Wine storage: All You Need To Know About Storing Wine
Wine is a fickle and perishable beverage which contains insufficient amount of alcohol to preserve it indefinitely. In fact, all wines go bad over time. While ready-to-drink wines come with an expiry date that is measured in terms of months, they are spoiled quickly when stored in conditions of undue stress. For example, all ready-to-drink wines will be history in a matter of hours when left in the trunk of a car under direct sunlight. Similarly, while age-worthy (aging or maturing) fine wines have expiry dates of more than one year, improper storage can quickly cause deterioration of wine components resulting in loss of flavor within a few months.
Storage Needs for Average Wine Drinkers
Even though wine storage used to be the specialty of wine merchants who stored and handled wine routinely, so much has changed and consumers nowadays increasingly store their own wine in home-based cellars. Still, the majority of wines in the market are ready-to-drink and manufactured for immediate consumption. These ready-to-drink wines begin to degrade as soon as they are corked and even proper cellaring can only serve to preserve them for a short span of time without improving their quality. Nonetheless, specialised storage is not a concern for the average wine drinker because wine will not be spoiled when stored for a few days or months. Typically, most ready-to-drink wines can be stored for 8-12 months without significant loss of quality as long as they are kept between 40ºF to 65ºF (4ºC to 18ºC), away from direct sunlight, relative humidity levels above 50%, and steady temperature that does not fluctuate by more than 5ºF (2 to 3ºC).
Storage Needs for Wine Collectors and Enthusiasts
For wine enthusiasts and collectors who keep large and valuable collections, proper storage is a more serious need. Due to the large size of most collections, even ready-to-drink wines may go unopened for longer periods of time and must be stored correctly. Likewise, since wine enthusiasts and collectors assemble many premium age-worthy wines that actually improve with age and only reach their full potential after around 5, 10 or up to 50 years in properly cellared bottles, proper storage means a great deal to them. In fact, age-maturing wines may begin to degrade in less than a year of improper storage, making the consequences of improper storage vastly increased with time. Therefore, a mastery of proper storage is a pre-requisite for all wine collectors and enthusiasts.
Factors that Affect Stored Wine
There are 6 critical factors that affect stored wine. They are temperature, temperature stability, humidity, darkness, ventilation and security.
(a) Temperature: Wine is a fragile and complex blend of amino acids, carbohydrates, phenols and other chemicals whose reactions are easily affected by temperature. For age-worthy wines, bottles that are stored at correct cellar temperature usually mature into superior quality wines while those stored at lower or higher than proper cellar temperature undergo undesirable changes and get spoiled. The ideal storage temperature varies from wine to wine, but ranges between 52ºF and 58ºF (11ºC and 14ºC).
(b) Temperature Stability: A stable and constant temperature is the holy grail of wine storage. Frequent temperature fluctuations causes the air/wine in the bottle to expand or contract, forcing the cork to come out slightly (wine seeps past the cork) or drawing air into the bottle. With continued temperature fluctuations, some wine will evaporate while the remaining amount will have an oxidized flavor. In fact, unstable temperature is a common cause of loss of freshness or spoilage of stored wine. Therefore, wine must be stored within the acceptable temperature fluctuation range of 5ºF (2 to 3ºC) per year.
(c) Humidity: Since cork is a natural product, it deteriorates with time. For example, when exposed routinely to extremely dry air (humidity below 50% RH), the top of the cork will shrink, crack and allow air to enter into the bottle. On the contrary, high humidity levels (above 80% RH) increases the risk of mildew and mold on wine labels and storage area. The ideal humidity for wine storage should range between 60% RH and 80% RH.
(d) Darkness: Short wavelengths of light can break down the complex molecules of wine and destroy the special flavors that are unique to different wines. While light is rarely a problem because wine is already protected in a dark-colored glass that absorbs most of the light, direct sunlight can still cause spoilage. Therefore, wine should be kept away from direct sunlight and must never be subjected to excessive amounts of light.
(e) Ventilation: When kept in a highly ventilated environment, wine is protected from musty odors that can ruin its flavor. Likewise, if the storage area has highly volatile chemical compounds (such as cleaning solvents, paint, or aromatic molecules from onions and garlic), they will eventually get into the wine. Hence, wine must be stored in a properly ventilated, odor-free environment.
