Once you have started collecting wine, you need to find a place to store all those bottles. For some collectors, a wine cooler or wine refrigerator is a good solution. For many wine enthusiasts, however, the collection quickly outgrows the wine cooler unit. Purchasing wine racks and creating a wine cellar or wine storage area is the logical next step.
If you are wondering which kind of wine rack to buy, you're not alone. With so many wine rack styles and sizes available, choosing the right one can be a real challenge. To help you decide which wine rack to buy, we asked some wine storage experts for their recommendations and suggestions.
According to Johnson Ho, President of Pantheon Wine Cellar Services, LLC and Pantheon Wine Shoppe, LLC, the first step in choosing a wine rack should be deciding where to place it. The biggest mistake many people make, he says, is placing a wine rack in the kitchen, where sunlight and changing temperatures can quickly ruin a bottle of wine. "It's probably wiser," Ho says, "to first find the best location for your 'critical mass,' which is roughly one to two months' worth of wine." For the beginning collector, Ho recommends setting aside an area in the coolest part of the home, preferably the basement, and installing a wine cooler unit and, if needed, wine racks.
Life stylist Maria Gabriela Brito recommends that you carefully consider which wines to store on wine racks. "Wines stored outside of a cooler unit or outside of a cellar built with the appropriate cooling system should be those that the collector know will be consumed within a short period of time, maximum of a couple of months, and also those bottles that are not of great value for the collector," says Brito. Even in a basement, temperatures can rise above the 55 to 57 degrees Fahrenheit considered optimal for wine storage, and humidity levels can vary.
Capacity – How Much Storage Space do You Need?
One of the most difficult aspects of choosing a wine rack is trying to figure out just how much wine you will want to store. The answer to this question depends not only on the amount of wine you drink, but also on the types of wines you prefer. Certain types of wine bottles will not fit in the standard openings of many wine racks. Magnum bottles, of course, are much larger than standard Bordeaux bottles, and most champagne bottles also require larger openings. Burgundies, some pinot noirs and chardonnays also need wine rack openings that are slightly larger than the standard 3 ½-inch space.
Johnson Ho recommends including wine rack spaces for splits as well as for magnums. He says that half-bottles are becoming an important part of wine enjoyment, particularly for dual-income couples and "road warriors."
Wine Rack Construction and Materials
Most wine racks are made of wood, but quite a few models are made from metal. Freelance wine cellarist and storage professional Matthew Goldfarb prefers metal racking. "I like the heavy duty metal wire racking that has nested bottle holders," he says. "This keeps the bottles on their side at all times and doesn't allow them to slide around because of the bent wire racking that holds the neck in place. Make sure the racking is on level ground, and if tall, somehow bolted to the wall."
Johnson Ho suggests looking carefully at the construction of any wine rack you purchase. "Computer photos don't show workmanship," he says, adding that when wine rack manufacturers use staples to hold the horizontal bottle holders to the rack, they can start to lean or buckle – or, even worse, "pancake" onto the shelf below. Ho recommends looking at several key construction areas before making a purchase. A wooden wine rack will be stronger and more stable if the bottle holders and horizontal stabilizer bars are screwed into the vertical bars.
Thickness of the wood pieces used in wine rack construction is also critical, according to Ho. He says that many of the wine racks available online and from catalogs use ½-inch wood. This is fine, Ho suggests, if the wine rack will see light use for just a few years. For long-term, heavy use, he recommends using 3/4-inch wood wine racks that are glued, nailed and screwed together for maximum stability.
Matthew Goldfarb warns against buying inferior wood wine racks, even if they are substantially less expensive. "The cheaper and more popular solution is to purchase modular wooden racking/shelves that are easy to assemble with pegs or dowels," he says, adding, "I tend to find these cheaply constructed and prone to falling apart."
You can find wine racks made from many kinds of wood, ranging from pine to mahogany. High-quality wine racks are typically made from hardwoods such as redwood or mahogany, which last a long time and are strong enough to bear heavy wine bottles. Lower-end wine racks may be made from pine or other softer woods. Some wooden wine racks are made from cedar, which is an aromatic wood. Some experts warn against using cedar racks or wine racks finished with wood stain because the odor can taint your wines.
Wine racks come in all shapes and sizes, and can be wall-mounted or free-standing. Particularly if you live in earthquake country, be sure your wine rack is secured so that it will neither pull out of the wall nor tip over. If you are considering diamond-shaped wine racks, Johnson Ho suggests that you think twice. "Diamonds look cute," he says, "but are dangerous for round-shouldered bottles." Ho feels that diamond-shaped wine racks are also inefficient unless you are storing many bottles of one particular wine, because you will spend a great deal of time looking through the stored bottles to find the one you want.
Racks, Cooler or Cellar?
When starting a wine collection, it's easy to underestimate how much fun you will have – and how many bottles you will buy. While you may not have room to build a real wine cellar in your home, you will only be able to enjoy your wine if you store it properly. Wine racks are best used in a temperature- and humidity-controlled area, away from sunlight and vibration.
"I usually recommend that people buy an inexpensive wine fridge that holds 16 to 50 bottles," Johnson Ho says. "It's a wise investment." He warns against putting a wine cooler into a closet unless the door is either louvered or left open because heat will build up inside the closet.
Maria Gabriela Brito agrees that protecting your wine collection is essential. "Good wines and wines that are to be drunk in the future should always be stored at the right temperature using a cooling system either in the form of a wine fridge or a proper cellar."