Store Wine Properly Without a Wine Cellar
Enjoying a great bottle of wine is about so much more than finding a wine brand you like. How you store your wine, especially if you aren’t planning to enjoy a glass immediately, is equally important to maximize the aging potential. The care that goes into storing your wine is essential to nourishing its flavor and evolution.
So can you properly store your wine bottles if you don’t have a wine cellar? Yes, as long as you’re able to avoid heat and sunlight and keep your wine out of extreme temperatures, you’ll be able to preserve your beloved bottles until you’re ready to partake.
Let’s take a look into the art of how to store wine for those of you who don’t have a wine cellar of your own.
How Does Light and Temperature Impact Wine?
When it comes to storing your wine, light and temperature are two of the main factors you should take into consideration, since both can accelerate the aging process.
Always keep your wine out of direct sunlight. The UV rays can negatively impact the wine’s flavors and aromas, dulling the overall fruitful character. In order to completely avoid sunlight, you should store your wine in a cool, dark place such as a basement or interior closet.
What Temperature Range to Store Wine in
Finding the right temperature is also important when you’re considering how to store wine. Keep the temperature as consistent as possible, avoiding heat vents and fans that will cause the temperature to fluctuate.
Whether you’re planning to store your wine for a short period of time or looking for a more long-term solution, look to maintain a temperature around 55 degrees Fahrenheit (although this may vary depending on the specific wine).
Temperatures above 68 degrees Fahrenheit (20 °C) can cause the wine to age prematurely. In fact, if stored between 55 and 91 degrees Fahrenheit (32.78 °C), your wine will age up to 56 times faster than if it’s kept within the proper temperature range. On the other hand, temperatures below 25 degrees Fahrenheit (-3.89 °C) can cause the wine to freeze.
One of the best ways to think about your wine storage? Low light, low temperature, slow aging. If you can perfect this, your wine will mature at the ideal rate until it’s time to open the bottle.
You may think of aging wine as a great thing, and it is. But the type of aging that happens when your temperature is too high isn’t the kind you want. It will negatively affect the flavor and won’t bring out its lovely tertiary aromas. It will oxidize and dull the flavors. It will turn brown and essentially become “cooked,” tasting of vinegar.
When to Utilize Wine Storage Units
Acquiring a wine refrigerator or wine storage cabinet is the most effective option when you don’t have the money or space to build your own wine cave or cellar. Even if you do have a wine cellar, one of these climate-controlled cabinets would be nice to have upstairs for convenience.
These wine storage cabinets provide optimal temperature and darkness and allow for sideways storage, which will keep the cork moist and prevent it from getting dry and crumbly. These units are available in a large range of prices, and their capacity stretches from a few bottles to hundreds of bottles each.
A very simple (and cost-effective) storage option to consider when you don’t have a wine cellar, is to put it in a cardboard box with Styrofoam. The Styrofoam helps prevent fluctuations in temperature. Often wine is delivered this way, so you can keep it in the original box if need be. This is typically considered a less attractive, temporary option, however.
Oxidation takes place when your wine is exposed to oxygen for too long. This is inevitable, and sometimes intentional (as in sherry), but all we can do is try our best to slow down the process. Organic compounds in the wine help protect it from oxidation naturally. These compounds are what help give your wine exquisite flavor potential and structure.
Both incorrect levels of light and heat can start the oxidation process. Place your wine into your prepared area as soon as possible after its purchase or delivery. This will allow you to enjoy your wine to the fullest whenever you choose.
Another reason to keep your wine in the dark is to avoid an effect called dimethyldisulphide, or “light strike.” This effect, which is usually caused by exposure to UV light, can usually be identified as a cooked cabbage flavor in your wine. Sometimes this is confused with a tainted cork.
To avoid this, be sure not to store your wine in the sun or by a window. As the name indicates, this effect happens fast. Just 60 minutes can ruin an entire bottle. Do you know that beautiful bottle of wine displayed near the front window of your local grocery store? That’s only a display since light strike will make it unsellable.
Wines most at risk of light strike include delicate whites (think champagne, pinot grigio and sauvignon blanc). Do your best to protect these bottles especially. Reds have more stability due to their tannin structure, but it’s best to just take care of all types as if they’re at high risk.
