Knowing How to Store Wine
Knowing How to Store Wine
Controlling the environment in which you store wines is very important. Not only will proper storage protect your investment, it is crucial in the development of certain characteristics that give wine its exceptional flavors and taste.
The ideal environment to store your wine is in a cool, dark place, free from light, vibration, heat, and strong odors. Moderate humidity and laying the bottles on their side will keep the cork moist. Aside from all of these factors, temperature remains the most important in storing and enjoying your wines.
Keep in mind that wine is a living organism that grows and matures. The time that it takes to age is greatly affected by the temperature it is stored at. The ideal set of parameters - a temperature between 52 and 57 degrees, little or no light, relative humidity around 60 - 70 and an undisturbed area free from vibration - defines the environment your trying to create for your wines. If you stray outside these ranges the greater the chance the wine may age poorly. With this ideal controlled environment your wine will age gracefully on a smooth path to perfection.
Now the decision becomes how to achieve that environment. Basically there are three alternatives:
1 - Rented storage space:
There are many locations through out the country that will store your wines in a temperature controlled environment. The cost is based on the size of the bottle collection and is usually paid on a monthly basis. Your wine becomes a prisoner that you can go and visit from time to time.
2 - Dedicated wine cellar in your house:
If you are fortunate enough to move into a house with a built in wine cellar great, you are now ready to start buying wine. If you are in the stage of building your own home you can incorporate a cellar into the design, if you have a basement or the space to create a walk-in cellar than you can build. In any case this can be a do it yourself project or you can hire a cellar contractor to build it for you.
At the basic level you can build yourself a cellar. If you have a basement or extra space your part way there. There are different resources to help you with the construction of a cellar, from books to web sites to cellar contractors. Keeping in mind the importance of a proper environment, you will need a cooling unit to achieve the results. Types of racking also play an important role in the construction of a cellar. Besides laying the bottle on its side so the cork stays moist and does not dry out, racking will also promote a stable environment. Metal or Wood lattice racking allows air to circulate with in the cellar.
At the other end of the spectrum you can buy a new house with a cellar built to your specification. The constant concerns become proper insulation and vapor barriers to seal the room to prevent air and moisture lose; and mold and mildews from forming. The most important factor still remains the cooling unit, which helps keep temperature constant and ideal humidity levels.
3 - Self contained Temperature controlled units:
If you have a limited number of bottles or you do not have a basement then a stand-alone temperature controlled unit may best suit your needs. These units can range in size and function, from under the counter built in units to freestanding furniture cabinets.
There are even modular wine rooms for larger collections around 3000 bottles, that are easily assembled and come with all the racking and the cooling unit. No need to worry about insulation and construction, it can even be dismantled and reassembled if you move. Best of all they are economical.
This means a constant temperature of 55 degrees with little or no fluctuation. Most home environments can be potentially destructive to wines. We are comfortable in the 70-degree range, but wine can age to rapidly at temperatures above 65 degrees and greatly affect its taste. On the other scale, temperatures that are too cold can slow the aging process, negating the positive effects that aging can bring, or in the case of freezing push the cork out.
For every 18-degree increase in temperature, chemical reaction times double. Heat can destroy your wines. Warm places like the kitchen or near a heat source are not recommended storage locations; they will only bake your wine into oxidization. You can accelerate aging at higher temperatures, but that runs the risk of masking the fruity and varietal characteristics of the wine.
Bright light will oxidize and affect the taste and aroma of your wine. It is best to store it in dimly lit areas, or to have the lights on a timer or a switch that turns them off when you close the door on a cellar. It is the ultraviolet end of the light spectrum that is most harmful to wine; both sunlight and artificial lighting should be avoided.
Levels between 60 - 70% humidity are recommended. Too little will dry out the cork and allow air into the bottle, again causing oxidization and affecting the taste. Too much and the labels will curl and the chance of mildew forming on the neck and cork is possible. More seriously to the wine investor, damaged labels decrease the resale value of the wines. Remember the cork must be kept moist; this can be accomplished by lying the bottles on their sides, thus keeping the cork swollen and airtight, and keeping the humidity levels constant.
Vibration will massage your wine into oxidization. A peaceful environment is one of wines best friends. Vibration stops sediment from settling and in turn prevents the wine from aging properly. It is best not to shake the wine to disturb the sediment. Storing wine in a refrigerator or near machinery will cause vibration.
Strong smells will permeate the corks over time and taint the wine. Do not store wine near goods that emit strong odors, because the wine "breathes" through its cork and has a tendency to absorb odors from the air. Good ventilation creates odor-free environments. This can be produced with a proper cooling unit.
A constant ambient temperature is crucial in the proper storing and aging of wine. 55 Degrees is the closest thing there is to a standard for temperature. Sudden and frequent spikes in temperature may prematurely age a wine through heating, or by allowing the seal the cork provides to become permeable. That is because the liquid wine expands at a much greater rate than does the solid glass of the bottle itself.
What to Look for in a Wine Cabinet
There are many styles and finishes to choose from. As far as manufacturers there are few. Quality and craftsmanship are important, be aware of construction materials used. Cabinets should be made of solid woods or metals not particle boards and veneers. This will only lead to problems later as moisture can cause the veneers to lift or the boards to swell.
Danger still to the cabinets that arrive to your house, only for you to find out assembly is required. If care is not taken when assembling or the joints are not closed correctly, the cooled air will escape and cause the compressor to work harder to compensate for temperature variations.
Look for the CSA seal of approval. Having the precision standards mark ensures high quality components are assembled to ensure optimum performance.
Wine requires a balance of temperature and humidity to age to perfection. Quality cabinets will have temperature and humidity control to create the optimum environment. Don't be fooled by cabinets with inferior cooling units.
Make sure the racking system in the cabinets can hold any oversized or other nonstandard bottles you might have. Most models are boxes and racks installed and a cooling unit installed in the upper corner. Vibration is a factor in a perfect environment; check to see the cooling unit and compressor are independent from your storage compartment.
Taking all of this into account, remember the cost of a self-contained temperature controlled unit or a custom built cellar can outweigh the cost of replacing your wine collection.
Proper wine storage is easy to accomplish given the right knowledge, and remember, if you're looking for personalized wine glasses or custom wine glasses to use when enjoying your investment, make sure you check out Tipsy Grape's wide selection of customizable drink ware.