Storage best practices
How to avoid the temptation of drinking too young
Having a home cellar can be a form of torture for those of us who love drinking wine. It takes a lot of willpower to leave that bottle of Bouchard Père & Fils where it is, knowing that it’s sitting on the shelf just waiting for someone to uncork it. That’s one reason I only keep a few bottles in my house and leave the rest to off-site storage. The bottles I have in my modestly-sized cooler are the ones I know I love to drink weekly, or that I’m willing to lose whenever I get a craving for something spectacular to pair with a great dinner. I’ve seen quite a few legendary bottles opened before their prime by impatient collectors who refuse to leave their wine alone. Unless you have the self-discipline of a Buddhist monk, you should always keep three types of wine in off-site wine storage. Learn more.
Understanding the impact of climate on wine storage
Most wine experts agree that storing a wine between 52 and 55 degrees is the only safe temperature range, depending on the varietal. Yet what many experts are now discovering is that the threshold for safe wine storage might be more expansive than we once thought; instead, it is changes in temperature that can destroy a wine’s flavor. Jancis Robinson explains that the best cellars never waver in temperature, but this is a tough quality to find. She says, “For most of us, alas, this cellar belongs in the realm of fantasy. Most modern dwellings have a shortage of storage space of any kind, let alone somewhere cool, dark, quiet, slightly damp and roomy enough for a cache of bottles.” Learn more.
Understanding the impact of halogen lights on wine
Halogen bulbs are among the most dangerous lighting options for wine cellars. The bulbs emit enough heat to change the temperature of the cellar, and when wine gets too hot, it can become cooked and will spoil. They also cause the temperature to fluctuate whenever you turn on and off the lights, which can cause water to condense on the bottles. This results in soggy wine labels that can peel off or grow mildew. Halogens also emit UV light, which breaks down chemical compounds in the wine. Over time, wine exposed to too much light from halogens may lose flavor. The safest lighting option for collectors is dimmed-down LED lights, which emit far less heat and UV rays than halogens and fluorescents. Learn more.
Understanding the impact of vibrations on wine
The bottom line is that vibration does ruin wine, although the extent of the damage depends on the type of vibration. When a wine bottle vibrates, sediment that gathers at the bottom of the bottle mixes back in with the pure liquid on top, altering the flavor of the wine. Vibrations also cause chemical reactions in the wine that dull the wine's flavor and give it a fuel-like smell. Constant vibration, even at a low level, can negatively impact the flavor of your wine within 18 months or less. The longer your wine is exposed to these conditions, the more likely it will age improperly and taste bland. For the best aging results, you should keep your wine on an earthquake-proof shelf and avoid moving your bottles unless absolutely necessary. Learn more.
How to prevent the damaging effects of vibration
Wines that sit on top of a food fridge are in a constant state of low-key vibration, so you should never keep your bottles stored on or near these kinds of appliances (like washing machines, dishwashers, or dryers). Investing in a wine fridge might help absorb shakes, but you need to buy a fridge that is equipped with a compressor. Some coolers vibrate slightly as they maintain the internal temperature, and a compressor is specifically designed to eliminate vibration. Learn more.
Understanding how long to store white wine
Most white wine won't last in a cellar much longer than about a year or two. White wine spoils especially quickly because it doesn't have as much tannin as red wine; only a handful of white wines will get better with age. Low-acid white wines will last fewer than two years in a cellar, on average, whereas wines with higher acidity will last longer. You can store medium-acid wines like oaked Chardonnay or oaked Sauvignon Blanc for about five years in a cellar, while higher-acid wines like Chenin Blanc and Auslese Riesling will age for a decade or more. The longest-lived white wines on the market include vintage Champagne (the carbonation helps preserve the wine), Sauternes, and botrytized Riesling. The best vintages of these wines will keep in your cellar for 20 years or more--as long as most fine red wine. Learn more.
**Image courtesy of Fox40
Understanding how long to store red wine
Only high-value, high-quality wines are worth keeping in a cellar for more than a handful of years. Generally, you should only keep low-tannin red wine like Beaujolais in your cellar for fewer than two years, since these kinds of wines spoil quickly and are more delicious when they're fresh and youthful. Lighter reds with slightly higher tannins, like Pinot Noir or Zinfandel, can be stored for about five years, on average, depending on the quality. You can store deeper reds like Malbec and Cabernet Franc for 10 to 20 years because they have even stronger, tighter tannins and almost always improve in taste as they age. The longest-lasting red wines tend to be Cabernet Sauvignon, red Bordeaux, and Amarone, which can age anywhere from 20 to 50 years, depending on the vintage and producer. Learn more.
Tips on storing Bordeaux wine
I learned the hard way that storing Bordeaux requires careful planning. For instance, I didn’t realize that wines like 1999 Palmer and 1990 Château d’Yquem mature at different rates. I soon found out that each wine has its own timetable; the Palmer is already drinking well now and I may have to uncork it soon, whereas the Yquem could stay in my cellar for another 30 years. Learn more.
How to age champagne
Prestige cuvees from top producers are built to age as well, as they typically spend a very long time on yeast, which acts as not only as a body-building seasoning, but also as a kind of preservative. For this same reason, vintage Champagne often outlives its non-vintage counterparts. Think about 10-30+ years for top houses’ Vintage or Tête du Cuvées releases, or ‘Special Club’ releases from small grower-producers. I’ve had Salon on their original corks back from the 70s and while the fizz may have calmed down, the wine inside only got better and more mind-blowingly complex. Learn more.