You've Been Storing Wine Wrong This Whole Time
Avoid these common mistakes for better tasting, longer lasting wine.
When you fall in love with wine, it’s easy to find yourself surrounded by a bunch of bottles you’re excited to drink, but not quite sure how to properly store. Before you accidentally ruin your tasty collection, here are some important things to know about how wine ages—and how to keep your own wines in great condition.
Not all wines benefit from aging
According to wine educator Kevin Zraly, author of the Windows on the World Complete Wine Course, “It's a common misconception that all wines improve with age. In fact, more than 90 percent of all the wines made in the world are meant to be consumed within one year, and less than 1 percent of the world's wines are meant to be aged for more than five years.” Depending on the type and quality of the wine, up to 50 percent of fruitiness may be lost within six months of bottling, and it could eventually lose color (reds) or turn brown (whites) if kept for years.
The small percentage of wines that may benefit from a few years’ aging or more have high levels of acidity and/or tannins (the organic compounds that can affect mouth feel as well as color in wines). Age-worthy wines can include whites like chardonnay and riesling, and reds like cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, and syrah. When in doubt about a specific wine’s aging potential, ask your wine shop proprietor for advice, do a search for the wine online, or simply reach out to the wine’s producer.
The upshot? It’s okay to focus on drinking your wine rather than merely saving it for posterity. However, you’ll still need to protect your wine by storing it safely—even if just for a little while.
Top wine storage factors to consider
Don’t: Store your wine somewhere the temperature often fluctuates and/or becomes very warm, such as your kitchen counter, on top of the refrigerator, or in your laundry room. Heat is a wine’s worst enemy: Temperatures above 70 degrees will quickly age a wine, robbing it of time to develop its best structure and bouquet. Exposure to high temps for even a few hours may “cook” it, resulting in flat aromas and flavors.
Do: Store your wine where the temperature remains between 50 and 59 degrees. If you’re unsure of the temperature fluctuation in the space where you’d like to store your wine, invest in a home temperature monitor (some cost as little as $11). Many wine professionals aim for an ideal storage temperature of 59 degrees for their own vintages, but Guy Davis, owner of Sonoma County’s Davis Family Vineyards and winemaker since 1995, feels there’s some wiggle room for those new to collecting wine. “If someone has a closet, pantry, cellar, or basement that’s air-conditioned to 70 degrees or less just like the rest of their home, they can for sure get away with storing their wines that way—just as long as they don’t intend to keep them for more than a couple of years.”
Don’t: Store your wine long-term in your household refrigerator. It's fine for a couple of months, but the deep chill in your kitchen fridge—generally between 35 to 40 degrees—could eventually cause your corks to dry out, allowing air to seep into your bottles, oxidize the wine, and make it age (or go bad) faster. Chilling your wine in the freezer isn’t a great idea either, as the liquid will soon begin to crystallize and expand, pushing out the cork and allowing your wine to leak.
Do: Place your wine in a bucket of water and ice when you want to chill it—it’ll be ready for serving within 30 minutes. In the long-term, consider storing your wine in a dedicated wine fridge that can be temperature-controlled between 45 and 65 degrees. Red wines don’t need to be chilled as much as whites, rosés, or sparkling wines, so if you’re mainly into one or the other(s), look for a single-zone cooling fridge like the space-saving, 12-bottle Avanti EWC1021 (about $115). If you prefer to store your reds and whites together, look into a dual-zone fridge like the Koldfront 18-Bottle Freestanding Cooler (about $220). When you’re ready to expand your wine collection and get way more serious about storing it, consider Guy Davis’ cooler of choice: a sleek 400-bottle EuroCave maturing/serving cabinet (about $4,000 and up).
Don’t: Store your wine in conditions that are either very damp or very dry. On the dry end of the spectrum is your household fridge, as mentioned above. In a damp basement or cellar that’s prone to mold, excess moisture can cause your labels to peel off, or even influence the taste of the wine itself. “Mold or mildew could set in on the edge of a bottle’s cork,” says Patrick Callagy, enologist (a scientist who oversees the production of wine) at the Russian River Valley’s Moshin Vineyards, “and as you open the bottle and pour it into a glass or decanter, that wine you’d been excited about could now be tainted with flavors of mold or mildew. Tastes like these are called off-flavors, and they’re never a good idea.”
Do: Store your wine long-term at a humidity level around 75 percent. Home temperature monitors often also have humidity sensors, so look for one that includes this feature. If your storage space is too dry, leave a pan of water in the area and replenish it every few days. If you notice signs of moisture, bring in a small dehumidifier and keep close tabs on any changes; the goal here is to decrease moisture, not to create very dry conditions.
Don’t: Store your wine in any spot that receives more than a few minutes of sunlight each day. Just as it does with our skin, the sun’s UV rays can cause premature aging of wine. It’s the main reason why winemakers tend to use colored glass bottles.
Do: Store your wine in a place that’s dark most of the time, and for lighting when needed, consider using LED bulbs, which convert more of their energy to light than heat compared to incandescents.
A FEW OTHER WINE STORAGE MISTAKES
Upright bottles: If a bottle of wine is sealed with a traditional cork and you’re planning to keep it longer than a year, store the bottle horizontally so the cork stays moist and doesn't dry out. However, if your wine is sealed with a screw cap, or with a cork made of glass or plastic, it isn’t necessary to store the bottle on its side.
Smelly neighbors: Don’t store wine around anything with strong odors. Even though most wine-bottle closures do a good job of keeping air out, the odors of cleaning solvents, fresh paint, garlic, onions, and other powerfully fragrant items may eventually permeate your wines.
Open bottles: Few wines’ aromas and flavors stay fresh for longer than a couple of days after opening. However, if you have wine left over after a glass or two, help preserve its freshness by spraying a little inert gas (which displaces oxygen) into your open bottle and immediately re-corking it with the cork or a stopper. Look for a product such as Private Preserve, a spray can filled with 120 applications of inert gas ($10) and a versatile aerator/stopper like Haley’s Corker ($8-13). Further protect your already-opened wine by storing it in your fridge until you’ve finished the bottle. Cheers!
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