Proper wine storage depends on achieving and maintaining the optimal conditions for wine: cool and consistent temperature, high and consistent humidity, physical stability, darkness, and an absence of strong odors.
Some wine experts believe that there are absolute best numbers that must be held at all times, but some variation is possible without damaging your wine. Most important is consistency: the less change and the slower the change the better your wine will be.
Store Wine On Its Side
Every bottle of wine should be stored on its side, horizontally, rather than sitting upright and vertical. Ideally, it should be tipped slightly upward. This position accomplishes three goals:
- Cork is kept wet by contact with the wine in the bottle
- Air bubble remains at the shoulder of the wine bottle
- Wine sediment collects at the bottom of the bottle
The corks should be facing forward and visible to you so that you will see if there is any leakage. Labels should be facing up so you can see what the wine is without disturbing it. The only exceptions to this rule are wines with screw-on caps and sparkling wines.
Most of the wines you buy in the store are not only sitting upright when you purchase them, but have probably been sitting upright for months already. This isn't a problem for inexpensive and moderately priced wines which you intend to drink within a year or two, but it's inadvisable for expensive wines which you intend to cellar for a while. For this reason, you should purchase more expensive wines at retailers who also store wine correctly. Don't be afraid to ask them how the wine was stored and shipped prior to display in their store.
Ideal Wine Storage Conditions
Here is a summary of the sorts of conditions you need to establish for a good wine storage area:
- Temperature: Wines should be stored in a cool area, preferably between 45°F and 65°F (5°C and 18°C). Higher temperatures are possible without actually damaging wine, but better vintages won't achieve their fullest character. Even the higher end of the acceptable range will age wines faster by increasing the rate of oxidation, so the lower end is best.
- Humidity: Wines should be stored in a relatively humid rather than dry room. Humidity should be at least 65%, but not above 90%.
- Consistency: Both temperature and humidity should remain fairly consistent over time. Changes in temperature and humidity should occur gradually rather than quickly, no less than a week for changes as large as ten degrees or 20% humidity.
- Stability: Not everyone thinks about physical stability, but vibrations from foot and motor traffic, or washing machines and other equipment can damage certain wines over time — primarily sparkling wines and aging reds with sediment.
- Darkness: Direct light of any sort should be avoided, but sunlight is the worst because of the ultraviolet rays. Some exposure to direct sunlight might be reversed, though, after a few months in a dark cellar.
- Odors: Surrounding odors from chemicals, paints, exhaust, and other sources will all damage wine over time, which means that while your garage may have sounded like a good idea until now you'll have to strike that from your list of options.
Not the Fridge!
Your refrigerator might sound like the ideal place to store wine, but in fact it's completely the wrong place to use. Home and commercial refrigerators are designed to preserve meat, vegetables, and other food products, not to allow wine to mature or to protect wine flavors.
It's fine of course to chill wines in your refrigerator, but you shouldn't keep wine in your refrigerator for more than about a week. More time will damage the wine in four different ways:
- Refrigerators are too cold
- Refrigerators constantly cycle between colder and warmer temperatures
- Refrigerators reduce the humidity too much
- Refrigerators vibrate
Refrigerators are thus only a short-term cooling solution, not a long-term storage solution. The exception to this is a specially designed wine cooler which can be set to an appropriate temperature, maintain humidity, and is cushioned against vibration.
These are also reasons why you should not use standard air conditioning units to keep your wine cool. Not only will they remove necessary humidity from the air, but they will either be on all the time and thus make the wine too cold, or they will cycle between colder and warmer temperatures.