Proper Home Wine Storage = Fresh Yummy Flavors


There is no "ideal" when it comes to home wine storage.

What? No really, it's true! Here's the thing...

Let's say you hit the well-known so-called perfect temperature and humidity, which is 55°F (13°C) at 65-75% relative humidity for storing wine.

Image showing a thermo hygrometer.Monitoring wine using a thermo hygrometer.



Great. Now how long do you want to wait to drink this wine? Because at that temperature, the wine will age at a snail's pace.

In fact, half to three quarters of your entire working life could be up before you finally get to lay a lip on it. That to me is not "ideal".

Oh you can certainly drink it sooner. But at 55°F it wouldn't have evolved to the "sweet spot" you were hoping for. At least not for one heck of a long time.

I wonder how much wine that's stored at 55°F gets drunk well before it's "ready" and at it's peak development? I'm willing to bet a lot.

I'm assuming that the wine was crafted properly with quality grapes to make it a long-cellaring wine in the first place.

So what are your choices for home wine storage? Since your home and location is different than mine and everyone else's, let's take a look at what works...



The Best All-Round Temperature For Storing Your Wine?


So what is the right storage temperature?

Infographic showing the difference in wine storage temperatures.The "optimum" wine storage temperature may not be what you think!


65°F (18°C) is a great all-round temperature to store wine for up to 10 years or more. Higher than that and your wine should be drunk sooner. Over 70°F and your wine will degrade quickly, especially whites.

Wine held at 65°F will certainly age quicker than at the often touted 55°F optimum temperature. But quicker is not a bad thing is it?

Does wine develop the same - only quicker at higher temperatures? The short answer is no. But how do we define "develop"?

Your goal is to enjoy this wine as soon as possible right?

Let's say you've been storing a luscious red wine for 10 years. If you plunk that wine back on the rack and wait another 5-10 years, are you sure it will develop further to your liking? You might be disappointed.

Besides... not everyone has the money to build a wine cellar with all the trimmings, so you just have to work with what you have.


I realize I'm bucking the time-honored tradition here. Yet too often we trudge along following each other like ants going to and fro from the anthill -- so I'm sticking my antennae out.

And I'm drinking some of my wines sooner - but farther along in it's development than it would have been if I had stored it at 55°F. Yum!

Without a doubt, maintaining the proper temperature of the wine is your biggest concern. Not only the temperature itself, but fluctuation of the temperature. You want to keep rapid fluctuation to a bare minimum.

In fact... none. Temperature change should be slow and steady.

Knowing how to properly store wine goes hand in hand with wine bottle management. And each bottle has it's own demands.

Remember that every wine is different as far as long-term cellaring goes:

  • quality and type of grapes
  • acidity levels
  • amount of tannins
  • alcohol level
  • total dissolved solids in the wine

and many other factors all affect the potential longevity of your wine. That's where wine cellar management and maybe even the addition of wine cellar software can save the day.

In general, white wines aren't a good candidate for long-term aging. They don't have enough tannins and total dissolved solids etc to make them cellar-worthy.

Although there are some white wines like Chardonnay or Riesling etc that are able to be cellared for years. That depends on the structure of the wine though as mentioned above and not all are suitable.

Whites are also more sensitive to fluctuation in temperature and especially higher temperatures than red wines. If the temperature is a constant 68°F-70°F (20-21°C) for white wines then you should consume them within 2 years.

Keep in mind that wine storage temperature is not the same at all as wine serving temperature.




Rainforest-Level Humidity

Image of smiling monkey.Monkey's and wine are happy in humid air.

The best relative humidity (RH) level for storing wines with natural corks is between 55-75% RH. The higher the better but remember that your labels will get moldy beyond 75% RH. Lower than 50% RH and the cork can dry out leading to possible leaks.

So ideally, 65-75% RH is good.

For home wine storage, humidity levels are the most difficult to attain. Unless you have a wine cellar cooling unit. These units are fantastic and control both the temperature and relative humidity. Well, sometimes you need to add-in a humidifier if your cellar isn't located in a humid enough room.

