How To Store Wine Without a Wine Fridge
First, you should know that most wine will not improve with age. Ninety percent of wine is made with the intention of being drunk in the first 1-2 years after harvest.
You’ve just returned from your favorite wine shop with a couple of quality bottles for a future celebration. You want to keep them in good shape and ready for that special occasion, but this is New York: Who has space for a wine fridge?
First, just to qualify, you should know that most wine will not improve with age. Ninety percent of wine is made with the intention of being drunk in the first 1-2 years after harvest. In order to hold or improve with age, it needs a combination of sufficient acidity and concentration of fruit, plus tannins if it’s red, or sugar and alcohol if it’s white.
Those won’t be listed on the back label, but qualified sales professionals should be able to know right away the aging potential of the wines they are selling. The advice that follows applies to wines that are produced with the intention or ability to hold in their current state for a few years, or even improve with just a little more time in bottle.
Wine is alive: This makes it pretty sensitive to the elements, just like people. The younger a wine is, the more resilient; the older it gets, the more frail, calling for a little more care and consideration in how you handle it. Living to a ripe old age requires support and grace.
You want to keep wine temperate, avoiding extremes and wild variations in temperature as much as possible. Higher temperatures accelerate the aging process; lower slow it down. The goal is 56 degrees, but anywhere between 40 and 70 degrees is fine. Short widows of time outside of those ranges are okay, but caution is recommended, as those are the danger zones.
Temperatures at freezing or below will start to mess with the flavors; wines can just start to taste “off.” It is the high end of the scale, though, that can cause the most damage. Temperatures above 80 for more than a few hours actually cook the wine, making the fruit taste baked or jammy. Seventy to 80 won’t necessarily destroy a bottle, but hold it in that range for long enough and it will accelerate the aging considerably. A bottle that might age in a cool cellar for 20 years could get to the same place in 5 at higher temperatures, but it could also go past its window and be ruined.
This means you want to avoid storing wine next to a heater or high up, like on the top of a cabinet or your fridge (heat rises). Also, stay away from anywhere that might freeze, like next to a window or in a non-insulated room. Your regular fridge can work, but who has room for that? A very special bottle, though, might be better off there than elsewhere when your AC stops working.
Light-strike — when UV rays come in contact with wine — can actually destroy it, turning it faulty. This is why bottle glass is green, black, or blue most of the time: to keep harmful UV rays away. Clear glass is for bottles intended to be drunk right away. Even colored glass doesn’t filter out 100 percent of light, so always keep your bottles out of direct sunlight; a dark space is best.
Humidity is another factor to note, but it’s only really important for bottles with corks being stored long term, or if you are collecting to resell — in which case you should be paying for professional storage. You don’t want the cork to dry out: It may shrink, letting in oxygen in, which will destroy your wine. This is why you see fancy bottles on their sides, not standing upright — to keep the cork in contact with the liquid in the bottle, so it retains its seal.
Putting all of those factors together — stable temperatures between 40 and 70 degrees, avoiding light, and keeping a wine on its side — where should you store your wine? If you have the means and the space, investing in a small wine fridge is worth it, especially for peace of mind. Your regular fridge works well, but only temporarily, and do you really want to give up that valuable real estate to some wine bottles?
The next best choice is the back of a dark closet or under a bed, especially if you have a bed skirt. I’ve also heard some people use a corner of a bathroom. As long as there isn’t a heater in there, and you aren’t prone to hour-long super-hot showers, this seems like an optimal choice. Ambient temperatures tend to be cooler with all the tile, and humidity isn’t an issue.
In the end, wine is for drinking. Buy what you can consume in a month or purchase your special bottles from restaurants or shops that specialize in cellar-worthy wines. Life is too short to worry about wine storage.