When you like wine, it’s easy to buy a bunch of bottles you’re excited to drink but not sure how to store properly. Before you accidentally ruin your tasty collection, here are some important things to know about how wine ages—and how to keep it in great condition when you set it aside.
Mistake 1: Keeping Bottles for Too Long
“It’s a common misconception that all wines improve with age,” notes wine educator Kevin Zraly, author of Windows on the World Complete Wine Course. “In fact, more than 90 percent of all the wines made in the world are meant to be consumed within one year, and less than 1 percent of the world’s wines are meant to be aged for more than five years.” Depending on its type and quality, a wine may lose up to half of its fruitiness within six months of bottling, and its color may fade (reds) or turn brown (whites) if kept for years.
The few wines that benefit from aging have high levels of acidity and/or tannins (the organic compounds that can affect mouthfeel as well as color in wines). Age-worthy wines can include whites like chardonnay and riesling, and reds like cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, and syrah. To gauge a specific bottle’s aging potential, ask your wine shop proprietor for advice, search for expert insight online, or reach out to the wine’s producer.
The upshot? It’s OK to focus on enjoying wine rather than saving it for posterity. However, you’ll still want to store it properly—even if just for a little while.
Mistake 2: Using a Space That’s Too Hot
Don’t store your wine in a place where the temperature often fluctuates or becomes very warm, such as on the kitchen counter, on top of the refrigerator, or in the laundry room. Heat is a wine’s worst enemy: Temperatures above 70 degrees will quickly age a wine, robbing it of time to develop its best structure and bouquet. Exposure to high temps for even a few hours may “cook” it, resulting in flat aromas and flavors.
Instead, store your wine in a place where the temperature remains cool. Many professionals aim for an ideal storage temperature of 59 degrees, but Guy Davis, owner of Sonoma County’s Davis Family Vineyards and a winemaker since 1995, says there’s some wiggle room for those new to collecting wine: “If someone has a closet, pantry, cellar, or basement that’s air-conditioned to 70 degrees or less, just like the rest of their home, they can for sure get away with storing their wines that way—as long as they don’t intend to keep them for more than a couple of years.”