Picture this:  you've just made your first foray into the wonderful world of wine buying.  You remember reading somewhere that too much heat is really bad for wine, so you unload your car as quickly as possible.  As you set the last case down, you realize that you haven't decided exactly where you will put all of the bottles.  Now that the wine is actually in your home, it's time to make some wine storage choices.

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Deciding where and how to set up your wine storage area is critical if you plan to keep your wine for any length of time.  Stacking the cases in a closet or sunny corner could potentially harm your wine.  While you don't have to invest thousands of dollars in a wine storage unit or wine cooler, you should consider several factors before putting your wine away for a year or two – or longer.

Let's take a look at the different aspects of wine storage.

Temperature

Your wine storage area should be located in a place where you can control the temperature.  Ideally, you should store your wine at about 55 degrees Fahrenheit, according to wine author Karen MacNeil[i].  You should also keep the temperature of your wine storage area constant, as large changes in temperature can harm your wine.  If you have a basement, rejoice; basements make excellent wine storage areas.  In the absence of a basement or a perpetually-cool area in your house, you may want to invest in a wine cooler, also known as a wine refrigerator.

Humidity

You will want to keep your wine storage area moderately humid.  The ideal humidity range for proper wine storage is 55 to 75 percent.  If your wine storage area is too dry, you run the risk of cork shrinkage, which can cause oxidation and wine spoilage.  On the other hand, too much humidity can cause corks to mold and wine labels to slip off of bottles.  If you want to slightly increase the humidity in your wine storage area, partly fill a pan with water and place it on the floor near your wine.  Remember to replenish the pan as the water evaporates.

Light

The ideal wine storage area is dark.  The ultraviolet rays found in sunlight can do serious damage to your wine, particularly if the bottle is made of clear or blue glass.  Fluorescent lighting can also damage wine.[ii]  Again, you can invest in special low-UV lighting for your wine storage area, or you can take the low-tech route and cover your windows and wine racks to prevent light from reaching the bottles.

Bottle Position

Another key aspect of wine storage is bottle position.  Placing bottles on their sides keeps the corks wet.  When corks dry out, oxygen can reach the wine and cause it to oxidize.  This will spoil the taste of your wine.  As you move your bottles to your wine storage area, set them down on their sides and leave them alone.  (In a pinch, you can turn them upside down, but most people prefer to store wine bottles on their sides because it's easier to see the labels that way.)

Vibrations

Some wine writers recommend that your wine storage area be vibration-free.  They caution against using a garage for wine storage for this reason.  Vibrations may agitate sediment within the wine bottles enough to alter the taste of the wine.  The trend in wine storage circles seems to be to avoid vibrations, whether you keep your wine in a wine cooler refrigerator or in wine racks, just in case they really can spoil your wine.

Odors

You may be tempted to create a wine storage area in your kitchen, perhaps in a pantry cupboard.    Even if your food storage cupboard is dark, cool and vibration-free, you might want to find another place to store your wine.  According to the Peñin Guide to Spanish Wine, your wine may be harmed if strong odors pass through the cork into the bottle.[iii]  This would include not only food smells like onion and garlic but also gasoline and other garage-related scents.

Records

Your final wine storage consideration should be devising a way to keep track of your purchases.  You can buy a record book called a "cellar book" that has places to note purchase details and tasting notes.  If you prefer to keep wine storage records in electronic format, you can buy wine cellar book software or create your own database using a software application such as Excel or Access.

The Bottom Line

Wine storage doesn't have to be expensive to be effective.  If you have a cool, dark spot somewhere in your home, take a second look at the space, check the humidity levels, and start calculating how many bottles might fit inside.

 


[i] MacNeil, Karen.  The Wine Bible.  New York: Workman Publishing Company, Inc., 2001, p. 80.  Print.

[ii] Hartley, Andy.  "The Effect of Ultraviolet Light on Wine Quality."  WRAP: Waste and Resources Action Programme. May 2008.  Web.  Page 11, May 1, 2010.

[iii] Peñin, Jose.  Peñin Guide to Spanish Wine 2007.  Madrid: Grupo Peñin, 2007.  Page 141.  Print.