Going the Distance – Storing your Wine

9 02 2010

In the cellar © Tales From the Trellis, 2010

Many of you have asked me about how best to store wine. My first question to that is…what and how much are you looking to store. Not everything ages, and not everything ages well! A good rule of thumb is that most value priced wines (around $12 USD and under) are built for speed, not built for hibernation. AKA drink it now!

Some basics to keep in mind for all types of storage:

  • Temperature should be stable (not fluctuate more than 5 degrees at any point)
  • The corks needs to stay moist (lay the bottles have to lay on their sides)Dark (there are reasons you see pictures and movies of dark, sank cellars with people using candles to light the way!)
  • No vibrations (please take the wine off and away from your refrigerator or anything humming!)
  • Away from any “off” odors (basements with strong odors, garages or areas with garbage, etc.)

Are you going to treat and baby a bottle of say Barefoot the same way you would a high-end Napa Cabernet…no. But, if you treat all your wine reasonably well, it will treat you well in the end.

Most wines produced are for immediate consumption or short-term storage – within a year or so. But  you should still understand that dark, cool and humid places will help make sure it tastes the way it was intended to.

Heat, vibrations,light and arid conditions are enemies of wine. Think of wine as a living breathing thing. Light will affect the maturation, dryness or lack of humidity will dry out the cork leaving a space for air to get into the bottle and thus “oxidizing”  the wine. Heat will eventually boil/stew it (do not ship wine in the summer!). Really looking for temps under 65F with humidity about 60-65% for medium term wines (5 years). Long term will need a bit more. Needs 55 F with 70-75% humidity. These are for some high-end wines.a

Also note that the type of varietal will also determine how long it could last if stored in the right conditions (and how fast it will fade if put in the wrong). Some varietals like Cabernet, Bordeaux blends, Port, Sauternes, Riesling and Merlot tend to have the stuffing for the longer haul. Also note that white wines are more fragile and need to be treated with more care.

Short Term

Many of us go to the store with the notion that we will walk out and moments after arriving home, pop and pour what you just spend some time to select. One piece of advice for you, if you really love a bottle and find yourself buying it regularly…get a case to have on a moments notice and store it. You will reap the benefits of having it on hand for anytime and also saving a bit of money as case purchases in many stores can mean discounts. Some of you have mentioned space being an issue. You can turn the box on its side and put it in a cooler closet if you live in the city  with no space available to you. Do note that if you do not use your air conditioning in the summer and the apartment or area you are using starts to approach 80’s and above, consider the lower end wine refrigerators (more on that to come in the Gadgets and Gizmos section soon).

Medium Term

You just bought something nice, say around $15 to $30 USD. Maybe it was a nice Ramey Chardonnay or Mondavi Napa Cabernet. Maybe you bought a few or perhaps someone gave you a gift (nice!). You may want to save it for a special occasion or just hold it for a bit. These mid range priced wines are ususaly perfect to drink now but can usually be held (and may actually improve) for a while. Again, depending on the varietal, 3-5 years is possible if you have the right conditions. Really try for 60F and at least 60% humidity here. Again, options are wine cabinet and refrigerators. NOTE: Do not keep your wine in your kitchen refrigerator. Those are around 40F and will mute the wine flavors over time. Yes, it will retard the maturation of the wine, but as a result, it will also hurt it. With temperatures too low, the wines get “dumb” or “numb” and can lose their flavors and complexity over time.  I will, however, keep some short terms white wines or sparking wines in my kitchen refrigerator, but only because I will be drinking them within the next few weeks! This is the same model that I have in my office that hold 12 bottles by Vinotemp. Highly recommended and has two temp controls for upper and lower racks with pull out wood shelving. TIP: Since you can only control temp and not humidity in these, put a mug of water in the bottom to help this.

Long Term

Yup, these are the ones we treasure. Above $30 USD we want to make sure we treat these with the respect they deserve. Also, again, depending on what type, they will improve with age and not typically meant for popping right now. Vintage Port and higher end Cabernet or Bordeaux fall into this category. If you have a place where it is 55F, with a high level of humidity (60+) and darkness, these bottles will keep (maturing) for a long time.

Most of us do not have these conditions, so what to do?  You can rent space from a wine store if available, store your bottles in a friends cellar, create these conditions in your home (they make wine “air conditioner” systems specifically for this but pricey), or go for a wine refrigerator or cabinet (some under 100 – thousands of USD). There are a variety of price and size options and I highly recommend these. I have a few running and love these and use them to house my prized bottles (and some have locks too!).

You really do not want to open up a bottle of port that was just release or under 10 years young. These need time to mature and are awkward and just kids that soon. Ports need about 15-20 years to really come into their own. Again, these are higher end ports that you will spend over 50 and up to  hundreds on. Have patience. I bought a 2003 to enjoy with my little girl when she is old enough. She will be hitting drinking age when that bottle is ready to go! High end Cabernet also needs time in the bottle. some 2004 Napa Cabernet are just hitting their peak now, with recommendations to hold the 2005-2008 because they need time! Here is a vintage chart pdf from Robert Parker, the worlds most acclaimed wine critic. This may help you understand some of this (of confuse the hell out of you).

Post your questions on storage here (below) in comments. Also, tell me how you have stored the wine you are not drinking right away. Take the poll on the right so we can see what you’re doing with storage!



© Tales From the Trellis 2010



5 responses

9 02 2010
Jeffrey Ingber


very nicely done. The blog includes information for both the novice and the experienced collector/drinker. Little things most people miss like not storing bottles near the Fridge or the baseboard heaters is very thoughtful.
Equally impressive is the cup of water tip for electronically controlled refrigerators.
I have a below grade basement that also happens to be unfinished and pretty close to the water table. I keep an electronic space heater hooked up to a portable thermostat about 15 feet from all of my wine and elevated above the wine as well. I can maintain 58-62 year round. Humidity is not a problem.
Keep it up my friend. Great Job.

9 02 2010

Jeff, Thanks for your gracious comments. Coming from someone in the wine and food biz for so long, I take it to heart and thrilled for your support. I want to have a “Guest” area where I will interview interesting people in the field, would you mind if I sent you 5 questions for this to work? Many thanks and we need to get together to catch up and of course, share some wine!

15 02 2010
Lisa Nielsen

I do something that is not mentioned here and I’d love to get your take on it. I store my wine on its side in my (sealed from bad stuff) storage unit which is in the cool, dark, basement of my NYC condo. I know a wine fridge is an ideal option but given I don’t have one, how long do you think my wines might last in these conditions.

15 02 2010

Lisa, of course on it’s side is correct (but if you have screwcaps, that is not an issue), but all depends on your temp, your humidity and of course light and motion (lack of vibration). Let me know what these conditons are and what you are storing to give you a better sense of what you can expect. They make some excellent all in one digital units that can tell all of these conditions.
Thanks for the reply! Steve from the trellis.

16 02 2010
M. Berenti

Very good advices that surely will be found useful by both casual and seasoned wine lovers.

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