Five rules for storing wine that keep it in prime condition
Some wine enthusiasts insist wine cellars are necessary for proper storage, but that’s not entirely true. As long as you aren’t trying to mature them long-term, storing wine can be accomplished with little effort.
When you abide by the five simple rules below, you’ll be able to maintain the original taste, smell, and quality of your unopened, home-stored wines.
Rule #1: Enter the dark side.
Most of us enjoy a bright home, flooded with warm sunlight. Wine, on the other hand, thrives in a dark, vampire-like environment. Light, especially direct sunlight and fluorescent light, damages the flavor and smell of wine. This is why many wines are bottled in colored glass, which essentially acts as sunglasses for it. However, even if the bottle has UV filters incorporated into the glass, it won’t safeguard the flavor and smell of your precious wine if direct light hits it consistently.
So the lesson to learn here is, keep your wine away from the light—especially white wines, which are the most sensitive to light degradation. If you don’t have a dark place to store your wine, then lightly wrap a cloth around it or put the bottle inside a box. The least amount of light hitting your wine the better, especially if it will be a few years before you drink it.
Rule #2: Steady as she goes.
One of the most important rules when it comes to storing wine is to maintain a steady temperature. When wine faces sudden, dramatic shifts in temperature, it “over breathes” and suffers the effects of premature aging. In extreme temperature fluctuation cases, like going from the fridge to a hot garage, wine can develop condensation which can cause mold to grow on the cork.
If climate changes are unavoidable, then aim for gradual adjustments to give the wine time to acclimate. The temperature should never shift more than 3°F a day, especially when it comes to red wines as they’re more susceptible to temperature-related problems than white wines. However, even when the wine is stored at a consistent temperature, if it’s too hot or too cold, its quality is still at risk. Which leads us to our next rule.
Rule #3: The Goldilocks method.
For those of you who remember the story of dear, little Goldilocks, you’ll recall how she wasn’t content until she found the porridge that was not too hot or cold, but “just right.” Similarly, a wine needs to find that “sweet spot” when it comes to temperature, too. When you store wine at temperatures higher than 65°F for longer than six months, the wine can experience an accelerated aging process that shortens its lifespan. Alternatively, wine stored at temperatures below 45°F prohibits the wine from fully developing and robs it of flavor and smell.
Therefore, when you plan to store wine for six months or longer, aim for the “just right” temperature between 53°F and 57°F. For short-term storage, you can store your wine at its suggested serving temperature.
Basic serving reference:
40-50°F — Light, dry white wines and sparkling wines
50-60°F — Full-bodied white wines and light, fruity red wines
60-65°F — Full-bodied red wines and ports
Find more information here on the best temperature to drink wine.
Warning: Beware of storing red or white wine in temperatures above 76°F. Even a few hours above this temperature results in a noticeable loss of fruit expression and can even cause the wine to taste “cooked.” Cooked wine develops characteristics of stewed or raisinated fruits that are not apart of the original taste of the wine.
Rule #4: Hold your ground.
Many people believe the top of their refrigerator is a good place to store their wine. They’re wrong. Not only will the wine suffer light exposure and temperature fluctuations, but it will also undergo constant movement—refrigerators are opened and closed all day and they usually vibrate, too. For older red wines, movement can disturb the sediments and prevent them from settling, potentially making them unpleasantly gritty.
Thankfully, unless you’re planning on storing your wine long-term (over a year), you probably don’t need to worry about this too much. However, if you splurge on an expensive bottle of old wine, don’t risk it. Avoid storing these wines near vibrating appliances.
Rule #5: Manage moisture when storing wine.
If you live in a dry climate, like parts of Nevada or Arizona, you might want to use a humidifier. Or if you live in an area with high humidity, like parts of Texas and Florida, then you’ll want to invest in a dehumidifier. Why? Well, humidity, or lack thereof, plays an essential part in wine storage.
When moisture is lacking and humidity levels drop below 50%, corks begin to dry out and may result in loss of liquid and possible degradation of the wine. Alternately, when the atmosphere is too humid—over 80%—your wine is at risk of sprouting mold or mildew. While these outcomes are certainly worrisome, if you plan on drinking your wine within a year or so, you can consider your wine safe from these particular fates.
Storing Wine is possible without a cellar
Storing wine, whether it’s for a few weeks or a year, is possible without a wine cellar. It takes a little bit of effort, but you’ll save a ton of money avoiding a wine cellar bill.
With that being said, there are many options for wine coolers that can make storing white and red wine a lot easier. Wine coolers create a stable temperature zone for your wine, which can be one of the most difficult things to regulate when storing wine. Significantly cheaper than wine cellars, dependable wine coolers range anywhere from a few hundred dollars to thousands of dollars.