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NorCal Wine Blog

Storing Wine

Wine is not perishable in the same sense as, say, mayonnaise. However, it does need to be cared for properly or it will lose some of its better qualities. And, yes, if really cared for badly, good wine can become completely unpleasant. That said, caring for wine isn’t difficult and you don’t need a fancy wine cellar.

There are a few common sense rules and that’s about it. There is a difference, though, between storing wine for near-term consumption (a week or two) versus storing it for the longer term. As you would expect, the longer you hope to have a wine last, the more care you need to take. The following is a simple guide to making sure that your wine lasts as long as it possibly can.

Never allow a wine to get hot.
If a wine gets too warm, two things can happen. First, the wine can essentially cook which will change its flavor in a negative way. Second, as the wine heats, it will expand in the bottle. This can actually cause the cork seal to fail. This might simply mean that wine seeps through or around the cork. In extreme cases, the wine can actually push the cork partially out of the bottle. Once the cork seal has been broken in this manner, not on ly has the wine gotten too hot, there is a greater chance of it becoming contaminated by chemicals or bacteria.

Remember wine, which is mostly water, will collect, absorb and hold heat. Leaving wine in a hot car or a sunny window will cause the wine to get much hotter than you might expect based on the air temperature. If you are on a wine tour in Napa or Sonoma, make sure to bring a cooler to hold the wine you buy. Or, carry your bottles with you into each winery. The wineries will respect you for it and your wine will be happy.

If a wine gets hot, you should try to drink it as soon as possible. But be prepared to pour it down the sink if it tastes “off.”

Don’t allow wine to suffer large or frequent temperature changes.
Such changes will also damage the wine. Try to store your wine in a place where the temperature doesn’t change too much. Treat your wine like Harry Potter; put it in a closet under the stairs. Your kitchen is not a good place. Kitchens get very hot and they also undergo a lot of temperature changes. The garage is even worse.

If you are only storing your wine for a short time, the two priorities above are the main things you need to focus on. However, if you want to take even greater care with some nice bottles of red wine or you want to hang onto the wine for an extended period of time, the following considerations are all very important.

Protect the cork.
If the cork dries out, it’s seal can be compromised. This will allow the wine to oxidize or become contaminated. To avoid this, always store your wine on its side, or even upside down. This ensures that the bottom of the cork is always covered with wine that will keep it moist. If your wine has a screw top, or a glass or synthetic closure, you don’t need to worry about this.

Keep the wine cool.
Wine will last best if stored at less than 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Somewhere between 52 and 58 degrees is about perfect. The cooler it is stored, the longer it will take the wine to “develop.” So, if you want the wine to last a long, long time, store it at the cooler end of the range. If you want to experience those tertiary flavors after a more typical interval, 58 degrees is fine. You don’t want the wine to get too cold though. A bit of chill doesn’t hurt but long term storage at very cold temperatures isn’t good for the flavors either.

Note: It is often said that wine should be stored and served at “room temperature.” That confusing phrase is a hold over from the days when the lord of the manor had a wine room in the basement of his drafty estate and the key on a chain around his neck. This was before central heating and R50 insulation. So, when you see the phrase “room temperature,” translate that to “about 56 degrees.” If you don’t have a cooled space for your wine, at least keep it close to the floor. The air should be cooler there. Also try to store wine away from windows and outside walls, as those areas have more variable temperatures. DO NOT keep your wine in the garage unless it's in a wine fridge. The kitchen is also a lousy place for storing wine. It's too warm and the temperature fluctuates too much.

Keep it in the dark.
Long-term exposure to light will damage wine by encouraging natural chemical reactions to occur more quickly. It’s best to store your wine in a place that is almost always dark.

Protect it from vibration.
Vibrations, even if fairly minor can “stir up” particles within wine. This changes the flavor and the mouthfeel much more than you might expect. Red wines, especially if they have a bit of age, are especially vulnerable to this. Storing wine on or in a regular food refrigerator for a long period of time is a bad idea because the compressor runs frequently generating a lot of vibration.

Keep track of your wine.
It’s easy to forget what you have and when it should be consumed. Even more disappointing than cooking a wine you just bought is keeping one carefully for longer than you should have. Most wines are made to be enjoyed very soon after bottling. Few wines can age for long periods of time. And there’s no way to rejuvenate a dead wine. Do a bit of research to determine what might be best for yours and keep a record of it. Remember also that every wine and and every palate is different.

If you have multiple bottles of a certain wine, open one periodically to taste and see how it’s developing.
That way, you can not only ensure that you don’t lose your wine to age, you can start to get an idea of whether or not you prefer your wine older and more developed or younger and more fruity. There’s no right or wrong answer and preferring wine young is not a character flaw. It’s your wine. Enjoy it as you like.

Large bottles, such as magnums, will age longer than standard bottles. Half-bottles age faster.
The difference can be a factor of 2x when it comes to good red wines. So, if your goal is to age wine for a very long period of time, perhaps for a 21st birthday celebration or a major wedding anniversary, you should strongly consider buying a large format bottle. On the other hand, opening a half-bottle of a wine can let you know which direction your regular bottles are heading.

If you want to age your wine for an extended period of time, buy the right wine.
Good red wines made from grapes such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Nebbiolo are excellent candidates. When tasting the wines new, look for excellent structure well balanced by fruit and acidity. Wines table wines that are very high in alcohol tend to wear out more quickly, so look at the labels. Though high in alcohol, vintage Port is an excellent prospect for long-term aging. There are also some white wines that can age. Good Riesling, both dry and sweet, is capable of lasting decades. The same is true of some other botrytis-effected sweet wines, such as Dolce from Napa Valley. Off-dry or sweet Chenin Blanc can go for quite a while as can high-quality vintage sparkling wines.