In my own humble home, I have a 12-bottle wine fridge that sits on the floor and most of the time that is plenty of space as I am not usually able to keep more than that due to my frequent consumption. A welcome storage challenge has arisen for me following my first wine-tasting trip to Sonoma, Calif. Now, I have too much wine! Well, not literally; how can you have too much wine?
Anyway, I am trying to figure out the best way to store my 10 new bottles of wine—some red, some white—when they can’t all be stored in the wine fridge. Can you give me some general tips for storage? I plan to keep a few around to see how they age, but I’m probably going to be drinking most of them in the next year or so. I have access to a non-heated basement, if that’s anything useful. I’m aware of the basic storage rules: don’t keep wine on top of the refrigerator or anywhere too warm; cool, dry closet, etc. Any other tips?
Inman Park, Ga.
First of all, Anne, I want to tell you just how proud I am of you for caring about your wine purchases. You wouldn’t believe how many people (including those who sell wine for a living) who could not give a rip about wine storage. I was recently in a nice restaurant in River Edge, N.J., which actively promoted its fine wine offerings. When our Chilean carmenère-merlot blend arrived at the table, it wasn’t just warm. It was hot! Obviously, it was stored on top of, instead of inside, some type of refrigeration unit.
Storing wine appropriately and serving it at proper service temperature are among the easiest things to do that’ll put a smile on any wine lover’s face. And good news! Anne, you’re in great shape.
Before I go on about your specific situation, the Transnational Wine Institute of Technology (T.W.I.T.), of which I am a charter member, requires me to quickly review the criteria that make ideal wine storage situations ideal.
Temperature—55 degrees. And that should be constant.
Humidity—70 percent or better.
Light—Infrequently and at low levels.
Vibration—None. That includes rumbling refrigerator motors.
Aside from the standard instruction of keeping the bottle on its side, which does not apply to screwtop wines, you’re good to go.
Now, as for your burgeoning wine collection, you can confidently keep the extra bottles in your basement. When you are ready to drink them (and it would appear you almost can’t wait), just bring the bottles up and put them in your refrigerator or ice bucket until they are around proper service temperature, which I’ll get to in second.
Should you be worried that some of your wines are not quietly waiting for you in ideal conditions? No, you shouldn’t. Ideal storage conditions are only important for long-term storage. And by long term, I’m talking years, if not decades, before you pull the cork or crack the screwtop. In the short term, wine lovers need only concern themselves with avoiding extreme conditions, such as temperatures above 85 degrees or below 30; desert-like dryness; rock concert-level spotlights; and jackhammer-infested construction sites.
And here is a little rain on what is otherwise a sunny parade for you, Anne. Your mini wine fridge likely does not protect your babies from any of the four important storage rules mentioned above, not even the temperature guideline. Unless it has a solid door or shaded glass to keep out ultraviolet light, humidity control and a vibration-free cooling unit, your unit is merely keeping your wine at or very near service temperature. The $150 units I’ve seen for sale at The Home Depot have as much as five-degree swings above and below their set temperature. This is not considered constant.
So, are all those kitchen wine storage units that hold a case or three of wine useless? Heck no! I wish that restaurant in River Edge had one, that’s for sure.
The fact is most people the world around serve their wines at the wrong temperatures. We either dunk our whites in ice until they are Arctic cold. Or we serve our reds at room temperature, which is an arcane concept going back a hundred years or more when rooms were closer to 60 degrees, not an air-conditioned or heated 72 degrees.
Anne, every time you take a bottle out of your little fridge, it’s pretty close to where it needs to be temperature-wise. And when you serve that wine, you are giving that bottle its best chance to taste as good as it possibly can. This puts you miles ahead of most wine lovers.
There are indeed confusing, T.W.I.T.-approved lists of service temperatures for whatever wine you’re serving. I’ll try to simplify this and give you two numbers: 45 and 65. Light, bright white wines should be close to 45 degrees and big, bold, older reds should be close to 65. For everything else, you shoot for the middle.
As for those few bottles that you want to hold on to for a special moment, either engineer for that moment to occur in the next two years or try to find a friend who truly has proper storage facilities. Otherwise, you are just spoiling for a future disappointment.
Originally published July 29, 2010, in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.