What is the Best Way to Store Red Wine?

Many people don’t realize that the proper storage of wine is important. That’s okay, if you’re planning on drinking the wine shortly after buying it (which is what most wine lovers do). But if you’re planning on hanging onto the wine for a while, you do need to pay attention to storage conditions.

Why would you hold onto wine for any length of time? Couple reasons. One, obviously, is to age it. Some wines, both red and white—but not all—benefit from aging, although for how long depends on your particular taste. Some people like their wines young and fruity; others prefer that particular bouquet that develops with time in the bottle.

Another reason to store wine is that you may have bought a bunch of it—maybe you got a deal on a case—and so you’re not ready to pop all those corks immediately. Maybe you snagged something to give a loved one for a holiday or anniversary gift that’s a couple months off. Whatever the reason, most folks will wind up storing something for a period of time.

We’ll talk here about storing red wine, which is the wine most experts consider worth aging. (I’d suggest aging a well-made Pinot for 3-5 years, although the correct span is heavily dependent on the specific wine. The best Cabernet Sauvignons will easily hit the 12 year mark, and can go on to 15-20 years.)

There are three storage conditions to consider:

  1. You want a dark space. Wine reacts peculiarly to light.
  2. You want a still space. Don’t store your wine near things that vibrate, like refrigerator motors or hot water tanks.
  3. Above all, you want a space that’s climate-controlled. The classic temperature range for long-term storage of red wine is around 56-58 degrees. Long experience, especially in the castles of Europe with their naturally cold cellars, has shown that this is the best range for ageable red wines to slowly develop and mature. In addition to temperature, your climate control system should cover humidity. If the storage space is too dry, the cork can dry up and shrivel, letting in air, with its harmful bacteria that can turn the wine to vinegar. On the other hand, if the humidity is too high, the labels can turn moldy or peel off, and then you won’t know what wine is in the bottle!

There are many companies that sell portable wine storage units, in sizes ranging from a few dozen bottles to hundreds; these can be ideal for city apartment living. If you’re so inclined and can afford it, you can also install a complete walk-in cellar. Either way, it’s worth investing in something, to see what wine lovers are talking about when they praise the splendors of a properly-aged wine!

Steve Heimoff is one of America’s most respected and well-known wine writers. The former West Coast Editor for Wine Enthusiast Magazine and a contributor to Wine Spectator, he has also authored two books on the subject of California wine, including “New Classic Winemakers of California: Conversations with Steve Heimoff,” published in the fall of 2007.