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A complete guide on how to store wine

Knowing how to store wine is integral to ensure that your bottles age perfectly and are kept in excellent condition.

As wine ages it undergoes chemical changes, developing flavours and nuances that are seldom seen in a young wine. Storing wine in the right environment will enable your bottles to age and develop new flavours and aromas, offering a completely different drinking experience to when the wines were young. To undergo this transformation your wine storage facility needs to consider a number of key factors.

These factors are essential for storing wine for drinking or ageing, however, if your wine is stored for an investment then it is also important to consider a few extra elements to ensure your wine maintains its value.

Improper storage is one of the most common reasons why wine is ruined or damaged, becoming undrinkable and losing its value. Thankfully, any damage is completely preventable if you take the necessary steps to protect your wine.

The following guide on ‘How to Store Wine’ will help you ensure you store your wine in the optimal conditions and the best wine storage facility.

What are the optimal conditions for storing wine?

The perfect conditions for wine storage require a balance of temperature, humidity, light and movement. Above all else when considering how to store your wine you want to maintain the consistency of these four factors.

Temperature

While every factor is important for wine storage, the temperature of the cellar is the most important. Just a few hours at the wrong temperature can severely damage your wine. The perfect temperature range for storing wine is between 10 and 15º C (50 and 59ºF). Prolonged exposure to colder temperatures causes the cork to shrink, allowing more oxygen into the bottle and the wine becoming oxidised. Similarly, excessive heat can give the wine an irreversible “cooked” taste.

Humidity

There is much debate about the ideal humidity of a wine cellar. The aim is to ensure there is enough moisture in the air to preserve the cork, but not so much that the corks or labels are prone to mould. A good standard is to achieve a moderate level of humidity between 50% and 70%.

Light

Wine should be stored in as dark a room as possible, especially if the bottles are transparent. The sun’s UV rays can quickly damage your wine and also affect the storage temperature. Be careful with white, sweet or sparkling wines as these bottles are typically made with transparent glass. Reds are mostly made with green glass, which protects the wine from harmful UV rays.

Movement 

Continuous or excessive vibrations in a wine cellar can disturb a wine’s ageing process. Vibrations during ageing can prevent the sediment from settling to the bottom of the bottle. Sediment that stays suspended in the wine can affect its taste. If you’re looking to drink a bottle of aged wine you’ll want to handle it carefully and especially avoid quick movements. This prevents disrupting the sediment that has settled through the wine ageing process, otherwise, the wine may become more bitter and you’ll experience a grit like texture when drinking the wine.

How can bad wine storage conditions affect the value of your wine?

Top buyers are looking only for perfect cases of wine. With rising concerns about wine fraud, the provenance of a case of wine is of particular importance. A strong provenance will also include a guarantee about the condition of the wine that is for sale. If you do choose to store wine yourself you’ll want to pay a lot of attention to the following factors.

Fill Level

If wine is kept at the wrong temperature it may start to evaporate causing the fill level to change. While buyers understand that for very very old vintages the fill level could be into the neck, it something to pay extremely close attention to.

Cork Condition

If storage conditions are poor the cork is likely to deteriorate. This deterioration is caused by the cork swelling and shrinking based on fluctuations in temperature and humidity. A damaged cork will allow air to get into the bottle and oxidize the wine. It can also cause the wine to seep out, not to mention a damaged cork is difficult to remove.

Label & Capsule Condition

If bottles are not kept in their original cases, the labels and capsules are at risk of being damaged. Wine racks are especially prone to damaging the capsule and label. A wine with a damaged cork may have some signs that the liquid has seeped out and stained the label. Collectors are looking to see a label that is crisp and without fading. Ensuring that the humidity of your cellar is appropriate will keep the labels from peeling or cracking. Most importantly, keeping your wine out of sunlight will keep the labels from fading.

How long should I Store my wine?

For drinking

Every kind of wine, whether it’s red, white, sparkling or a dessert wine differs in ageing potential, but ultimately it is a matter of your personal preference. Different grape varieties age in their own way over time and the aromas and flavours develop and change. Some consumers preferred the taste of particular varieties when they are still young, while others prefer the flavours that can develop when a wine is left for many years. What matters most, however, is your own palette.

For a wine investment

If you’ve bought your wine en primeur the value is likely to increase the moment the wine is in the bottle, otherwise expect to wait five to ten years to give yourself the best opportunity for a return. The maximum amount of time you can store wine could be up to a hundred years, with some examples from the early 20th century selling extremely well. When thinking about selling wine it is a good idea to sell when experts have reached a consensus on that vintage. Some consumers are willing to pay a premium for a wine that has already been aged and is ready to drink.

Where to Store Wine?

If you’re storing wine at home for your personal collection, you need not worry about factors that affect resell label conditions or keeping wine in the original case. If you are buying wine as an investment your best course is to store in a bonded warehouse. Bonded warehouses, not only provide ideal storage conditions, but they guarantee a level of storage quality that wines stored at home do not. Although, it is possible to maintain an excellent cellar at home, when it comes to resale wines stored at home are often traded at a discount.

Wine Cellar

While it is difficult and expensive to build a cellar at home, it is possible to store wine at home if you have a spare room or basement. The classic cellar is of course underground where the temperature is usually cooler and consistent. Therefore, a home cellar would ideally be fully enclosed so that you can regulate the temperature, humidity and avoid any sunlight. If it was possible to keep your bottles within their original packaging then that would help ensure you’d achieve the best prices should you wish to sell them at a later date.

Wine Fridge 

In practice, it is prohibitive both in terms of space and cost to install a perfect home cellar. Few homes have the required space let alone the needed controls for temperature and humidity.

Wine fridges provide a nearly perfect environment for storing wine. For small collections, they are a great way to age your wine without having to build a cellar. If you are looking to resell wine, however, a wine fridge may not be your best option as you can’t store wine in the original wooden cases. Wine must be kept in its original wooden crates in order to command top prices.

Storing wine in a professional wine storage facility, or bonded warehouse

The majority of wine investors or those who simply do not have space or best conditions to store wine at home will use a professional wine storage facility such as a bonded warehouse. Keeping wine in a bonded warehouse avoids paying duty tax and VAT at the point of purchase, ensuring you can maximise the value of your investment. However, if you were to take the wines out of bond and delivered to your home then you’d have to then pay the tax at the current rate.

Bonded warehouses or professional wine storage facilities are perfectly managed to age and store wine, making them a superior wine storage alternative to storing at home. Costs can vary but you can typically expect to pay between £10-15 per case per annum; most will also have full insurance for the replacement value of the wine included in this price.

The Author

Abraham Axler

Abraham Axler

Contributor