Secrets To Storing Wine
By Matthew Amster-Burton
Are you the type of person who can only get to sleep on your side, in a room with the proper temperature and lighting? Well, your wine has similar needs. Here are some wine-storage ideas for every collection size and every budget.
First, remember that most wines are made to drink immediately and won't improve with age. Don't buy an expensive wine-storage solution and stock it with Beaujolais Nouveau.
When you have wine that deserves to be stored, here's how to keep it happy:
Between 50 and 60 degrees F is ideal, with as little fluctuation as possible.
A dry room leads to desiccated corks, which means leaky, oxidized bottles, which means sad wine drinkers. This is also why wine should be stored on its side: to keep the cork wet.
Light is energy, and energy makes chemical reactions happen faster — too fast for delicate wine in repose.
Wine in fine places
Here are four places to store wine:
Closet. If you live in a temperate climate with a small wine collection that doesn't require long aging, a closet or basement is fine. I keep my wine in my daughter's closet, an arrangement I plan to stick with until she's old enough to work a corkscrew.
Wine cave. Also known as a wine fridge (or, confusingly, a wine cellar), a wine cave is a refrigerator built with wine in mind. They're available standalone or built into a kitchen counter, and many models feature a special cold section for chilling white wine to serving temperature. Wine caves come in sizes from six bottles to over 500 and are priced from under $150 (for a modest six-bottle cave) to over $5,000 (for a snazzy 500-bottle wardrobe). A popular brand is Vinotemp. Some wine caves double as cigar humidors. Of course, if you're the kind of person who can say with a straight face, "My wine cave doubles as a cigar humidor," you already have one of these.
Cellar with cooling unit. If you want to store a lot of wine at home, you can add a cooling unit (a specialized air conditioner) to your basement or another room. They're sold on the basis of cubic feet of cooling capacity, and run $500 and up.Of course, you can also have the whole cellar professionally designed and built. That's the approach David Dearie took. Dearie, president of Brown-Forman Wines (best known for the Fetzer brand), built a lavish cellar at his Louisville, Ky., home. The killer feature? A window in the floor of the upstairs wet bar that provides a view into the cellar. "I'm a great believer that wine is for drinking," says Dearie. "So the idea is that people see the wines and then we go down and drink them. It's not a trophy cellar. It's a cellar for having fun." Do women in skirts hesitate to stay upstairs? "Being a Scotsman, it's all part of the plan," Dearie laughs. "No one's too worrried, but we haven't quite had a party in the wine cellar yet."
Offsite storage. The final option is not to store your wine at home at all. Many wine shops offer professional wine storage: For a monthly fee, you can sit in your easy chair with a glass of merlot and let someone else worry about the humidity.Offsite storage is relatively inexpensive. At Esquin Wine Merchants in Seattle, a nine-case unit (storage for over a hundred bottles) is $19 per month. Esquin keeps their units at a constant 55 degrees and 50 percent to 75 percent humidity. "We have quite a range of people that store here, anybody from people that enjoy wine and now are starting to spend more money, up to the people who have cellars at home and have just run out of room," says store manager Alisha Gosline. Some people who could certainly afford to store their wine at home prefer to keep it at Esquin. "We have walk-in lockers that hold about 225 cases, and we have somebody who has two or three of those lockers," says Gosline.
Finally, we'd all do well to heed this advice from The Oxford Companion to Wine: "It is also important that there are no strong, persistent smells in a long-term wine storage area." In other words, while wine and stinky cheese are perfect partners at dinner, don't keep them in the same cellar.
Matthew Amster-Burton, a Seattle freelance food journalist, writes frequently for The Seattle Times. His work has appeared in the "Best Food Writing" anthology in 2004 and 2003.