But for most...

Set it and forget it and know your wine is being babied. Perfect. They can be used in small areas like cabinets right on up to a large custom wine cellar.



Note 

There's only one reason for humidity in your wine cellar...

To protect your corks from drying out. It does nothing for the developing wine.



How To Store Wine In Various Containers

Bottles


1. Standard Method:

After your wine bottles have been corked - leave them upright for 2-3 days for the cork to expand fully and seal properly. Then lay them on their side in a dark cool place.

Common knowledge has it, that the cork will allow very tiny amounts of air through to oxygenate the wine over time. This would help it develop it's flavor components more fully.



Infographic showing micro-oxygenation through a wine cork.Does micro-oxygenation through corks really exist?

2. Optional (optimum?) Method:

This method requires you to get the angle of the laid-down bottle just right. So the bottle would not be perfectly horizontal.

Bottles using this method should be stored on their side with half the cork in contact with the wine, and the other half or so in contact with the air bubble. The cork will stay damp because the wine touches it and it acts as a sponge, keeping the whole cork damp so it still seals well.

But the air bubble is free to push out or pull in if there is a fluctuation in temperature, through that part of the cork that isn't touching the wine directly.

Using method 1 during periods of temperature fluctuation and without the air bubble right at the cork, a tiny amount of wine/alcohol gets pushed out to evaporate. And when the temperature returns to normal - extra air gets drawn back in. So too much oxidation can occur.

This happens over time in very small amounts. But by storing your bottles using method 2 no wine creeps out, so this will eliminate any worry of overly oxidizing your wine over the long haul.

Does it work? Is it worth the effort for personal home wine storage? Time will tell.

Maybe people are giving corks too much credit. More on that below.

This would also upset the entire wine rack supplier chain, whose racks are designed to lay bottles down horizontally.



The Mighty Natural Cork

Does micro-oxygenation through natural or agglomerated corks really exist?

Hmmnn...

It's been drilled into our heads that it does - from highfalutin sommeliers and wine aficionados, to authors of wine books and beyond. For me, I'd like to believe it, but the science of it falls a bit short.

Cork is cut from the cork oak tree.


Image of bark from a cork oak tree.Harvested cork oak bark.

And we know that wood "breathes", yes. But by compressing the cork into a smaller space (bottle neck), wouldn't that pretty much eliminate it's ability to pass air or wine during the home wine storage phase? Isn't that why we compress it?

Cork also swells up when it gets damp to help seal the bottle further. For most bottles of wine with natural corks, there are no leaks. So why is it that oxygen should pass through?

And if oxygen can pass through - shouldn't Co2 be able to pass through when aging sparkling wines? What about the 170 year-old shipwrecked bottles of Champagne that were preserved beautifully at the bottom of the Baltic Sea?

Granted, some champagnes and sparkling wines are stored upright nowadays, and others don't have cork closures. But many do. And they're stored for years on their side the same as still wines.

And when you pull the cork, the sparkling wine is still loaded with Co2 bubbles.

It seems that we're back to the old anthill again --


Note:

Although I question the micro-oxygenation through natural corks, I completely trust them as my number one closure. Cork bark is harvested by hand using special axes. The trees are unharmed and can be stripped again every 9 years. It's a very highly-regulated and sustainable industry. And yes, I love pulling corks from my bottles too! 


Barrels

Finding space for barrels in your home wine storage area can sometimes be a challenge. You can use smaller oak barrels here to your advantage. They don't take up much space and due to the higher surface of wood to volume of wine ratio, your wine is "oaky" sooner.

When storing barrels in the cellar, you need to monitor the level of ullage (air space).

Your wine is absorbed by the wood and some of it evaporates as well which produces ullage.

The same as corks above, this evaporation of wine and absorption of minute amounts of air is called micro-oxygenation. In teeny-tiny amounts at this point in the life of your wine - air is good for it and helps it to develop nicely.


