Welcome to Ask a Somm, a column in which experts from across the country answer questions about wine. Today’s installment: How should I store wine at home to maximize a bottle’s potential?
At iconic New Orleans restaurant Commander’s Palace, sommelier Dan Davis oversees a list of 2,700 wine bottles (!). In honor of spring cleaning, Davis considers the best practices for wine storage: how to store bottles for the short and long-term, as well as the ideal temperatures and cork conditions. How do you store your bottles to maximize their potential?
“There are many factors to consider when storing wine at home,” says Davis:
“All table wine will be affected, to some degree, by temperatures that are too high (above 77°F or 25°C), or by temperature variation over time. Even a few hours above this temperature will result in noticeable loss of fruit expression and may even result in a wine that is ‘cooked’ — displaying characteristics of stewed or raisinated fruits that would not normally be encountered in the wine. Light-bodied wines such as 2013 Domaine Henri Boillot Bourgogne Rouge and 2014 Do Ferreiro Albariño from the Rías Baixas are particularly susceptible to heat damage.
Wine bottles with cork closures are also sensitive to humidity; if the cork dries out, oxygen will get past it and spoil the wine. It is generally accepted that the perfect conditions for storing wine long-term are those found in an underground cave: around 55°F (13°C) and between 70 and 90 percent relative humidity. Obviously, a dedicated wine cellar with controlled temperature and humidity is the best place to store wine for the long haul. Since most of us do not have a wine cellar in our homes, however, we must explore other options.
Consider the length of time you anticipate keeping the bottle before opening it. If you intend to open a bottle within a few weeks or so, it is just fine to keep a white wine in the refrigerator and a red wine on a simple countertop wine rack. Make sure the wine rack is not exposed to direct sunlight, and if you set the thermostat above 77°F (25°C) for hours at a time, you’d be better off not using a countertop rack at all. You also need to have some idea of the aging potential of a wine. Some wines will improve with age, and some will deteriorate over time. Others will have reached a plateau in their development and will neither improve nor deteriorate for a good long while. Knowing where your wine falls in this spectrum will be key to determining how you store the bottles. The 2005 Berthoud ‘Ursus Minor’ Sonoma Valley Bordeaux Blend has almost certainly peaked in its development, but will remain steady for a few years, while the 2005 Château d’Armailhac from Pauillac in Bordeaux will continue to improve for a decade or more. Reading reliable reviews and consulting the pros at your wine shop can help you figure out the potential of your particular wines.
A note about refrigerating wines. Many winemakers are now opting for a more natural, holistic approach to winemaking (and many have never done otherwise). In the pursuit of presenting their wines in as pure and unadulterated a fashion as possible, these winemakers are opting not to cold-stabilize their wines. Cold-stabilization is a process that prevents the formation of small crystals of potassium bitartrate (I call them ‘wine diamonds’) when a wine is chilled. The formation of these crystals is perfectly normal, and they are not harmful. You can either pour the wine through a fine-mesh strainer to catch the crystals, or do what I do — ignore them.
For any wine (white or red) that you plan to keep for more than a month, the best place to store it is in a cool, dark closet. Keep the wine lying down on its side so that the cork will stay wet, and try to use a closet that is not near an air conditioning unit or a washing machine — the vibrations from mechanical equipment are not good for the wine. Especially sparkling wines and older red wines. Sparkling wines and wines with screw-top closures are just fine standing upright. If you’re lucky enough to score some bottles with truly long-term aging potential, such as 2010 Château Prieuré-Lichine from Margaux or 2013 Caymus ‘Special Selection’ Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, then you need to look at other plans. While I have kept wines in the closet for a couple of years with no deleterious effect, I would want to keep my investment-quality wines in a proper cellar. Invest in an under-the-counter wine refrigerator and you’ll have nothing to worry about for the life of your wine.”