How to store wine, including what to do with open bottles

FROM LEFT: Fossi Bianco Garganega 2020; Domaine Raissac Les Lys Rosé 2021; Sand Point Pinot Noir 2019; Plaimont Rosé d’Enfer 2021; Tamellini Soave 2020. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Rey Lopez for The Washington Post.

Wine has a lot of intimidating mythology that might just persuade us to stick with beer. One imposing subject is storage. Wine lifestyle magazines lure us to convert our basements into wine caves, with ornate racking and an expensive refrigeration unit to keep our liquid investments properly chill. A luxury cellar can transform your McMansion into a chateau. More modest devices are specialized refrigerators for your garage or under-counter units for your kitchen to keep your wines at the proper temperature, always ready to open when thirst strikes. You can even rent off-site storage to stash your wine and perhaps avoid the temptation to open it prematurely.

As with most mythology, there’s logic behind all this. But there’s also marketing hooey. There’s no single answer: The best storage option for you depends on how you buy and enjoy wine. In other words, relax. You’ll be fine. Let’s parse this.

– What are the ideal storage conditions for wine?

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Wine cellars at European chateaus are typically below grade or underground, naturally insulated to maintain a steady year-round temperature of about 55 to 58 degrees Fahrenheit and around 60% humidity. A temperature-controlled wine cellar or wine fridge will mimic these conditions to allow our wines to age gracefully without the corks drying out or the labels falling off.

Do you need such an expensive solution? Is wine an investment for you? Are you collecting cult California cabernets and first-growth bordeaux to sell at auction in 20 years? Perhaps you’ve bought some birth-year wine for your child, to be presented on her 21st birthday? If so, think about investing in proper storage.

But if you’re just investing in the quality of next weekend’s dinner or buying a case or two of wine to enjoy over several months, don’t sweat it. Find the space in your house that most closely approximates those ideal cellar conditions – cool and dark. Temperature fluctuations are not good for long-term aging, but young wines will weather them okay in the back of a closet or the coldest corner of your basement. A wine rack against the wall in your rec room can look pretty classy. Some kitchen cabinets include wine cubbies for a few bottles above the stove or refrigerator. To which I say – No. Just no. The warm space above your fridge is for proofing bread dough, not storing wine. Just. No.

FROM LEFT: Familia Mayol Single Vineyard Malbec 2020; Santa Julia Malbec Natural 2021; Zonte’s Footstep Super Trooper Shiraz-Cabernet 2018; Mesa Giunco Vermentino di Sardegna 2020; Powell & Son Riverside Grenache Mataro Shiraz 2018. MUST CREDIT: Photo by Scott Suchman for The Washington Post

Wine’s greatest enemy is heat. When shopping in warm weather, the wine store should be your last stop before returning home. If not, carry a cooler with ice packs in your car trunk to keep your purchases cool. Your car can be a death trap for wine on a hot summer day. Wine can go from vibrant and fruity to cooked and tired in no time. This is probably the single most important and avoidable mistake most of us make with our wine.

– Why are wine bottles stored horizontally?

Three reasons: It looks cool. Really cool. Horizontal storage is also space-efficient. And laying a bottle on its side keeps wine in contact with the cork so – in theory at least – the cork will not dry out. If you don’t have wine racks but you want to store wine for an extended time – say, more than a year – turn the bottles upside down in the case.

– Can I just keep my wines in my refrigerator?

Of course you can! But don’t you keep food in there? If your fridge is full of wine, you either have an extra fridge or you need to rethink your diet. A typical kitchen refrigerator is set at about 40 degrees Fahrenheit, well below the ideal temperature of a wine cellar. So when you take out a rosé or a white, let it stand on your counter for several minutes to let the wine warm up a bit. And if you’re choosing a red from your basement wine rack or the case in the back of the guest room closet, stick it in the fridge for 30 to 60 minutes before dinner to bring it to “cellar temperature.”

– What about leftover wine?

Again, this depends on your drinking habits. Vacuum pumps with rubber stoppers or cans of argon gas can sustain an opened bottle for several days. This may be especially important with older wines, your prize bottles from your cellar. But we overthink wine’s fragility – young wines are actually quite durable. Stick the cork back in and they’ll be fine in the door of your fridge for several days. Wines with screw caps last for weeks – if they’re good wines.

So here’s an experiment: Find a wine you like – white or red – and leave the opened bottle on your counter. Taste it over the next several days. If it keeps getting better, you have a keeper. Buy some more, and stick it in your “cellar.”

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