Storing wine: how and where?

Storage of unopened wine bottles

In an ideal wine world we would all live in houses with cellars because cool cellars are the ideal environment for storing wine. But in this slightly less than ideal wine world where most of us aren't lucky enough to have a cellar, how and where should we store our wine?

I am a strong believer in storing wine bottles on their side: this keeps the cork in contact with the wine preventing it from drying out and crumbling or shrinking which could lead to deterioration of the wine if more than the optimum level of air gets into the bottle. Some say that both wine and the air bubble in the bottle should be in contact with the cork to allow oxygen to enter and leave the bottle when the room temperature fluctuates but keeping the wine only in contact with the cork should be sufficient unless the wine is stored in an environment where the temperature fluctuates widely.

Changes in temperature are wine's worst enemy. It is considered better to store the wine at consistently cool temperatures so that the wine develops slowly. Ideal temperatures are between 10 and 15 °C though up to 20 °C  is OK as long as temperatures are fairly stable. Room temperature in our centrally heated homes can be higher than that in winter months so it is advisable to keep in the house only those wines which are due to be drunk in the next few weeks. And given the changes in temperature in most kitchens, this is probably not the best place to keep wine for any longer than a week. Under the stairs can often be relatively cool and fairly stable in temperature. Garages generally are OK but it is best not to allow the wine to drop below -4 °C so in the winter you might want to consider an alternative storage solution.

Bear in mind also that strong light is not a friend of wine, especially white wine stored in clear or pale bottles and strong smells can infiltrate closures so a neutral smelling environment is preferable.

In terms of humidity, too dry an environment and corks can shrink; too wet and labels can come off. I have a couple of mystery bottles without labels that came from a damp cellar; no idea what they are and when to drink them though they could be interesting for a blind tasting.

If you are not lucky enough to have a cellar, you may have seen advertisements for spiral cellars which can be installed under fairly small rooms. These are a great alternative but require some considerable investment and upheaval whilst they are being installed.

A temperature and humidity controlled wine cabinet is a good idea and less of an investment and there are versions that can be kept either in the home or in a garage.

There are many companies that will store wine for you usually at quite reasonable prices and this is a good idea if you like to buy wine to keep for a while such as 'en primeur' wines - in addition, the temptation to open bottles before they are ready is taken away. The only downside is that it requires good management of your wine collection as you cannot just select a bottle for drinking when you feel like it; you need to plan ahead.

You should practise good cellar management in any case as wines do not keep forever. And those not stored well will deteriorate more quickly - this is how some retailers offer good deals on older wines as they may not have been stored in ideal conditions and need drinking quickly.  Read how long wine should be kept for.


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Lindsay Cornelissen DipWSET is passionate about good quality wine and set up Wines With Attitude to share that passion with other wine lovers.

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