Wine collecting often starts out innocently enough. You were a server and had to know wines for work. You turn 21, and rather than purchase you a bottle of Carlo Rossi, your college professor uncle buys you a Cabernet that you’re not supposed to open until you turn 31. Whatever your story is, your wine-of-the-month or rare bottle of Burgundy will not survive a few months stored in your sun room. There are a number of ways you can shield your wine from the elements, no matter your budget.
Wines want to be a steady, cool temperature, and will be ruined by light, particularly sunlight. While white wines prefer temperatures around 45 degrees Fahrenheit and red wines are happiest around 55 degrees, wines don’t start to “cook” until they are stored at temperatures around 70 degrees. If you plan on opening the bottle within a few months, the warmer temperatures won’t affect the wine too much as long as you keep the temperature steady.
Conventional wisdom suggests bottles are best stored horizontally in order to keep the cork moist and the contents away from oxygen. However, this matters less for wines with screw caps or plastic corks, though laying bottles on their sides is often a more efficient use of space. For the casual or apartment collector, space considerations may be more pressing than maintaining a wet, expanded cork.
When it comes to space, keep in mind that not all wines are meant to be aged. Cheaper wines should probably be enjoyed within six months to a year. After you open a bottle, white wines will be okay for 3-4 days, and red wines can last for 1-3 days. To recork, make sure you put the same end of the cork back in to the bottle. Additionally, a longer shelf life for open wines may be possible with the use of a vacuum wine saver.
The most creative wine storage solution I’ve encountered involved the storage of wine bottles in a card catalog. Though this kept the wine horizontal and dark, it couldn’t be used as long-term storage because it failed to keep the bottles cool. I’m sure someone capable could rig up an in-catalog refrigerator, but for short-term storage—wines that will be enjoyed with a few months—an antique card catalog would be just fine.
For the casual collector, a rack that’s kept close to the ground, in the dark, in a room kept a steady temperature should suffice. Your wines would do even better in a closet that remains around 60-65 degrees or cooler, if possible. Closets under the stairs are a great space to build a rack as long as your water heater or other appliances aren’t housed there. Excessive humidity rules out some basement storage, though research shows that with properly sealed bottles, the moisture is more likely to damage the label, not the wine itself.
If you’ve found that you’ve outgrown the rack that you built in your linen closet, a wine cooler may be your next most logical purchase. Many oenophiles dislike coolers because they can take the pleasure out of the storage—it can be difficult to find the bottle you are looking for, and you don’t really get to see the bottles. Nevertheless, when purchasing a cooler, look for one that has up to double the capacity of your current collection in order to make room for new bottles to drink later. The best coolers will be frost-free, will allow you to control the humidity and temperature in addition to self-regulating, and will have doors made of insulating glass or other materials that will protect your wine from light and other environmental factors outside of your fancy fridge. In general, a cooler will cost you anywhere from $65 to over $1000.
Of course, if you plan on saving wines for over 10 years, or if the cost of a cooling unit is less than 25% of your yearly wine budget, then you should consider professional wine storage. There are many companies that will design a custom cellar for the right price, and plans for DIY wine cellars are available online, and you can find additional wine storing tips here. Make sure you build your wine cellar in the coolest, most humid space in your home. I’ve seen many alluring wine cellars accessible by trap doors in kitchens. Even though this would make my wine less accessible, I know I’d derive pleasure from descending a spiral staircase surrounded by my favorite bottles.
No matter how you decide to store your wine, be sure to keep a record of your purchases. This will help you remember what you have, and more importantly, what you didn’t enjoy so you don’t make the mistake of saving it next time.
Jenn Young is a freelance writer working with Uncle Bob’s Self Storage and is passionate about beautifying her home, one organizing project at a time!