How Bottle Colors Affect Wine
As you probably guessed already, the color of a bottle’s glass matters. Wine bottles are typically made with glass that is brown, green or clear. When a winemaker is choosing the color of bottle to use, there are a number of factors to consider. However, each color will impact the wine inside the bottle differently.
Your wine is less likely to turn if it’s in a dark, amber-colored bottle. Amber glass is the way to go because it protects your wine not only from light but from the entire UV spectrum penetrating your bottle and having a negative impact.
The reason bottlers usually choose green-colored glass is that it’s expected, strangely enough. Green glass does protect from some light, but most customers aren’t interested in storing their wine long term, so it’s not necessary to use amber glass. Now you know what to look for when choosing a wine to store.
Clear bottles are often used to show off what’s inside. Customers like to see what they’re purchasing, but as you know by now, this leaves the product exposed to the most light, and therefore most vulnerable to light strike. The most common victim of this, besides your taste buds, is a glass of delicate champagne in clear glass.
Types of Light
You’ll recognize a great wine shop not only by service and selection but by the types of lights they use. Fluorescent lights, which you sometimes see in grocery stores, contain harmful UV rays. LED lights are the best choice. They emit little to no heat and give off no UV rays.
If the wine shop owners are taking care of their wine by using LED lights, consider taking that level of mindfulness with you when you bring it home.
When it comes to storing your wine, you should avoid even the slightest vibrations. This is especially true if you’re planning to keep it for over a year. Believe it or not, vibration and movement of foot traffic (like in a kitchen) will cause chemical imbalances and disrupt the all-important settling of sediment in your wine.
Store bottles with corks sideways and bottles with screw tops standing up. As tempting as it may be to move your bottles around, try to resist, as this will disrupt the sediment as well.
So what about when it’s finally time to open it? Place your corked bottle in an upright position and let any sediment settle for a day or two before opening. You don’t want to find it in your glass. After all the care you’ve given your bottle so far, now is not the time to ruin your wine.
While most wine cellars have a controllable climate, other forms of wine storage may not, so it’s important that you take this into consideration when planning how to store wine. Creating an ideal environment for storing and aging your wine is one of the best ways to make sure it’s at its peak when it’s time to enjoy a glass.
Garages and Sheds
As much as you love the taste of petrol and pesticide, avoid storing wine in garages or sheds. These chemicals can travel through the air, seep in through the cork, and change the flavor. And you are probably wise to the fact that these places most certainly do not have steady temperatures.
Even though it may seem counterintuitive to keep a steady temperature, ventilation in the storage area is very important if you want to avoid any moldy smells or flavors. Proper ventilation is imperative to conserving quality.
Just when you thought wine couldn’t be more sensitive to its environment, here’s another one for you. You’ll want 50-80 percent humidity for the storage of corked wines. More or less than that and you’re inviting mold. Try using a dehumidifier if this is an issue for you.
With Great Wine Comes Great Responsibility
Not all mistakes surrounding storage conditions are always a conscious act or even an act of naïveté. Perhaps you went wine shopping and then accidentally left it in the car on a hot day, exposing it to ultraviolet light and/or high heat. Maybe you brought it out into the kitchen while preparing for a party, but didn’t happen to drink it, thus it was left in a cupboard where the temperatures weren’t ideal.
It’s easy to pop a bottle of wine in the refrigerator and think that’s perfectly fine. You may think it’ll stay fresh in there because it’s a grocery item. Maybe some consider it an item that can be stored in the cupboard because after all, it is sealed. The best thing to do is to have a convenient place (with ideal conditions) to store your wine when you’re in a hurry.
Despite all these storage rules and recommendations for those of us without wine cellars, we should get back to realizing that wine is about relaxation, fun, loved ones, and making memories. For some, it’s even deeper. For some it’s also about appreciating the intricate, subtle characteristics of it, and thus experiencing it deeply, noticing and enjoying its many layers of complexity.
You don’t have to have a wine cellar to be an individual who sees wine as something to be cherished and relished. You simply need to understand how to store wine using any means available to you and have a high level of commitment to preserving your bottle.