During the last week or so, I have been asked questions about the storage of wine. I have a horizontal wine rack, so I put all my wines, red and white, in the horizontal position, lying down. I keep a bottle of white wine in the fridge.
The questions that came up were: Why do we store wine on its side? Does white wine have to be kept cold at all times? Do screw tops have to be stored sideways?
The answers are: To keep the cork from drying out, not really and not really.
When storing all wines, here are some simple rules.
Heat is wine's enemy number one. Store all wine at a coolish temperature. Anything higher than 70 degrees will speed bacteria growth and age a wine before its time, resulting in a dull color and flat taste.
Fifty-five degrees is the ideal temperature for wine, but room temperatures are all right. White wine does not have to be kept chilled, but once chilled do not return it to room temperature. Too much refrigeration at 40 to 45 degrees can cause wine to freeze or ice-promoting liquid expansion problems to occur. Also, the lack of humidity can cause drying of the cork.
Keep the temperature constant. Fluctuating temperatures can be more damaging to wine than high temperatures. It also might cause the cork to push out and cause seepage. Dragging a cool bottle off to a picnic to sit in the hot sun is dangerous stuff to a $76 bottle of Vintage 1976. A lake or stream makes a great wine cooler, but keep your eye on it.
Ultraviolet rays of the sun can be very detrimental to wine. Diseases known to affect the taste of wine are caused by proteins that grow only in the presence of sun. Ultraviolet rays can degrade and prematurely age wine. Vintners use colored bottles to protect the wine. Your regular home light bulbs probably do not hurt the wine in the same manner as sunshine, so unless you are outside, you do not have to worry.
The vibration and agitation of wine may age wine prematurely by speeding up the chemical reactions in the liquid, not to mention that with agitation, any sediment that has settled will float to the top. Some wine collectors think any transportation in a car can cause damage, but I think for your everyday wine, unless you shake it like champagne, you probably won't agitate the wine enough to hurt it.
Humidity can be an issue. Most vintners say wine should be stored at an ideal humidity of 70 percent. If it is too dry, the cork will dry out, let air into the bottle and spoil the wine. Too much humidity can cause mold. Ordinary wine drinkers do not keep the wine long enough for humidity to be an issue.
So how should I store my wine? Traditionally, bottles have been stored on their sides in order to keep the liquid up against the cork, which theoretically should keep the cork from drying out. Storing wine upside down is fine if it does not have sediment. It will provide the same wetness to the cork, but may cause sediment to gather in the neck of the bottle. Again, if you're planning on drinking the bottles soon, it doesn't really matter. However, horizontal racking is a space-efficient way to store your bottles, and it definitely can't harm your wines.
Oh busboy, what about screw-on tops and plastic corks? These are good things. These bottles can be stored any which way. They are not as affected by humidity, except for the label, but the sunlight and temperature can still alter their quality. Please remember that it is not an inferior wine because it used a more contemporary method of "corking."
So where do I keep my wine? Obviously, a dry, cool basement is a good idea, but if you don't have that, or have that and it's too far away, or have that but don't really have a lot of wine, then find any safe, cool, dry place in your home. Kitchens fluctuate too much in temperature. An empty downstairs bathroom cabinet can work. A little-used closet is good. A small fan keeps the closet cool and dry.
I emphasize "safe" for two reasons: Glass bottles break, and wine is a controlled substance. It should not be available to the casual passerby in your dining room. The government requires a license to sell that controlled substance. So, as you locate your bottles, always keep this in mind.
Some quick points of service: Never use a wet wine glass, never chill a wine glass, always hold a wine glass by the stem if the wine is chilled and enjoy.
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