We’ve all experienced it before: we invite someone into our home, cook them a beautiful meal, and pull out that slightly-better-than-average bottle we’ve been saving… only to be ‘educated’ on how we’ve probably ruined it by keeping it next to the microwave for two years.
For a cheap bottle bought and consumed within a couple of days, storage isn’t a huge issue, but if you’re planning on letting your wine mature, it’s best to think about where you’re keeping it.
Here to guide us through this topic is our friend and acclaimed wine expert, Richard Horsley, Senior Wine Buyer at United Cellars.
Wine We Drink vs. Wine We Cellar
We should begin by acknowledging the difference between wine we drink and wine we cellar.
When you’re going to drink a bottle very soon after buying it, it makes sense to keep it within easy reach. But for that special bottle you’ve been holding onto, a whole other set of rules apply.
According to Richard, the usual ‘convenient’ spots are rarely ideal places for your better wine to be stored.
“Generally speaking, convenient locations tend to be near or above the fridge or in the kitchen – and this goes against many of the best practices we recommend for long-term storage,” he says.
There are four main areas where the kitchen or living/diving room options fall short: temperature, humidity, light, and bottle orientation.
Top tip: To avoid treating your better wine like your everyday wine, keep it somewhere different.
Temperature Change, Not Just Temperature
Richard says the right place for wine storage should provide a consistent temperature day and night, year-round. And as he reveals, it doesn’t necessarily need to be very cold; it’s temperature change, not outright temperature that causes damage.
The problem with kitchens and other open storage spaces is that the temperature can vary wildly between day and night, and between seasons.
“Be wary of diurnal shifts – the natural temperature fluctuations that occur between day and night.
“Stable temperature is the golden rule in cellaring your wine, as it allows the wine to evolve and mature in an even, measured fashion,” he explains.
A consistent temperature is more important than a cold one. While many people believe or assume the ideal storage option needs to be chilly, this isn’t necessarily the case.
Handy hint: As long as the temperature is constant, wine can be cellared as high as 21 degrees Celsius.
Humidity (or Lack Thereof)
Richard tells us that humidity causes two distinct problems, depending on whether it’s too high or too low.
“The main danger of high humidity is that it can cause mould and damage your labels. This isn’t a game changer if it’s for personal consumption, but label damage can be heartbreaking if it’s a prized bottle!
“If you’re worried your cellar or wine storage room is too humid, wrap the bottles in cling film to keep the labels in pristine condition for the long term,” he says.
Low humidity can also be fatal to your wine, and considering the dryness we experience across most of the country, especially in winter, it might be a good idea to store your wine somewhere more contained.
“If the air is dry enough to crack the cork, air will seep into the bottle, oxidising the wine. This irreparably alters its taste and texture,” he warns.
At United Cellars, humidity is kept at around 70%. But while it’s a real factor to consider, Richard stresses that temperature is ultimately more important than humidity.
“While it’s difficult to say whether one is worse than the other, if we had to live with one condition, we’d choose higher rates of fluctuation in humidity.”
Remember: Large fluctuations in either humidity or temperature will be detrimental to a bottle’s cellaring potential – but temperature is the main one.
Exposure to UV (Including Indoor Lighting)
Wine reacts poorly to UV light, and Richard says even dark-glassed bottles aren’t safe from its effects.
“Bottles don’t stop UV all that well, and even if you keep them out of sunlight, some fluorescent bulbs can also do damage. This is why keeping your wine on a shelf or countertop for any length of time isn’t ideal.
“UV light speeds up the ageing process of wine, much like the way it damages skin, as it sets into motion the degradation of otherwise stable organic compounds, which is irreversible,” he says.
Richard suggests replacing UV-heavy fluorescent lights with incandescent alternatives to minimise the risk of your wine being affected, or keeping it in a cool, dark place – like a cellar.
Laying Bottles on Their Sides
Traditionally, cellars and wine collectors have preferred to store wine horizontally or at a downward angle, as this keeps the wine against the bottom of the cork, preventing drying out and cracking.
This is still standard practice for natural-cork bottles, however Richard notes that this isn’t always necessary.
“These methods were established for wines with a cork enclosure, but for synthetic corks and screw-caps, it’s a non-issue,” he says.
If you’re storing your wine on its side without a secure rack, you run the risk of disturbing it each time you go and get a bottle. If the bottles have screw-caps or synthetic corks, you’re better off keeping them standing and as still as possible.
Bonus tip: It’s OK to store sparkling wines and champagne vertically. The carbon dioxide, which is heavier than air, creates a barrier between the wine and outside air.
If, like most people, you’re storing your more valuable bottles of wine in an everyday, ‘convenient’ spot, you may be exposing it to damaging conditions, be it temperature, humidity or UV.
And if you can’t create the perfect storage environment at home, it might be time to consider National Storage’s wine storage service. Thanks also go to Richard Horsley and the team at United Cellars for the detailed information in this article.