What is the proper way to store wine? It is one of the most frequent questions we get in the shop from wine consumers, and it is asked by everyone who buys the $15 and under bottles to the big-time collector ones. The answer, like so many things in the wine world, is: it depends. There are a few things that should always be avoided so your wine is not tortured, which regardless of what you paid for the bottle, will have deleterious effects.
The one thing that occurs to most every wine consumer is temperature. Truth be told though, wine is far more tolerant of temperature than wine consumers give it credit for. If you are storing your everyday drinking bottles, any temperature below 75 and above 40 degrees is fine. Collector bottles you plan to store for many years though, should be kept at a narrower range of say 50 to 60 degrees. Here is the big thing about temperature though- keep it consistent. What will take a toll on any wine, regardless of the caliber, are constant swings from cold to warm.
You can accomplish a consistent temperature without building a wine cellar. A small wine refrigerator will work well. You can also store your wine in an interior closet with no exposure to outside walls, or even under your bed if the room temperature stays fairly consistent. If you have a basement, that is perhaps the best choice for storage. Keeping it near an outside wall and away from heat vents or direct sunlight will be great for your wine- from everyday drinkers to your special occasion bottles.
Another concern is the temperature of the wine when it is served. Any red wine is best drunk around 60 degrees, or slightly cooler for white wine. If the wine is either too warm or too cold, much of the fruit will be stripped from the wine, resulting in only flavors of oak, alcohol and acid. More often than not, wine served at the wrong temperature happens at restaurants that are sometimes careless about storing their bottles close to heat-generating appliances. You can easily control this at home by avoiding heat sources.
One final word on temperature. When transporting wine home from the store or from a winery on a hot day, avoid leaving the wine in the car for long periods of time. In addition to potentially spoiling the wine if it gets hot enough in your vehicle, it can expand the small air gap between the cork and the wine and push the cork right out of the bottle.
If your wine is sealed with a natural cork, always store your bottles on their sides. By keeping the bottles on their sides or even upside down the cork closure will stay moist from being in contact with the wine. This accomplishes two goals. First, the cork does not shrink, which would allow air to seep in and wine to seep out, potentially spoiling your bottle. Secondly, a moist cork is far easier to remove from the bottle than a dry one. Once a cork dries out it will frequently crack or shred when you are removing it from the bottle.
One of the least recognized and most torturous things for wine is vibration. When wine is bottled or transported long distances, it undergoes bottle shock. The vibration and introduction of large amounts of air from bottling causes the wine to shut down and simply taste bad. This is called bottle shock. The best advice if you have transported wine a long distance is to give it 24 to 48 hours to emerge from the bottle shock. Storing your wine next to something that vibrates like a dishwasher, refrigerator or other appliance can cause the wine to get “shocky,” so keep your wine unshaken for best results.
The reason many wine bottles are made from dark glass is that prolonged exposure to sunlight can degrade the wine in the bottle. While it would take a long time of consistent exposure to sunlight to spoil wine, it is easy to just store your wine away from windows so it won’t be a problem. This is also why storing your wine in a closet, under the bed or in your basement may be of benefit.
Finally, the best way to avoid torturing your wine is to ditch the gadgets! There are a number of tricks and wine gadgets suggested for making wine taste better. There have been suggestions recently to put your wine through a blender, there are others that send sonic waves through the wine, and still others through a variety of means that claim to reduce sulfites or in other ways improve the flavor of the wine. Save the money on all of these and instead, invest those dollars in buying better wine with the help of your favorite and trusted wine professional. You will likely end up with wine that is more consistently pleasing to your palate.
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George Balling is co-owner with his wife, Mary Lancaster, of the dinner party, a wine and gift shop in Coeur d’Alene by Costco. The dinner party has won the award for best wine shop in North Idaho twice, including for 2018. George is also published in several other publications around the country. After working in wineries in California and judging many wine competitions, he moved to Coeur d’Alene with Mary more than 10 years ago to open the shop. You can also follow us on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/#!/dinnerpartyshop.