Storing Wine

Storing Wine

By Joe Gilmour

Like any perishable item, wine changes over time. How rapid that change is and what it involves can vary enormously depending on how it is kept. The differences between the great, the merely good and the undrinkable really can be explained by how and where you store your wine.


If one is in any doubt as to the importance of storage, a trip to a wine
auction is always informative. The same case of wine with different
provenance can provoke some wildly different estimates. For example, a
case of 1961 Château Latour with perfect provenance (released direct from the
Château) sold for £34,000 at Christies recently. The same wine, badly
stored reached just under £12,000 in the same year. This is, of course, an
extreme example, but the reason that the premium was paid was simply
that the wine released from the Châteaux will taste better then the
badly stored case. It will be a perfect example of this legendary
wine, whereas in the other case, some bottles might be good, some
might be great, some may have to be poured down the sink. You just
don’t know.



Obviously, the longer you are planning on cellaring a wine, the more
you need to think about storage. Anything over ten years requires careful
consideration of the wine’s health. Any area can be used as a ‘cellar’
but some are of course better then others and it is important to be realistic about what you can achieve. Today’s houses and flats, mostly without the cellars which used to be so common are difficult environments in which to achieve optimum long-term storage conditions.

So what are absolutely ideal conditions? Well, they pretty much replicate what you would expect to find in a good natural cellar:

  •  A temperature of between 10 and 13°C is ideal. The lower the temperature, the slower the wine ages (the ageing of wine is a series of chemical reactions, which, as we know from GCSE Chemistry, occur more slowly at lower temperatures) and this is approximately the right level to allow the wine to age, but not too quickly.
  •  Minimal fluctuation of temperature is even more important. If you cannot achieve the ideal temperature all the time, you should try to ensure that the temperature doesn’t rise or fall too rapidly, although slow, seasonal changes are fine.
  •  A reasonably high level of humidity is also important, to keep the corks from drying out, shrinking or cracking and allowing air in to spoil the wine. You may want to protect labels from the moisture with some kind of covering, however. Cling film is good.
  •  Darkness most of the time is considered by some to be even more important than temperature control. It will protect the wines from harmful ultraviolet light.
  •  Stillness is also important. As GCSE Chemistry also taught us, agitating something speeds up a chemical reaction. Practically, this is rarely going to be a problem. (although might be worth considering if you live near a busy train track.)

The easiest way of achieving these conditions is to pay somebody else to store them in a bonded warehouse. This will also guarantee perfect, traceable provenance should you wish to sell the wines in the future. But of course, what we are talking about here is the optimum conditions for long-term storage. In most cases, certainly up to a few years, a wine rack under the stairs is fine (as long as it’s dark and not too near a radiator).



Wine is a surprisingly hardy creature, and some of the greatest-value bottles we have drunk here have been those which appear to have been stored very badly, and which should by all rights be undrinkable. So don’t shy away from trying the odd bottle of dubious origin if the price is right. It’s a risk, but there are wonderful surprises out there.

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