Wine storage can be a source of apprehension. Especially for those of us who do not live in a family-owned chateau that just so happens to sit on top of a climate-controlled wine cellar.

However, if you follow the simple guidelines below, correct wine storage needs to be neither expensive nor overwhelming.

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Wine Storage: The Dark Side of the Sun

Unlike democracy, wine thrives in darkness and dies in light. Whatever else you do, you must never keep your wine in direct sunlight. In fact, even artificial white light lamps will destabilise it.

  • The blue part of the visible light spectrum along with ultraviolet light can initiate a photochemical reaction that produces strong sulphide compounds.
  • The sulphide compounds smell bad and after sufficient exposure to light even the most aromatic wine can end up smelling like the excretions of a skunk’s glands.
  • The darker the glass bottle, the more protection it offers to the wine. For this reason, white wine in transparent glass bottles is the most exposed.
  • If you cannot keep your wine completely in the dark, it is worth covering the bottles with opaque sleeves.
  • If you have a designated area for wine storage, make sure it is lit with low-heat lamps such as LEDs or sodium-vapour lamps.

Wine Storage: Don’t Blow Your Cork

Storing wine incorrectly will eventually dry out the cork, which will then shrink slightly and become brittle. Dried out corks cease to seal the bottle well enough to protect the wine from oxidization.

  • You should store wine on its side to prevent the cork from drying up.
  • Despite some claiming that sparkling wine should be stored upright rather than vertical, the consensus is that all corked wine should lie on its side to keep the cork wet.
  • Although white and sparkling wines should be served cold, storing them in your fridge for long-term is not a good idea. The lack of humidity inside the fridge will eventually dry out the cork, even if the wine lies on its side. Instead, refrigerate white and sparkling wine a day or two before you intend to drink it.

Wine Storage: Humidity

For ideal wine storage, keep levels of humidity as constant as possible. Wine ages best in damp conditions.

  • The ideal humidity level for wine storage is between 50% and 70%. High humidity stops the cork from drying out. It also keeps wine evaporation at a minimum.
  • If humidity rises above 70% then you run the risk of the cork becoming moldy and tainting the wine. On a more aesthetic note, the wine label will get damp and peel off the bottle.

Wine Storage: Temperature

It is important to keep temperature constant too. Wine ages best in cool environments.

  • The ideal temperature level for most wine storage is 54°F (12.2°C).
  • Any prolonged exposure to temperatures higher than 75˚F (24°C) will cause wine to begin to oxidise.
  • Storing wine at temperatures lower than 54°F (12.2°C) will not necessarily harm the wine, but it will slow town the rate at which it matures. It will also risk the integrity of the cork when it is allowed to warm up again.
  • Most dangerous to wine are temperature fluctuations. Wine breathes. When it gets cooler, it sucks air in, when it gets warmer, it rises towards the cork. And playing hot and cold with your wine will in effect cause it to hyper-ventilate.
  • Although red wine ages better than white, due to its tannins, white wine is more resilient when it comes to temperature fluctuations than red.

Wine Storage: When To Not To

Wines that age well have been designed to age well. Many fruit-forward wines, however, are intended to be enjoyed young. No matter how carefully you store a wine, if it was meant to be enjoyed fresh, attempting to age it will be an expensive exercise in wasting a perfectly pleasant bottle.

  • How well a wine ages depends on its balance of tannins, sugar and acid.
  • A tannic red will generally age well for up to 10 years.
  • A fruit-forward red that is low in tannins and acidity will not improve with age. In fact, it will deteriorate.
  • Conversely, if a wine was designed with aging in mind, and you open it too soon, it may well taste too harsh.
  • Most white and rose wine should be drunk within 2-3 years of bottling.

Wine Storage: Do Not Disturb

It is generally a good idea to treat wine more like a genteel great aunt whose fortune you hope to inherit one day and less like James Bond.

  • Do not let your wine sit around unpleasant odours. Wine breathes. It might sit there quietly, without any outward sign of complaint. But one day it will let you know about it in no uncertain terms.
  • Wine likes to be neither shaken not stirred. It does not enjoy bumpy car rides and recognises no such thing as good vibrations.
  • Leave wine in peace and handle it with impeccable manners. The pay-off will be worth it.

Wine Storage: How does one meet all these requirements?

It’s worth remembering that most of us are everyday wine lovers rather than collectors. We neither own a basement cellar nor can we afford the kind of wine ones stores in such a grand cellar. So, what are some realistic and affordable alternatives?

Fitting a wine rack in a dark cupboard that is located in a cool part of your home is more than OK for wine you intend to drink within a few months.

If you want to age wine for a few years, then a wine refrigerator is a worthwhile investment that will not break the bank. This will maintain correct temperature and humidity levels.

Summary

Wine storage can be tricky to achieve effectively. There are many potential problems. Exposure to light can spoil wine. A dried out cork can cause it to oxidise prematurely. Temperature and humidity fluctuations can also lead to premature aging. And strong odours and accidental bumps can also upset the delicate balance of wine flavours.

However, armed with this quick overview of take-away facts about wine storage requirements, you should now be able to make the correct decisions that will ensure that when you open a bottle of wine you have been saving for a special occasion, it tastes its best.