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Storing Wine

by Staff Writer - C. Barnett | July 09, 2011

For both the novice wine drinker and the experienced wine connoisseur, proper wine storage can make all the difference. While the majority of wine bottles purchased will be consumed immediately or within a short period of time, those that are kept for weeks or months can be impacted by the type of home wine storage you have. For many wine lovers, having the right kind of wine storage unit is essential. How your wine is stored may directly affect the final flavor, color and character of each bottle of wine you purchase.

Wine Racks

A wine rack is essential for storing wine. It does not matter whether your wine storage rack is wooden, metal, wrought iron, hanging or wall mounted. The effects of time can cause gradual changes in the flavor of wine. Proper storage is a basic need for wine because temperature changes can be its enemy. Some basic principles in storage will help to enhance your enjoyment of wine. Once you have purchased wine, whether it's a few bottles or several cases, you need to address the issue of storage.

Short Term Wine Storage

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Short term wine storage is for wine that will be consumed within 6 months. Short term storage may also be bottles that have been pulled from longer storage to be available for spur of the moment use.

The closer you can duplicate the conditions necessary for long term storage, the better. In many situations, keeping the wines in a box in an interior closet, or using a small rack away from a direct heat source is a satisfactory solution.

Long Term Storage

If you plan to collect wine that will benefit from longer bottle maturity (over 6 months), proper storage is important. Before choosing a space, be sure it will be big enough to house future purchases. In some cases, empty space beneath a stairway is sufficient, or you may find it necessary to allow room for hundreds of wine bottles stored both as individually racked bottles and full cases.

Keep the bottles stored so that the bottle is on its side so the cork stays moist; the wines are at the lowest stable temperature possible; the location is free of direct sunlight and make sure the location is not a storage area for other items that have a strong odor.

Storage Angle

Wine bottles should always be stored either horizontally, at a 45º angle with the cork facing down, or somewhere in between. This will keep the wine in constant contact with the cork ensuring no air gets into the bottle.

Humidity

The ideal humidity level for home wine storage is between 60% - 70%. This helps keep the cork moist. Low humidity can cause the cork to dry out and crack, allowing air into the bottle. High humidity can create mildew or rot on the cork. This is another reason to keep the bottles on their sides. The wine itself will help keep cork moist.

Wine Storage Temperature Stability

The correct storing wine temperature does not have rapid fluctuations. 55° F is good, but 50° - 57° F (10° to 14° C) is acceptable. Wide variations in temperature may harm the wine. Having too high a temperature will age the wine faster so it won't get as complex as it might have and can also "cook" a wine until the fruit character becomes dulled, resulting in flat aromas and flavors. Having too low a temperature will slow the wine's maturation.

Just as important is the rate at which temperature changes. , properly stored wine allows for a very slight fluctuation of that ideal temperature. For wine to remain stable, it is recommended that your wine storage temperature not fluctuate more than 5º F or 2º - 3º C and that those fluctuations are rare. A rapid rise and fall of temperature may cause pressure changes within a bottle, forcing the cork upwards and allowing leaks while permitting air to enter the bottle. Air is another of wine's enemies. Any prolonged exposure will lead to oxidation, which produces a brownish color and unpleasant flavors.

Light Level

Over time, light may also harm wine. Wine bottles and most wine coolers are tinted with dark colored glass to allow very little light to get to the wine. Bottles should be kept from direct sunlight or from a well lit room, preferably in darkness. Wine stored in darkness is more likely to retain its clarity. Light reacts to proteins in the wine to form a haze as well as other distasteful effects, such as unpleasant aromas and flavors.

Ventilation

Outside air will seep into your wine bottles through the cork, so be sure there no smells or odors coming from other substances stored nearby your wine for long periods of time. These would include cleaning solvents, paint or chemicals of any kind.

The storage area should be free from chemical odors, such as cleaners, household paints, oil, gasoline, etc. Whatever it is that is causing the odor stands a good chance of getting through the cork and into the wine.

How to Store Opened Wine Bottles

Keeping the wine as the winemaker intended overnight is no easy accomplishment, given how rapidly a wine can degrade when exposed to oxygen. A typical wine left overnight without any special handling will not be drinkable due to oxidation. On the other hand, a wine that did not fully open up during the first night of drinking may well be better with a night to continue evolving. There are four complementary solutions all of which minimize the effect of oxidation on the wine.

  • Vacuum Corking Vacuum corking (Vacu Vin) works for the short term, longer if the wine started a little closed to begin with.
  • GassingThe gases are colorless, odorless and tasteless, and leave a blanket over the wine, displacing the oxygen and reducing the effect of the oxidation process. The typical gases used are Argon and Nitrogen.
  • Storage in a Smaller Bottle A small bottle reduces the amount of oxygen in the bottle, but pouring the wine into the smaller bottle is tedious and exposes the wine to more air.
  • Refrigeration Refrigerating wine is controversial. Some feel that refrigeration kills the flavor of wine, while others appreciate the convenience, not noting any change in flavor.

If you do have any wine leftover that you are not going to drink soon, you can freeze it in ice cube trays and use the cubes for cooking. Individual preferences will vary for wine storage, just as the preference for taste varies. The important thing to note is trying to duplicate the key elements of long term storage, whether you are storing the wine for the short or the long term. If you keep these elements in mind as you select a storage place, then you should be able to enjoy your wine just as the vintner had intended you to.

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