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The Basics of Storing Wine

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While most wines are sold ready to drink, many folks buy in bulk for a discount or save something unique for a special occasion without intending to open it right way. As long as the wines you buy don’t come in a bag, the thought of proper storage has probably crossed your mind at least once or twice, but not everyone knows where to begin. Since a wine hobby can begin adding up in a hurry it’s wise to consider how to best to protect that investment, so here are a few tips on the basics of storing wine.

What to Consider

While some truly can improve with age, in most cases the goal is simply to help maintain the wine’s quality, or slow the rate of deterioration. Oxygen is the simultaneous best friend and worst enemy as good wines need a bit to age, but too much or too long can turn them acidic and vinegary. Beyond oxidation, the three factors that impact the quality of the bottle’s journey through time are temperature, humidity, and exposure to light. While specialized wine coolers exist for optimizing storage conditions, a humidity of 50-80% and temps in the mid 50s to low 70s is suitable for most wines.

Typical At-Home Environment

Consistency is ideal, so mitigating fluctuations in any of the above variables is key. When considering the best place in your home to store away your burgeoning bottle collection, the basement is typically ideal given the characteristically cool temperatures and stable humidity.

While it’s tempting to keep bottles close at hand, areas like the kitchen can be the worst case scenarios for wine as cooking with the oven or stove both drastically alter the environmental conditions in the room.

For those without a basement at hand, a closet (far from the kitchen!) can be a viable alternative. While temperature and humidity fluctuation will be roughly on par with the rest of the home, the major benefits shared by both basement and closet is limited exposure to light and helping ensure that bottles aren’t bumped, jostling the sediment in the bottle.

No matter where you end up keeping your bottles, it’s typically best to store them lying down on their sides. While this isn’t necessary for bottles with plastic or synthetic corks, those with natural corks can dry out over time when upright, accelerating the rate of oxidization. Lying prone helps keep the cork moist from the inside and stay fully expanded, better sealing the neck of the bottle.

When is it time to upgrade?

For most of us, identifying a place in the home that’s best suited for wine storage is where the journey ends, but as your collection continues to grow it becomes even more important to protect that investment. Adding a humidifier or dehumidifier to a spare room is a fairly easy upgrade, whereas creating separate thermostat zones or a true cellar with adequate ventilation represents a far more serious investment. One great solution between these extremes is a wine cooler or beverage fridge, as they’re available in a range of capacities that still fit under a counter top. Perhaps most importantly of all, one available advantage over other systems is a dual-zone capability, since not all wines thrive under the same storage conditions.

Some people say that it’s time to consider serious storage solutions when your collection eclipses 20-30+ bottles, or when your annual purchases exceed “X thousand” dollars, but by either rule you should consider your needs and your means. If most of your bottles cost less than $20 they’re likely ready to drink now, and if you’re a fan of whites or sparkling wines there’s no real upside to the prolonged aging that benefits some reds. But for those who want their ready to drink wines held at the ideal conditions, or have some bottles that won’t be consumed tomorrow, it could be time to make the leap.

Wine Quote Of The Day

The wine of youth does not always clear with advancing years; sometimes it grows turbid.

— Carl Jung
Featured Wine Term

Botrytis — a beneficial mold that pierces the skin of grapes and causes dehydration, resulting in natural grape juice exceptionally high in sugar.

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