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How to Store Your Wine and Why

Turning grapes into an alcoholic beverage is an ancient practice, but getting it consistently right is a fairly modern development. Much of the credit goes to a professor who taught at the University of Bordeaux's Institute of Oenology in the 1950s. Emile Peynaud devoted his career to "eradicating winemaking accidents by eradicating winemaking ignorance." Winemakers around the world got on board with Peynaud's vision, and today it is the rare winery that doesn't have a quality-control laboratory. Thanks to science, modern winemakers produce wines that are consistent from bottle to bottle and case to case. Chances are the occasional spoiled bottle you uncork is due to poor storage after it gets to market, and usually after it gets to you. Here's what you need to know to store your wine properly.

Proper Wine Storage-It's Not Just for the Chateau Lafite Rothschild Anymore

Only a small percentage of fine wines benefit from long-term aging. Most wines on the market are meant to be consumed at release. But if you buy wine by the case, storing it properly will protect your investment until you are ready to enjoy it, whether that's in a few days or a few years. Ryan Snyder, founder of WineGeeks.com, says once wine is bottled, it has four enemies:

  • Excessive temperature fluctuation
  • Low humidity
  • Exposure to light
  • Vibration

Let's take a look at each of them.

Not Too Hot, Not Too Cold, Just Right

Heat is enemy number one, according to WineSpectator.com. Although 55 degrees Fahrenheit is considered ideal, they say anything between 45 F and 65 F should fine "as long as you plan to open the bottles within a few years of their release." Store your wine in temperatures higher than 70 F, and it will age too fast or may even cook, rendering its aromas and flavors flat. And while popping a bottle in the refrigerator for up to a couple of months is okay, they say it's a bad idea for long-term storage as the low humidity in the average fridge can dry out the cork. The key is to avoid rapid, extreme or frequent temperature swings. In other words, don't leave your wine in the trunk of your car on a hot summer day or in the dead of winter.

It's the Humidity

WineSpectator.com advises that anything between 50 and 80 percent humidity is safe for wine storage. Less than that and the cork could dry out, exposing your wine to air and spoilage. High humidity can lead to mold. "This won't affect a properly sealed wine, but can damage the labels."

Let There Be No Light

"Wine should not be subjected to excessive amounts of light," says The Fine Wine Reserve, Inc., a company created to serve the needs of fine wine collectors and connoisseurs. "Low-level lighting will not harm wine, but please, keep it out of direct sunlight!"

Bad Vibrations

Although old reds need a few days in the upright position before drinking to let sediment settle, The Fine Wine Reserve, Inc. says, "there really is no clear evidence that suggests [vibration] is as an important issue during the storage stage-provided the vibrations are not extraordinarily strong and persistent." WineSpectator.com agrees-unless you live above a train station or are hosting rock concerts, a little vibration shouldn't be a problem for short-term storage, they say.

How to Store

Well-designed racks that will keep your bottles secure, stable, horizontal and easily accessible are the preferred method of storage. In choosing a racking system, Rustle Hill Winery recommends that you consider how many bottles you plan to store and when you plan to drink them.

"If you have a dozen bottles, ready for drinking within a month or two, then all you may need is a wine rack that sits on the floor. If you are a serious collector and want to store your wines for more than year to maybe ten years, then you may need modular wine racks that hold hundreds of bottles of wine."

Where to Store

If you only have a few bottles, you may be able to get by with a closet, ideally on the north side of your home. But if you're a serious collector, a restaurateur or a distributor short on space, you need to explore off-site options. In addition to traditional wine-storage facilities offered by many wine shops, some of the better self-storage facilities are now offering climate-controlled units specifically intended for wine storage. They're available in a variety of sizes, including small locker-sized spaces. Unlike traditional wine storage facilities, they also offer the added advantage of 24/7 access.

"Inventing Wine: A New History of One of the World's Most Ancient Pleasures", Lukacs, Paul - p.237

"Your First Wine Cellar", WineGeeks.com - http://www.winegeeks.com/articles/28/

"How to Store Wine 101: 7 Basics You Need to Know", WineSpectator.com - http://www.winespectator.com/webfeatures/show/id/45577

"Wine Storage Facts", The Fine Wine Reserve, Inc. - http://www.finewinereserve.com/facts.php

"Choosing a Wine Rack", Rustle Hill Winery - http://rustlehillwinery.com/choosing-a-wine-rack/

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