Image of red wine on top of a barrel.Barrel aged wine can be toasty, dark and complex.


Unlike corks, I know that oak barrels "breathe". Wood is porous after all and we're not compressing it like a cork. In fact, as long as the cells are running lengthwise... you can suck wine up through a piece of oak like a straw!

Micro-oxygenation:

  • softens tannins
  • stabilizes color
  • enhances color
  • increases bouquet
  • and will help to develop more complex flavors and aromas

Depending on the size of the barrel and other factors, you should top up the wine with a similar vintage at least once a month. Otherwise you run the risk of oxidation spoilage. And with this much wine at stake you certainly don't want that!

Be aware that your wine is picking up oak characteristics as it ages in the barrel. And that there will be a point where it gets too "oaky". Taste the wine regularly to find the "sweet spot" that you like.



Carboys and Stainless-steel Tanks

Always top your carboys and vessels right up into the neck when storing your wine. With stainless tanks, use a lid with a gasket or a variable-volume "floating" lid.

I've always felt that wine in bulk storage ages better than wine in bottles. I have no definitive proof to give you though... it's just that the wine has complete access to all of the components and compounds that the entire batch has to offer. Instead of only what's inside the bottle.


Image of two jugs of wine in storage.Two 1-gallon jugs with delicious wine inside.
Image of two carboys with a dark wine in them.Eight gallons of wine in storage.

So I let my batches of wine age in these vessels as long as I can - usually until I need the carboy or tank for the next batch. Since you'll be using a solid bung with the stabilized wine, it's important to maintain a constant temperature in the storage area so it doesn't get pushed out (wine expands as it warms up).

You can still use an airlock instead of a solid bung, but make sure to replace the water/sulfite solution once a month.

Because carboys and stainless tanks don't "breathe" like a barrel does, your wine will develop without the benefit of micro-oxygenation.

There's a lot about aging that still isn't fully understood. And science can't measure or anticipate everything. But that's the beauty of home wine storage...

You're not a winery, and don't have thousands of dollars tied up in grapes etc that you need to recoup to make your business successful. So you can do your own wine storage tests and wait as long as you need to, see how it works out.





Light - Vibration and Stink!


Here's how to store wine after it's bottled. I've made the assumption that you're using natural or agglomerated corks.

Light

Sunlight is a color stealer from your wine. UV or ultraviolet rays from any source (even fluorescent lights) can penetrate bottles and degrade the wine. Some glass types help deflect UV light (darker is better).

But your best bet for home wine storage, is to keep it out of the sunlight and use low soft lighting like LED's (light-emitting-diodes) in your storage area. If that's not possible you can always cover the wine bottles or carboys with dark fabric of some kind as well.


Infographic showing the effects different elements have on wine that's in storage.A few things that can affect your stored wine.


Vibration

It's a good idea to keep your wine in a quiet, vibration-free area.

There is no data or study to reflect this, but it just makes sense. Vibration could possibly interfere with some of the critical work that the compounds in your wine are trying to do, to make a wine that's more subtle and complex.

It's common for wines that develop over great lengths of time to throw some fine sediment. If that sediment was stirred up into suspension regularly because of vibration, would the wine develop the same?

I don't think so. But that's just me. I'm sure somewhere in the near future a study will show the effects of vibration one way or another.


Stink

You're going to be drinking the wine you bought or made, so it makes sense to store it away from sharp odors. I've never had an odor penetrate a cork and I'm not sure it's possible.

But I don't store wine in the vicinity of anything that strong smelling. Any more than I would my food.

Foul odors could include:

  • exhaust fumes
  • gasoline
  • solvents
  • paint
  • perfume
  • and hundreds of other rank odors as well.

Plan ahead. Think of your wine storage area the same as you would a food cupboard, only with different temperature and humidity requirements.





Wine Cellars Rock for Home Wine Storage!

Image showing home wine storage.Wine cellars can hold a ton of tasty wine!