(f) Security: Wine collectors and enthusiasts invest lots of time and money in their wines and must ensure they protect their treasure from loss or damage by fire, equipment failure or theft.
10 Most Important Tips on How to Store Wine
1. Keep the bottles away from light: All wines must be kept away from direct sunlight and fluorescent fixtures to avoid deterioration, loss of flavor and unpleasant smell. If you can’t keep a bottle away from light, wrap it lightly in a piece of cloth, put it inside a box or change the lights of your room to sodium vapor or incandescent lamps.
2. Maintain wine storage temperature below 75˚F (24ºC) to prevent oxidation. The ideal temperature for wine storage is 54ºF (12.2ºC), but a range of 52ºF to 58ºF (11ºC and 14ºC) is still appropriate. A storage temperature below this range slows down the aging process without hurting the wine, but it can cause air to be sucked into the bottle. A temperature above this range speeds up the aging process and is dangerous for wine.
3. The storage temperature should be constant and stable. It must never fluctuate beyond 3ºF (1.6ºC) per day or 5ºF (2.7ºC) per year, particularly with red wines which usually suffer more from temperature fluctuations than white wines.
4. Corked wine bottles must be stored on their sides. When stored upright for several days, the cork dries up and air gets into the bottle, spoiling wine. Equally, the label side should face up to allow you to pick out and remove wine bottles with any signs of spoilage. But once stored, a wine bottle must never be moved. Even slight vibrations from motors, heavy traffic or generators can adversely affect the quality of wine.
5. Isolate the wine storage area to protect wine from breathing in strong odors. Also provide proper ventilation to keep musty odors away from the wine.
6. Maintain storage humidity at around 70% RH. You can purchase a hygrometer to help you keep track of humidity levels.
7. Store wine in a wine cellar. But if you don’t have one, you can create a makeshift closet cellar or just use a wine cooler. Make sure to label wine bottles before storage so you can find any particular bottle with ease. All you need to know about wine coolers can be found here
8. After opening a bottle of white wine, make sure to cork up the leftover tightly and return it to the cellar or closet. This will allow it to last at least 5 days. An opened bottle of red wine will not go bad for a few days of storage as long as it is corked and kept in a dark place. So you do not need to return it to a wine cellar.
9. Store wine for an appropriate amount of time. Red age-worthy wines can be stored for 2-10 years to mature depending on the type of red wine and the balance of its acid, tannins and sugar. Most white age-worthy wines should be stored for 2-3 years, though special ones like Burgundies can last 20 years.
10. Adjust the storage temperature just before serving. Allowing the temperature to rise or fall appropriately just before serving will ensure the wine tastes fine. The right serving temperature for light red wine is 55ºF (13ºC), deep red wine is 59-66ºF (15-19ºC), champagne and sparkling wines is 43-47ºF (6-8ºC), and for blush rose and dry white wines is 46-57ºF (8-14ºC). For more info about serving temperatures for specific wines, check out our blogpost about wine coolers here
5 Dos of Wine Storage
- Store wine in a convenient place. Wine is a conversation starter that must be stored in a place that is readily accessible, for easy retrieval and usage.
- Maintain a clear visual display of your collection so you can easily view and select a particular bottle when you need it.
- Keep a wide selection of white, red and sparkling wines so you have something for any occasion.
- If you intend to stock a huge collection of wines to mature or have a delicate bottle you do not plan to use soon, consider investing in professional storage.
- Always ensure your wine bottles are safe from heat, light, thieves, equipment failure, or danger of cracking, breaking or being dropped.
5 Don’ts of Wine Storage
- Don’t throw out wine that tastes bad because of poor storage. You can still use it for cooking.
- Don’t store leftover wine without a cork. If you have thrown away the cork, just plug the opening with a piece of plastic wrap secured tightly with a rubber band.
- Don’t place age-worthy wine in a refrigerator. Put it in a cellar, closet or just a cool and dark place. You must also not place any wine in a fridge long term.
- Don’t store wine on top of a refrigerator. The vibrations, heat from the fridge and proximity to light fixtures will spoil or age your wine prematurely.
- Don’t keep wine at room temperature for long periods. Room temperature is too warm both for storing and serving wine. Remember, warm wine is dull, flat and overly alcoholic (or vinegar tasting).