Storing Wine

For any wine lover, storing wine well is very important. There are a few simple principles that need to be understood in order to select proper wine storage conditions. We can logically break down the process into just 3 categories: storing wine for the short haul, storing wine for long term aging and storing (or saving) wines that have already been opened.

Short Term Storage:
This is wine you will consume within 6 months. These may be bottles that are just home from the store and destined to be consumed shortly or bottles that have been pulled from longer storage to be accessible for spur of the moment consumption.

The closer you can duplicate the conditions required for long term storage, the better. However, in many situations, keeping the wines in a box in an interior closet is a satisfactory solution.

Keep the bottles stored so that:

  • the cork stays moist
  • the wines are at the lowest stable temperature possible
  • the location is free of vibration
  • the location is not a storage area for other items that have a strong odor

Stay away from those little 9 bottle racks that end up on top of the refrigerator; it’s hot, close to the light and vibrates from the refrigerator compressor.

Long Term Storage:
This is wine that you will keep for more than 6 months before consumption. A good storage location for wine is generally dark, is free of vibration, has high humidity and has a low stable temperature.

Generally accepted ‘ideal’ conditions are 50 to 55 degrees farenheight and 70 percent humidity or higher. The high humidity is important because it keeps the corks from drying and minimizes evaporation. The only problem with even higher levels of humidity is that it brings on growth of mold on the labels or the loosening of labels that have water soluble glue.

Temperatures lower than 55 degrees only slow the aging of the wines. There have been wines found in very cold cellars of castles in Scotland that are perfectly sound and are much less developed that those kept at ‘normal’ cellar temperature. A near constant temperature is preferable to one that fluctuates.

With regard to light, most modern bottles have ultraviolet filters built into the glass that help protect the contents from most of the effects of UV rays. Despite the filters in the glass, long term storage can still allow enough rays in to create a condition in the wine that is referred to as ‘light struck’. The result is that the wine picks up the taste and smell of wet cardboard. This is especially noticeable in delicate white wines and sparkling wines. The condition can be created by putting a bottle of champagne near a fluorescent light for a month.

Regular or constant vibrations from pumps, motors or generators should be avoided since the vibrations they cause are thought to negatively affect the evolution of the wines. One additional factor to avoid is storing other items with very strong odors near the wine. There have been many reports of wines picking up the aromas of items stored nearby.

If you do not have a suitable wine cellar, there are many types of ‘wine refrigerators’ that will work as well. They differ from common refrigerators in that they work at higher temperatures (50-65 degree range) and they do not remove humidity from the air. There are kits available that will convert regular refrigerators into suitable wine storage units.

Storage after opening:
This is storage for bottles of table wine that have been opened but not completely consumed. There are many methods for prolonging the life of opened table wines but even the best can only slow the degradation of the wine. These methods are for still table wines. Sparkling wines and fortified dessert wines have different characteristics and requirements.

Gas Systems: Sparging the bottle with a gas (nitrogen or argon) can be very effective but it is expensive and I’ve never known anyone who actually used a gas system over a long period of time. They just seem to ultimately be more trouble than they are worth. If you do elect to try such a system, stay away from carbon dioxide since it will mix into solution with the wine.

Vacu-vin: An item came on the market a few years ago called a Vacu-vin. This consists of rubber bottle stoppers that hold a weak vacuum created by a hand pump that comes with the system. While some people swear by them, there is a consistent complaint that wines treated with a Vacu-vin seem ‘stripped’ of aromas and flavor. They actually create a lower pressure environment instead of an actual vacuum. This means they don’t remove all the oxygen and oxidation of the wine will still occur.

Half bottles, marbles and progressive carafes: These are all ways of limiting the amount of air in contact with the wine. The concept is good if you move quickly and refrigerate the remaining wine.

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