Wine Storage for the Beginning Collector
I know many of us are collectors of things. Now that I own two wine racks that hold about 120 bottles, I’m a minor collector of wine, and I have enough variety and substance to hold an impromptu wine tasting or multi course dinner. My racks are in the living room and double as a TV stand, not ideal conditions for keeping wine at its best.
However, I keep wine to drink; not to trade or to invest in, or keep for 100 years. So my storage solution works for me. But there are some important things to know about storing wine and a variety of methods to consider.
A wine cellar usually evokes the Old World image of dim subterranean alley ways lined with dark wooden floor to ceiling racks cradling expensive dusty bottles. Or a natural cave in the side of a hill, overlooking the vineyard below. Many wineries in California have cellars along with their tasting rooms, some elaborate, some purely functional. I was invited to a Wine Institute event last year that highlighted the wineries in Livermore. Wente Vineyards, one of the earlier wineries in California, has an incredible cave system, with a labyrinth of vaulted hallways, and lamp lit-alcoves. It functions as both a wine cellar and as an event venue.
You can have your own wine cave built; there is company in California who will do that for you for about $100 a square foot. Wine storage underground means cost savings other than construction; wine evaporates at a much slower rate. But if your needs are smaller, a wine refrigerator or a rack is a good option.
Here are some basic guidelines to storing wine.
Maintain a constant temperature. The ideal temperature for storing all wine is 55 to 65 degrees but it needs to be constant. While heat is the worst enemy of wine, having it too cold or frozen impedes its storage life significantly. A common problem with wine kept too cold is that glass-like crystal tartrates can form, you can still drink the wine but its appearance is diminished.
Maintain constant humidity. High humidity, around 70-80%, will keep the corks moist, and thus minimize evaporation and leaks. Putting a pan of water near your rack or using a humidifier will do the same thing in your home.
Keep the environment free of vibrations, which can cause the corks to not seal well, and prevent the wine from properly settling. Strong light means heat, and odors from paint cans or even pets can get into the wine.
But one of the most important rules is to store wine bottles on their sides. This is done to keep the wine in constant contact with the cork. If the cork becomes too dry, air will get in and the wine will spoil. Most corks have a 10-20 year life span. So if you are planning to hold on to wine longer than that, recorking should be done. I don’t recommend turning the wine bottles; the whole point of racking it is to let it settle properly.
So if you are just looking to have a ready supply of some favorite wines on hand, empty wine boxes turned on the side works well. Many of us start wine cellars because we have found buying wine by the case is a cost effective way of enjoying a favorite brand of wine at home. But remember, the rule of thumb is, the longer you intend to keep and age your wine the more care you need to take.
I noticed the other day one of my wine racks is turning slowly into a book case as I drink the contents. But as a wine hobbyist with storage space, that just gives me incentive to hit the wine tasting trail again soon and refill the shelves with some new discoveries!