Wine 101: How To Store Your Wine (Or Not)
One question we get all the time here at the winery is how to store wine (or, just as importantly, whether it’s worth storing the wine long-term at all.) Many red wines – and quite a few whites as well – are intended to be aged in the bottle before they are opened. But should all wine be kept in a fridge? Not necessarily. Wine is extremely sensitive to temperature fluctuations, although just how sensitive your wine might be can be impacted by several factors.
How to Store Red Wine
Red wine runs the risk of losing flavor if it’s not stored properly. It gains more value as it ages, making proper storage almost a necessity. If you’re holding on to a few bottles for several years, proper storage is integral to increasing the taste and quality for when you do decide to pull the cork. Cool temperatures between 55 - 65 degrees Fahrenheit are best for reds, with humidity levels that are between 50% to 70%.
How to Store White Wine
Whites are a bit more susceptible to heat than reds. You’ll find that the best storage temperature for your white wine is somewhere between 49 to 55 degrees Fahrenheit. As with red wines, whites can also get ruined by too much heat exposure. Although whites are not often something you might consider cellaring, whites can gain more character as they age, just as reds do, so long-term storage conditions should be considered for your white varietals.
If you are storing wine for more than a month, it’s best to consider carefully where you are going keep it. However, short-term wine storage usually means under six months. Considering how to store wine in the short term properly can help prevent accidental damage to your flavor. A well-constructed wine cooler that can maintain the lower temperatures needed for your wines is a promising idea. If you don’t have one, you can invest in one that’s relatively low cost, and that will hold just a few bottles.
Nevertheless, wine stored at room temperature (about 70 degrees F) is not going see a significant impact on its flavor if it’s sitting in that temperature short-term, so long as you avoid having it sit in direct sunlight where the internal temperature of the bottle can rise to higher than the room temperature.
The most important factors you’ll need to consider when storing your wine for the long-term are temperature, humidity, light level, movement, and odors. You may be surprised by how even small changes to some of these areas can cause long-lasting, negative impacts to the quality of your stored wine. Long-term storage rules, in general, apply to both whites and reds. When you’re looking for the best way to store both types of wine, keep these rules handy as a top-level best practice.
By long term, we consider any timeframe over six months. If you plan to keep your wine more than six months, we highly recommend you follow these simple guidelines to protect your wine investment.
Do I Need a Cellar?
Wine cellars are intriguing, and there’s great appeal in using one to store your wine. However, many can’t afford a wine cellar or don’t have a living situation that’s conducive to have one. Apartment dwellers, in particular, have no hope utilizing a wine cellar for long-term storage.
Of course, a temperature-controlled wine cellar is the ideal place for long-term wine storage. But for those of us without that option, mimicking the conditions of a wine cellar can be simpler than you may think:
1) Store Wine on its Side
Side storage is mostly important for corked wines, although it’s just good practice to store other wines on their side as well. The cork is designed to expand and prevent the wine from leaking and getting oxidized by the outside air. However, a dry cork will start letting in outside air, resulting in the undesired oxidation effect on your wine. Side storage keeps the cork wet from the wine, avoiding the dry cork problem.
Another reason to store your wines on their side involves the impact of sediment that naturally occurs in aged wines — especially red wines. This sediment is best left at the bottom of the wine (not in your glass as you pour the wine), so storing the wine on its side and carfully pouring it out without including the sediment, that should naturally slide to the bottom, is highly recommended.
2) Cool Temperature
As stated earlier, red wines should be stored on their sides at cool temperatures ranging from 55-65°F. The best temperature for your whites is somewhere between 49-55°F. If you happen to have a mixture of reds and whites, you will find a temperature at or around 55 degrees a good compromise for the two types. Cool temperatures will slow the aging process and help the wine develop properly in the bottle. However, temperatures that are too cold will prevent the wine from aging at all, leaving you with a wine that doesn’t improve in quality as you were hoping it would.
Important note: the kitchen counter is rarely a steady 55°F — same can be said for the garage.
