How to keep your wine in prize condition

With the price of professional wine storage inclined to oscillate, home storage, and how to keep your wine in top condition, has become something of a talking point among wine collectors and investors alike. But can a home set up ever equal (or even better) a professional service?

how to store wine
1919: French soldiers remove wine from the cellars in Amiens into lorries, potentially impacting upon its quality

Although keeping your wine with a professional storage company certainly has its perks, it can require considerable forward planning, as, with offsite storage, you won't be able to pop in whenever you fancy and retrieve the bottle(s) you desire. Such inconvenience, coupled with delivery and storage charges, means that, where space affords, most wine lovers and many serious collectors find it convenient to keep some, or all of their wine at home.   

However, fine wines are valuable, fragile and highly susceptible to poor storage conditions. Although we know that temperature and humidity affect the aging process of any wine, few serious scientific studies have been carried out in relation to the exact environmental parameters that considerably improve or damage a specific vintage.

One rare scientific study, which was conducted by a team at Inter Rhone Technical Services in France in 2006, did discover a direct correlation between storage conditions and wine quality. Four reds and one rose were included in the study which investigated four storage situations that were designed to simulate cellar and shipping conditions: constant 14°C, dark, lying down; constant 22°C, light, upright; varying 15-25°C, dark, lying down; and varying 15-26°C, light, upright.

The study concluded that wines stored at constant, low temperatures, lying down, performed much better in terms of both chemical and sensory analysis. Not only did these wines retain more free sulphur dioxide (an indication of how much oxidisation has taken place), they also displayed better pigmentation and were preferred by the tasters.

A constant (low) temperature is therefore one of the most important aspects of cellaring. Compressor and thermo-electric wine coolers are widely available. These devises work in much the same way as food refrigerators, and will prevent unwanted and potentially ruinous temperature spikes, but, on a large scale, can be very costly to run.

Humidity is also a key consideration in terms of wine storage, however, luckily for wine collectors, it is one of the easiest things to control and maintain. The recommended rate of humidity is 70% - this can be ascertained with a fairly inexpensive humidity meter. Placing a dish of water on the floor of your cellar will increase humidity levels and prevent corks from crumbling and wine from prematurely aging.

In a humid cellar a sound cork can last for 70 years - and even longer in some instances.

Installing cabinet storage is an easy way to increase the capacity of your cellar. However, assessing the quality of your wine once it has been "filed" can prove tricky. Keeping a thorough record of what you have put where is advisable in this instance.   

Although the vast majority of wines are designed to be drunk immediately, a handful of varieties are created with the intention to be aged. It is generally believed, however, that even these will be past their prime within 50 years. At what point a wine transforms from a consumable into a collectible is a contentions and emotive issue, however, for a wine to age well, it must be stored well.

Paul Fraser. 

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