Aspire to a wine collection? Some people may stop by the wine store to pick up a bottle for dinner, but not us. As oenophiles, we could scour the shelves for hours searching for special whites and reds to add to the cellar. For all that delicious wine, hard-to-find producers, and limited-edition bottles, safe storage is key. Whether you’re keeping a bottle for a few months or ten years, there are some guidelines to ensure the wine stays in the best possible condition. All types of wine, including sparkling (like Champagne), white, red, rosé, dessert, and even fortified wines follow the same storage basics. Because, after all, you don’t want the wine to turn to vinegar before you can appreciate all the complex flavors and aromas.
Store On The Side
All wine should be stored horizontally. It’s something you’ll notice in every custom wine cellar, wine refrigerator, built-in kitchen wine rack, and even top-notch wine shops; the racks are created so that bottles lay on their sides. It looks slick, for one, but it serves an important purpose: it shifts the liquid forward to keep the cork moist. This also helps slow oxidation as air seeps in through the cork. This prevents premature aging and spoilage. We’re particularly fond of wine storage with drawers. You can pull them out and easily see the labels of your wines.
Keep It Cool
Lining your wines up on your kitchen counter may look striking, but it’s not the best for your vino. Wines like steady, cool temperatures. Heat warms the liquid and may cause it to spoil more quickly. The ideal temperature for storing wine is 55 degrees F. It’s often referred to as “cellar temperature” and works for any style of wine, like sparkling wines, whites, reds, and fortified styles such as Port and Madeira. (Cellar temperature is different than serving temperature, which ranges from 45 degrees F to room temperature.) It’s why wine refrigerators or chilled wine rooms are popular for long-term wine storage.
If you don’t have a dedicated refrigerated room (especially the city dwellers among us), look for a cool corner of your home. Keep wine away from heat sources, such as furnaces, stoves, and fireplaces. That means never put a bottle on the top of the kitchen refrigerator either. Pantries are a great option.
If you do want to store wine at the optimal 55 degrees F, consider investing in a wine refrigerator. They come in all sorts of sizes, from countertop six-bottle mini fridges to massive, wall-sized units that fit hundreds of bottles. Many can be built-in to your kitchen or bar area too, which makes them easier on the eyes.
There’s Such a Thing as “Too Cold”
As much as unopened wines like cool spaces, they don’t do so well in a freezing cold kitchen refrigerator. That bottle of Champagne that’s been in the fridge door for months? Take it out. Kitchen refrigerators keep items around 35 to 40 degrees, which is great for food preservation but much too cold for bottles of wine. If the wine freezes, it can actually push the cork out as the liquid expands! Plus, the refrigerator lacks humidity, which can dry out the wine corks and cause your wine to oxidize prematurely.
If you do want to chill a bottle of white, rosé, sparkling, or any other wine to serve later that day, put the bottle in the refrigerator on its side an hour before you want to pop it open.
It’s Better in the Dark
Ever notice how wines, especially Champagne, come in tinted bottles? There’s a reason for it. Wines do better in the dark, and thick, colored glass bottles help keep the light out. For one, light creates heat, so leaving a bottle on a cabinet near a window will likely turn bad more quickly than the same bottle stored inside that piece of furniture. Sunlight also warms the wine without the necessary level of humidity, meaning the cork can dry out and the wine could oxidize when you don’t want it to. Also, UV rays break down the chemicals and molecules that allow the wine to slowly age, throwing off the balance of the process and potentially ruining your wine. To prevent this, store bottles away from direct sunlight, avoid bright rooms, and don’t use fluorescent light bulbs near your aging wine.
Serve It Up
For some, 55 degrees may seem too chilled to drink, especially for red wines that come directly out of the cellar or wine refrigerator. When you want to open a bottle, allow the bottle to come to room temperature by decanting the wine or leaving it on the table for a few minutes. For white, rosè, dessert, and sparkling wines, you can do one of two things: put the bottle in an ice bucket to chill it a few more degrees or pop it in the fridge for 15 minutes before serving. Just don’t add ice cubes to the wine in a glass—it will water down the liquid and mute the flavors.
Save for Another Day
Now that you’ve stored that precious bottle for what feels like eons, you open it and savor—but you don’t finish the bottle. There are best practices for keeping open wine good too. The trick is to limit the oxygen contact with the liquid as oxygen will turn the wine to vinegar. Many people just pop the cork back in the bottle, but we advise against that. For one, the cork is not air-tight, so oxygen will get in. Secondly, the cork can break, causing pieces to fall into the liquid when you go to open the bottle again.
Instead, the best method is to use a vacuum pump and place the bottle upright in the fridge away from the lightbulb. Why? Firstly, the vacuum pump seals the wine after removing as much oxygen as possible. Keeping the bottle upright limits the amount of liquid exposed to air (compared to a bottle on its side) and, of course, you want to restrict its contact with light. Wines will stay good for three to five days. There are similar vacuum systems with a safety for sparkling wines that help retain the bubbles over the course of time and prevent the top from popping under pressure.
For serious oenophiles, an inert gas preservation system may be a better bet. These systems, like the well-known Corvain, replace extracted wine with argon gas, allowing you to sip a special bottle over the course of months. (Yes, months!) It’s also great for drinkers who only want a glass here and there, but not regularly. For this system, though, you never remove the cork. The preservation system is used with the cork in place, so commit to this option before grabbing the corkscrew.
What about fortified wines, you ask? Like liquor, fortified styles of wine, including Madeira, Sherry, and Vermouth, can actually be kept on a bar cart, assuming the room stays at a reasonable temperature. These styles of wine have been fortified with alcohol, which acts as a preservative. Many of these wines can technically stay open for a few years, though you’ll get the best quality by consuming them in a few months. For Ports, it varies by style. Vintage ports should be stored like red wines—in the refrigerator for a few days—while Tawny styles are good for two months.