3) Less Than 10°F Fluctuation
Aim for less than 10°F temperature fluctuation throughout the year. Temperature fluctuations can cause the wine to expand and contract, which can damage the cork causing leakage and oxidation, as well as resulting in a big mess and ruined wine. Unless you’re using a dedicated wine fridge or cooler, you may struggle to keep the temperature from fluctuating. If you’re unsure of how much the room you’re storing your wine fluctuates, consider installing a temperature monitor that will provide you with daily readouts.
You may want to monitor the area for at least a year before considering storing your wine there, as you’ll need to see how all four seasons impact the temperature in that area. If using a room in your house, consider installing a separate A/C unit in that room that can keep the temperature cooler than you might keep it in the rest of the house.
Humidity should be between 60-80%. Less than 60% humidity can cause evaporation and oxidation, while humidity greater than 80% encourages mold. If you don’t have a dedicated wine cellar built in, controlling humidity is almost always going to require you to invest in some mechanical upgrades. If you live in a particularly dry or particularly humid climate, you will have to contend with both low and high humidity levels much more diligently than those with true wine cellars. This may also require you to personally monitor those levels instead of trusting the technology to do the work for you.
Yes – your wine may be a little sensitive. Excessive light exposure causes wine proteins to become hazy and can create “off” aromas and flavors. And by “off” we mean “not good.” Additionally, as we stated earlier, a constant stream of sunlight of light in general in your bottles can raise the temperature inside the bottle. Although this is not as large a concern in a mechanically cooled environment, if you’re using a more natural cooling method, you’ll want to avoid the “greenhouse effect” from occurring inside your wine bottle.
6) No Vibration
If you have your wine stored in the laundry room, it’s time to rethink the situation. Vibration traveling through wine can hinder its development, so keep wine away from any appliances or motors.
There’s still some debate as to why you don’t want to disturb the wine. However, the chemical processes that lead to better aging in your wine can be disturbed and impacted negatively by movement. Constant movement will hinder some of these processes, which is why we recommend you avoid the laundry room storage method, in particular.
7) Odor Free
We think this one is pretty obvious, but it's worth mentioning. Unless you want your wine to offer a “bouquet of bleach,” your storage area should be free from chemical odors, such as cleaners, household paints, etc. This does not mean that you can’t clean your wine storage area. However, should you decide to clean the room, try to use less astringent, aromatic cleaners. Opt for natural cleaners that do not produce much, if any, scent. And try to avoid jostling your wine bottles, referring to the issue with vibration.
So Where Can You Achieve These Conditions?
Our favorite choice is a little-used closet, preferably on the interior of your home or apartment. The humidity is probably the trickiest condition – but if you live in a very dry or very humid area, you are probably already doing something to even out the humidity in your living space.
Barring this, you can also purchase a refrigeration unit designed just for wines. Keep in mind that these can be expensive the larger they get, so you may not want to consider this an option if you’re trying to store a fair amount of wine for the long-term. You may also consider a basement, so long as you control for higher humidity levels. Basements with leaks can become extremely damp and humid.
Should I Put Wine the Fridge?
Do you have wine in the fridge? You probably should take it out soon. In most cases, your average food refrigerator temperature sits somewhere between 35 to 40 degrees Fahrenheit. If you’ve read the rest of this guide, you’ll note that that’s a good deal lower than the ideal temperatures for both whites and reds. A regular refrigerator is designed to cool foods down to the temperature at which chemical reactions stop. That’s not what you want for your long-term stored wine or even your short-term stored wine. If you must refrigerate, purchase a unit designed specifically for wines.
Why It Matters
Ever wondered why some red wines require aging or improve with bottle age? The many components of red wine continue to evolve in the bottle – fruity aromas and flavors mellow while the tannins and pigment begin to interact with oak compounds imparted during fermentation and barrel aging – softening the wine’s tannic impression.
The controlled, yet mysterious evolvement of the wine in bottle is one of its most alluring qualities.
Wine may not be rocket science, but it is still a complex science in its own right. This is why there are so many different methods used to create, age, and store wine, and why you’ll find a plethora of varieties, flavors, aromas, and profiles for different wines. It’s also why many people throughout history have dedicated themselves to the science of wine, which has for ages included finding proper storage methods.
The rest of, however, have dedicated ourselves to just enjoy the taste!
For more information about wine serving temperatures, visit this link.