Wine storage is not exactly a sexy topic. It is important though. Understanding the why, how and where of wine storage will significantly reduce the risk of having to dump a bottle because it has gone bad. All wine is perishable. For wine to reach its full potential, it must be stored properly. More specifically, on its side, in the dark, in a space with a constant year-round temperature which is also below 70 degrees, ideally around 55 degrees, with no vibration and a continual humidity level above 50 percent.
A cool, dark, vibration-free environment slows the chemical aging process. Slow aging allows a fine wine to develop aroma and complexity of flavor.
Wine stored for sustained periods at over 70 degrees will age prematurely. Heat expands wine forcing the cork up and out of the bottle and can cause oxygen to enter the bottle, causing the wine to undergo physical changes. Oxygen is a chemical catalyst that speeds up the chemical reactions necessary for proper aging. Significant variations in permissible temperatures, if allowed to occur regularly, can be as damaging to wine as impermissible high or low temperatures. An increase in temperature increases relative pressure within the bottle, which may force air (or in extreme circumstances wine) past the cork. As a bottle cools, air with fresh oxygen may be drawn back into the bottle. Light also accelerates naturally occurring chemical reactions, resulting in premature aging, development and deterioration.
Proper aging also requires a relative humidity at 50 percent or above, ideally at about 70 percent. Proper humidity levels keep the corks from drying out, which can compromise the seal and also cause the cork to disintegrate.
Throwing sediment is part of the natural aging process in which solids (primarily tannic acid) are physically separated from the wine. Vibration can cause reintegration of sediments. Even low levels of constant vibration detrimentally alters the chemical composition of wine in as little as 18 months. A vibration prone environment will, in relative terms, cause wine to mature more rapidly.
Wine asks that you not store it in the kitchen or a fancy rack in the living room.
There is a rare home that has a room or closet that meets all of the environmental requirements for proper wine storage and aging. Options for storing wine are numerous and their price ranges are dramatic.
In the home, building a wine cave, with racking, a wine cooling unit, humidity monitor, etc. can be at least a multi-thousand-dollar investment. Many wine rooms, while glorious and brag worthy, cost tens of thousands to build and can also be expensive to maintain. Purchasing a free-standing wine cooler will run from a few hundred dollars to hold a case or two, to $5,000 or more for a larger collection. Many require twice a year filter changes, are not particularly energy efficient and do not offer humidity control.
There is a convenience to storing wine at home. This convenience can also turn out to be a disadvantage. Many special bottles and verticals have been ruined by the late-night “one more” or a younger person or guest helping themselves to a collection. If it is not in the home, it cannot be mistakenly consumed. Keeping a reasonable number of bottles in the home for near-term consumption can be offset by inexpensive off-site wine storage.
In the Pacific Northwest, there are several wine storage facilities in areas near Seattle, Bellevue, Edmonds, Vancouver, Portland and Boise. In general, these facilities offer boxed case storage lockers in a secure, environmentally controlled room which is accessible 7-days a week (hours vary). Some have racking available, offer cellar management services and have event space. They all accept wine shipments for their customers and pricing is similar, around $25 a month for 12 cases. In comparison, at $25 a month, it would take over 6 years to pay off the purchase of a 12 case free-standing cooler, not including maintenance, electricity, filters and service.
With sufficient and proper storage, buyers can take advantage of specials through local retailers and winery’s wine clubs. Many wine retailers offer discounts on bulk purchases, some with as few as 4 bottles. Most wineries have clubs for enthusiasts which include several yearly shipments, access to rare or club-only wines, discounts on purchases and (sometimes elaborate) wine pick-up parties. Having the option to purchase larger quantities at a discount not only saves money, but is convenient for gift giving and is one less thing to deal with when preparing for larger gatherings.
Choosing the wine storage option that works best may take a little research. While not all wine is produced to be aged long term, all wine must be stored properly. Selecting the right option or combination of options is worth the effort to ensure wine’s longevity, save on quantity purchases and protect your investment. Cheers!