If you’re like most Americans, you’ll drink that bottle of wine you bought today within the next few days. In that scenario, how and where you store wine isn’t nearly as important as if you buy a case of Long Island’s finest Merlot and want to age it over the next decade. If tasting how a wine changes as it spends time aging in the bottle is important to you, how and where you store it is paramount.
And yes, there are many wines made locally that are worthy of such aging.
First, we all know that wine should be stored on its side to prevent the cork from drying out, so temperature is probably the most important consideration. The complex chemical processes that happen as wine ages take place faster at higher temperatures. That may sound like a good thing, but storing wine at a higher temperature for five years won’t result in a wine that tastes like it’s been aged for ten. This high-temperature “speed aging” will result in muted, less complex flavors, something nobody wants. If wine is kept at too high a temperature, the wine will “cook” – completely ruining it – leaving you with flat, flabby, stewed flavors. Not good.
The best temperature range for wine is between 55 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Typically, it’s better to store white wines
toward the 55-degree mark and reds a bit warmer. Don’t store wine in your refrigerator long term either. It’s too cold and the refrigerator’s vibrations will dull
flavors as well.
The next factor to consider is temperature consistency. As the temperature changes, the wine in the bottle expands and contracts, and if the cork isn’t forming a perfect seal, small amounts of air can enter the bottle. Wine matures via a reductive process that takes place in the absence of oxygen, and if any air does get past the cork it can destroy the liquid inside.
Sunlight is another of wine’s enemies. Excessive exposure to light can cause wine proteins to turn hazy, making a wine look less than attractive. Sunlight also negatively affects aromas and flavors.
Lastly, you should keep an eye on the humidity. Your “cellar” should stay between 60-80 percent. Any more humid than that and mold becomes a possibility. And humidity below 60 percent can cause evaporation and oxidation.
Keep it cool. Keep it consistent. Keep it dark. Keep it moderately humid. Seems pretty easy, right? Not necessarily, but with a little thought it can be done – even without an ultra-expensive, climate-controlled wine cellar.
Your basement is a possibility, but if your furnace throws off too much heat, put your wine rack on the opposite end or explore other options. If you’re only storing a case of wine or so, try a bedroom closet. Move some of your shoes to the attic and replace them with wine. It’s a dark, stable place and most people keep their homes between 65 and 75 degrees year-round. That’s a bit warmer than ideal, but being in the dark bottom of the closet will help.
Another great option if you only have a few bottles you want to store long term is a small wine refrigerator, which can be purchased for a few hundred dollars.
In a couple of weeks we’ll talk about what makes certain wines age worthy and how to choose wines for “cellaring.” Until then, happy uncorking.
(This column first appeared in the 10/28 issue of Dan's Papers)