody’s home. Not everyone knows about wine temperature. And nobody likes a wine snob. If you’re at a restaurant or bar, chances are you’ll have one of two things happen: either you’ll get a red wine that’s too warm or a white wine that’s too cold. Unfortunately, there’s not a lot you can do about the red. For the white, you can always do the “cup the wine glass with your hand” to warm it. (Watch for a future post on what to do in a restaurant when the wine you get isn’t “right.”)

Bottom line: When it comes to serving temperature, I encourage you to experiment and find what you like best. But chances are, because of the science of wine, you’ll generally like wines best when they are served at the recommended temps. (This is a theme that will reoccur, we’ll find, multiple times.)

What do you think? Feel free to add your two cents in the comments.

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