For a wine lover, a cellar is a necessity. Fine wines are worth paying extra for only if you can store and eventually serve them in good condition. Rarely are wines cellars part of the standard blueprint. So finding the appropriate place to store wine is an issue for almost everyone. A little ingenuity may be required. The principles behind storing wine are not complex, difficult to understand or necessarily difficult to achieve. And if you can’t achieve them all, some of them are better than none.
Let’s begin with the ideal. From here, you can then try to approach the ideal as close as you are able. You’re looking to achieve balance and consistency.
Wine is alive. As such it reacts either positively or negatively to its environment. How it is treated will determine how fast or slow it will age and how it will turn out in the end. Essentially, wine needs to be kept in a clean, dark, damp place with good ventilation, where it can be stored vibration free at a constant temperature.
Temperature is the most important factor and the factor that should be sought after above all others. The optimum temperature is 50 to 55°F (10-12°C). However, any constant temperature within 40-65°F (5-18°C) will do. More important than the actual temperature you will be able to achieve, is the degree and rapidity of fluctuation the wine is subjected to. A slow change of temperature of ten or so degrees between winter and summer is not a big problem. But this kind of fluctuation on a daily or weekly basis will cause damage to your wines and age them prematurely. You will notice damage of this nature from the sticky deposit that often forms around the capsule. In time, as the wine expands and contracts, it will damage the integrity of the cork. When this happens minute quantities of wine may make its way alongside the cork possibly even allowing oxygen to seep back in.
Wines kept at too high a temperature will age faster than wines kept at a cold temperature. Theoretically, wines kept at 68°F will age twice as fast as those kept at 50°F. At 55°F (12°C) wines will age so slowly – with ultimately greater complexity – that you will never have to worry about them. This is not to say the colder the better. Wine that is stored too cold can develop deposits or other suspensions in the wine. Finally, keep in mind that white wines are affected far more by temperature problems than red wines.
Moderate humidity is important so as to keep the corks in good resilient condition and thereby preventing them from shrinking. A relative humidity of 50-80% is the acceptable range, but about 70% is recommended. Excessive humidity will not harm the wine but will cause the labels and any other paper products – like cardboard boxes – you have in the cellar to rot. Insufficient humidity may cause the corks to dry out, lose their elasticity and thereby allow air to get into the bottle.
Light will prematurely age a bottle of wine. Naturally, clear bottles are most susceptible to this problem, but ultraviolet light will penetrate even dark colored glass. Ultraviolet light may give a wine unpleasant aromas and ruin it. Extra care should be given to sparkling wines as they are more sensitive to light than other wines. It should be noted too, that incandescent or sodium vapor lights are better for a celler that fluorescent lighting.
Constant vibration from machinery or a nearby road disturbs a red wine’s sediment and can be harmful to all wine. This is not commonly a problem in the average home as dangerous extremes are rare and obvious. It should be remembered that excessive sound creates vibrations that may be harmful as well.
Wines should be stored in such a way that you don’t have to move them around to get at a particular bottle. Once a wine is laid down, it should stay there until it is opened.
Cleanliness and Ventilation
The space should be free from smells and debris. Extraneous smells can enter through the cork and contaminate the wine. Proper ventilation will help with this problem and keep the cellar from giving the wine a musty taste. Finally, debris that could be a home to insects that might infect the corks – untreated wood, food – should be removed. Never store fruits, vegetables, cheeses or any other food that is capable of fermenting.
Angle of Storage
Table wine is stored horizontally so that the wine stays in contact with the cork. This keeps the cork moist thereby preventing air from entering the wine. Fortified wines other than port, are stored standing. If bottles are stored with the labels up, it will be easier to see the deposit of sediment that forms on the opposite side of the bottle when it comes time to open it.