When it comes to wine storage, there are three important Factors to consider: temperature, temperature, and temperature! Well, temperature isn’t the only Factor, but it is the most crucial one. Light and vibration are important considerations as well, but rarely will any given storage space experience extreme, consistent vibrations. And, protecting wines from light is as easy as tossing a blanket over the bottles.
Temperature is crucial for several reasons. For starters, wines do not take well to extremes of heat and cold, nor do they take kindly to dramatic temperature swings. When storing wines, cool is better than cold, and warm is better than hot. Most wines can be kept at an average household temperature of 68-70 degrees Fahrenheit (20-21 degrees Celsius) for several months or more without worry of damage. However, this temperature range will cause wines to mature faster.
Young wines (up to 3 years old), do not need to be stored, especially. These types of wines tend to be consumed shortly after purchase. If you want to keep them a bit longer, resist the urge to store these wines in cabinets up and out of the way. This is a common mistake people make with short-term storage. Simply store young wines low down in the room to keep them at the recommended 68-7- degrees Fahrenheit.
Mature and fine wines should not be kept in the same environment as young wines. Because fine and mature wines’ constitutions become more delicate as they age, they should be stored in a cool wine cellar. The ideal temperature for fine and mature wines is between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit (10-15 degrees Celsius). There are several ways to manipulate temperature control. You can take the artificial route by using an air conditioner or temperature controlled cabinets, or you can use an underground cellar with natural temperature control.
Because air conditioning can be quite expensive, many wine enthusiasts opt for an underground cellar (the most cost effective route) or a temperature-controlled cabinet. Temperature controlled cabinets are more expensive than an underground cellar (or basement), but they are less expensive than using air conditioning on a daily basis. Temperature controlled cabinets also control humidity. 50-70% humidity is ideal for wine storage as too much humidity can enable mold to develop inside the actual unit. Too little humidity can dry corks. If the cork dries out, this will allow air into the bottle and spoil the wine. Temperature controlled cabinets be as large as a walk in closet or as small as a dorm room frige. The size you choose will depend on your inventory and the size of your apartment or home. Some wine cabinets store as little as 20 bottles while others may hold several thousand bottles.
An underground cellar or basement may be either damp or dry. In damp cellars, bottles should be kept lying on their sides to keep the corks moist and airtight. The only issue with damp cellars is that they may be excessively damp at times, which might encourage molds to form on the bottles and labels. This will not harm the wine inside the bottle, but certain post war vintage labels are considered more of an asset than the wine inside the bottle! If the basement or cellar is too damp, the labels may become stained, then over time they will become ineligible. Eventually, they will disintegrate altogether. If you have expensive labels, wrap clingfilm around dry bottles or you can spray lacquer on them. Make sure the bottle is dry before applying lacquer or wrapping. As a backup, you should keep excellent records of what is where. Keeping track of your wines in this environment is as easy as keeping a map or grid of your storage layout. You may also keep tabs on what you have and haven’t consumed in a commercial cellar book.
If you have a dry cellar, you may still keep a grid and cellar book on hand, but you never have to worry about a major lack of humidity or moisture. Your corks won’t dry out, even if you do not moisten the sand or gravel on your cellar floor regularly.
Sources and Useful Links:
Food & Wine Magazine, foodandwine.com