The ultimate in home wine storage is a custom wine cellar. You would need the space for it of course. But even a small cellar can hold a tremendous amount of wine.

The wine cellar design you choose should reflect your lifestyle. I will say though, that they fill up fast. So make sure to build it with maximum storage in mind for the space that you have.

Have you seen a spiral cellar yet? Wow. They are just sooo cool!

There are two main types of cellars. Active and passive. You can see my page on building a wine cellar that talks specifically about these.


How Do You Design a Cellar?

The easiest way to design a cellar is by using a 3D CAD wine cellar design tool. Though you'd have to take a course to learn how to use it... not really doable for most people.

But over at Wine Racks America they will design you a cellar for free! Just tell them what you want and they will render a beautiful 3D image of your cellar!

They have a gallery you can browse through to get some ideas too. And if you send a photo of your completed wine cellar they will send you a $100. gift certificate from Naked Wines! Free design and free wine... place smile here :-)


Wine Cellar Cooling Unit

If you decide on building a wine cellar yourself then consider installing a wine cellar cooling unit.


Image of a wine cellar cooling unit.Turn a room into a cellar with a wine cellar cooling unit.

These units come in a ton of different sizes and take all the guesswork out of it for you.

The temperature and humidity are easily controlled by the settings you adjust yourself. If you want to store your wine in a wood wine cabinet there are small cooling units made just for this purpose too.





Wine Coolers

A wine storage refrigerator or wine cooler will hold your wine at the proper serving temperature. That would make it more of a short-term storage cooler than a full-on cellar designed for long-term storage. One of the main reasons is that they can't control the humidity very well.

Some of these coolers have a passive humidification system that holds the wine at 40-50% RH. That's too dry for long-term wine storage using cork closures. But if the wine has screwcaps or you do a fair amount of entertaining then these refrigerators are awesome!


Image of a wine cooler.Your wine at the perfect temperature when you need it the most!


They can showcase your wine nicely.  Your luscious bottle of wine is always ready at hand and at the perfect drinking temperature.

They come with dual-zone temperatures for holding your white wine at one temperature and your reds at another. Some other features are:

  • touchscreen controls with LED display
  • telescopic shelving
  • colored display lighting
  • various modern finishes

Okay, I'm drooling now...





Wine Cabinets and Credenza's

Another great option for home wine storage is a wine cabinet. They will hold anywhere from around 200-500 bottles depending on the model. They can be fairly pricey but for good reason.

In most cases you're not just viewing the front of a wine rack here but the entire insulated cabinet. And they come with their own cooling unit with digital control of the temperature and humidity. There are a lot of models and finishes for each style to give you varied options.

In essence, a wine cabinet is it's own wine cellar. Though made to fit right in with your lifestyle in whatever room you desire! Wine Racks America sells quite a few wine cabinets and they come with five year warranties too!





What's the History of That Wine You Just Bought?

Learning how to store wine also ties in with people's drinking habits! How is that possible?


Image of people drinking wine.Joe Blo and Sally Soo's drinking habits affect the entire retail wine market.



Most wine made nowadays is consumed young. So the technological "advancements" used in many wineries reflect this.

What that means is that most mainstream wine is rushed and overly manufactured to get it to market in a drinkable state sooner. Many of the processes to rush the wine to market strip the wine of the much needed compounds to develop fully in the cellar.

Of course there are oodles of wineries crafting beautiful wines with minimal intervention that will evolve over time into something special. It's just that the current market of people consuming young wines is so large. And so it makes good business sense for many wineries to fill the void.

Also... has the wine been stored properly since leaving the winery?

How long has the wine been sitting on that shelf in the store anyway? If it's an older vintage and it's been sitting around at very poor temperatures and humidity levels you should think twice about getting it. And how long has it been sitting under those fluorescent lights?

So if you're going to buy wine for home wine storage, do your homework and act quickly to purchase it when it first comes out. Use the methods above to store it and enjoy!



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