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Wine Storage (or How Not to Treat Your Wine)

September 30, 2010

I’m frequently asked how long an unopened bottle will keep without losing its flavor. This usually comes with questions about the age-ability of wine and how to determine that. The quick answer is that most wines aren’t made for long-term aging, they’re intended to be consumed relatively soon after purchase. This is probably as much because that’s how we tend to drink, popping into a store to buy a few bottles for tonight, this weekend, and why not – one more bottle for good measure. But this is a topic for another discussion.

Because most of our wines are kept for short to intermediate term (a day, a week; six months or a year), this always leads me to the topic of wine storage. I’m amazed by how common it is for people to commit one particular crime against their young, wanting-to-drink-them-soon bottles. Simply, don’t keep them in the kitchen! It’s probably the worst place in the house, save for next to the heater or on top of the dryer.

The only thing that you will probably do that causes harm to young wine that you’ll have for only a week to a year is to store it someplace where the temperature fluctuates. Your everyday wines surely don’t need a temperature controlled cellar at a perfect 56 degrees; average room temperature is just fine (especially in our modern age of central heat and air-conditioning). But your wine should always be protected from temperature swings. When you cook, you’re heating up that kitchen, then it cools off again. Cook frequently? Then you risk spoiling the flavor and freshness of your wine.

When people buy wine racks from Pinot, I always have this conversation with them and suggest the dining room, den or family room. And tell the builder or the interior designer to skip the built-in wine rack in the kitchen. Storing your wine here isn’t guaranteed to ruin it, but why take that chance? And what percentage of ‘spoiled’ are you okay with, anyway? If a bottle is drinkable, but not as fresh and vibrant as it would have been otherwise, is that acceptable?

Now, with that simple mistake easily avoided, how about storing wines for a longer term? Bottles kept for about six months to two or three years should go in a place that is the most temperature stable. For a lot of people this means a basement, where it stays relatively cooler in the summer months. Just be mindful that paints, bug sprays and other chemicals can harm the quality of your stored wine, so choose a spot that is as far away from these items as possible. For others, a hall closet or someplace else that is away from windows (and the sunny side of the house) is a likely spot.

We’ll cover long-term ageability in another post. But until then, drink what you’ve got and enjoy!

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