May 30, 2018

How to Properly Store Your Own Wine Collection

Storing wine can have multiple applications. Obviously, it’s important to store wine you aren’t going to drink soon after purchasing, but you can also age some wine for years, improving it all the while. Textures and flavors develop, allowing the wine to really come to life.

Plus, as Vinepair notes, “drinking a really old wine has a romantic allure. An old wine gives us a way to re-experience a year that was special in our memory, maybe the year of our birth or anniversary, or drink a wine that comes from a time we may never even have lived.” Because of memory and improved taste, this makes aged wine the perfect addition to a romantic dinner, or special celebratory occasion.

Let’s look at what wines should be stored for aging, as well as how to properly store and age your wine.

What Happens When You Age Your Wine

Aging wine will change the flavor, color, and aroma. As Chowhound points out, tannins, chemicals from grape skins and seeds, have an astringent, bitter taste that leaves your mouth feeling dry. Aging a wine softens tannins because they polymerize, forming long chains. Tannin polymer molecules feel and taste less harsh.

The same polymerization process allows the tannins to release volatile aroma chemicals as well. 

Red wines will turn from purple to reddish, then slightly orange, and then finally a dull brown. White wines will start with a green tinge, and then develop a golden-brown tinge. Thanks to the higher acidity of white wine, it will not brown completely. As such, white wines are better candidates for aging.

Finally, only between 1 and 3 percent of wines are truly eligible for storing. If it costs under $30, it’s likely not a good candidate. More frequently some wineries are targeting millennials, and in 2015, 79 percent of millennials who regularly drink wine bought in the $10-$15 range. Aging doesn’t matter to them; the story behind the wine does.

This, however, does not mean cheaper bottles can’t be stored or aged. If a wine is meant to be “drunk now,” it’s coded language for “within five years of purchase.” After that, instead of improving, it deteriorates in quality.

Storing Your Wine in Good Conditions

There are a few factors to consider when storing your wine, whether it’s aging or simply holding the wine until it’s time to pop a cork. But what does it mean to keep your wine in a “cool, dark place?”

Humidity

Typically, you will want to keep humidity around 70 percent. While high humidity will keep the cork from drying out —  letting air into the bottle and spoiling the wine — and minimizing loss from evaporation, higher than 70 percent will promote mold. It can also damage or loosen the label. While 70 is the sweet spot, anywhere between 50 and 80 percent is considered safe, especially if you have a dehumidifier. A pan of water in your storage area can also help improve conditions.

Temperature

Much like humidity, there is a temperature sweet spot: Between 54 and 55° F. Between 45° F and 65° F is considered safe, but storing above 70° F can age the wine too fast. Any hotter and you can “cook” your wine, causing flat flavors and aromas. At 75° F, wine begins to oxidize.  

More important, however, is keeping the temperature constant. There should be no more than 3° F per day, and 5° F of fluctuation per year. If there is too large of a change, it can prematurely age the wine. This is more important for red wines.

Sunlight

UV light can degrade and prematurely age wine, but so can artificial light. It’s best to keep wine out of sunlight, and turn lights off when you aren’t in the storage area. If the wine is in a colored bottle (like most red wines), a typical light bulb should not harm the wine, though it could cause your labels to fade. It’s important to note that fluorescent bulbs do give off a small amount of UV light, however, making incandescent bulbs preferable.

Position

First, you want to position your bottles where they will not be shaken. Vibration can speed up chemical processes, or disturb sediment in older wines, making the wine gritty. For shorter-term storage, this shouldn’t be much of a worry. 

Second, for corked bottles, you’ll want to keep the bottles turned sideways. This keeps the liquid against the cork, preventing the cork from drying out. Short- and mid-term storage won’t be as affected by this, and any alternative capping method, such as a screw cap, are unaffected. Instead, it becomes a matter of space efficiency.

How to Store Your Wines

You have a few options for storage that will fulfill the above requirements, in varying price ranges. 

If you only have a couple of bottles, a dark closet can work. While essentially free, you have very little control over temperature and humidity. A basement is similar, though it is a bit better in that temperatures should stay fairly low. A simple rack means a cheap storage area. 

Next, you can spring for a wine refrigerator. These come in various sizes, with some even offering multiple temperature zones. If you lack space, or have a large collection, consider looking into a climate-controlled storage unit.

Finally, if you have a significant collection, or highly valuable bottles, it might be time to look into professional offsite storage. While it will cost you more than any of the other options, it’s also the very best in wine storage options. For the average wine enthusiast, this is not likely needed.