What happens to wine as it ages? If you’re reading this, the chances are that you’re wondering exactly why it is that – like so many things in life – wine gets better with age. Luckily, you’ve come to the right place, as we’ll be taking an in-depth look at the magic happening within those bottles that you laid down. If you’ve ever wondered what optimal wine storage temperature is, how to control humidity, or how much you should move them whilst in storage, then relax, pour yourself a glass of your favorite wine, and let’s begin.
How to store wine bottles properly – and why you should do it
The benefits of aging wine have been known for thousands of years – even the Bible noted that, when it came to wine, ‘the old is good.’ As with so many things in the world of wine, the reason for this is to do with chemistry going on inside each bottle. The sugars and acids react together over time to subtly change the taste, color and aroma of a wine.
Of course, some wines are much more likely to age well than others. It usually comes down to the quality of the production process and the grapes used – as well as the conditions of storage. Wines with higher levels of tannins (those slightly bitter, astringent notes you often get, especially in red wines) tend to age for longer, as these natural preservatives help the wine to develop a whole other personality and ‘mouthfeel’ as the years pass. On the other hand, some wines are simply drunk better young, and need no aging.
But there always comes a time when, for whatever reason, we need to store wines at home. Perhaps we bought a case abroad, or were given a gift of wine. You need to know a little then about how to store wine bottles, however long you intend to wait before drinking them. You might also get the bonus effects of smoother, more complex wines which have been stored well.
Wine temperature control
There’s more to storing wine than simply putting bottles in a cupboard and forgetting about them. Proper wine storage involves learning about what’s good and what’s bad for stored wines, and then monitoring these conditions over time.
Wines particularly benefit from being kept at the optimal wine storage temperature. The trick here is to avoid the extremes – and aim for a cooler temperature. 55F (13C) is widely regarded as the best temperature to store wine, but whatever temperature you choose, make sure it is stable and consistent. If your stored wine gets warm and then cold, the cork may expand and then contract, letting air in, and wine out. And if there’s on thing that stored wines don’t like, it’s oxygen. A good tip for avoiding cork problems is to store wine horizontally – that way, the wine remains in contact with the cork, and keeps it moist so it will maintain a firm seal at the mouth of the bottle.
Just as important as wine temperature control is getting the humidity right – i.e. how much moisture is in the air around the bottle – because dry air will dry the cork, and may cause it to fail. Again, a middle-of-the-road humidity is best – between around 60% and 70%. If you’re lucky enough to have a wine cellar, this may already be easily attainable, but in the home it’s something to take care to monitor.
You might be thinking, ‘what about storing wine in my fridge, then – that has constant humidity and temperature?’ Well, try to resist this temptation. Get a dedicated wine fridge or cabinet if you go down this route – not only will it avoid the issue of contamination from strong odors from other foods in a normal fridge, it will automatically keep wine at 10-15 Celsius (as we’ve seen, the best temperature to store wine), and at the correct humidity. Yes, it’s an extra cost, but storing good wine is an investment, and we should all protect our investments if we can.
Exposing light on to wine storage
Just as temperature and humidity play their part, so too does the amount of light that the bottle is exposed to. Sunlight can damage the wine in the bottle and prematurely age it – chemical reactions are usually speeded up by heat. So avoid direct UV light from the sun or other source, which will also preserve the label for longer, and the writing on it, if you’re going for long-term storage.
Proper wine storagealso means not moving the bottles too much – if you do, it’s likely to speed up the chemical reactions in the wine which would normally happen gradually and subtly. Consider which location is best to store the wine in – not somewhere you’ll be tempted to touch it frequently; not a place with strong odors or changes in light, temperature or humidity, (so that rules out kitchens!)
A wine cooler or cabinet is the ideal place, if you want to make the investment. More and more people are now choosing to invest in a home cooling or storage unit. This eliminates the need for DIY temperature and humidity controls – such as putting a bowl of water next to again bottles, or using a noisy dehumidifier. Dedicated wine coolers are not only the most effective tool for the job, but they also look great, and mark you out as a serious wine afficionado!
Can I store open wine?
Finally, your knowledge on how to store wine bottles will also come in handy when talking about partly-drunk bottles. With the correct wine temperature control and other conditions, open wine can last up to five days, though it may lose some nuances and complexity. One handy tip is to decant the leftover wine into a smaller bottle, perhaps a half-bottle (this reduces the amount of air that will be in contact with the wine). If the cork seems hard to get back into the bottle after opening, you can try putting a little wax paper around it to make it slip into the bottle more easily. Alternatively, you can buy rubber stoppers with hand pumps which remove a lot of the oxygen from the bottle.
So there you have it – proper wine storage can be simple, may add value, and will help you to see – and taste – why wine gets better with age.
How do you know when it will be best to drink?
How long should I store my wine before I drink it? The answer will depend mainly on the variety of grapes in your bottle and the Providence.
By considering how the previous vintages of that particular style or that particular region have fared over time. Then by assessing how the weather from the vintage in question will have affected the tannins acid and fruit development within the grapes.
Over time, tannins “soften” because they polymerize, or form long chains with each other. The tannin polymer molecules feel and taste less harsh. Tannins also belong to the same family as the colour and flavour compounds (polyphenolic compounds). These also change over time:
- The Ageing Dynamic
- Red wines lose colour – whites wines gain it
- Simple fruit aromas merge into a more complex ‘bouquet’ as secondary (bottle age) characters mingle with the remaining primary (fruit) characters
- At the same time powerful fruity flavours change into and mix with more subtle savoury ones
From this type of information it is possible to make an educated guess about when a wine will be drinking at its best.
It will also depend on the quality of grapes and the conditions your bottle has lived through in storage. If you store it in ideal conditions your wine can survive for 5, or 10, or even 50 years to come. And stay assured it is worth the wait.
Although not every wine will benefit from ageing. Some wines are made to be opened immediately, and most wines, will lose their fruit character if you cellar it too long. Wines that are made to age can be unpleasant to drink young as to age they require relatively high levels of tannin and acid.
Recommended time for aging wine
While not an exact guide for every bottle, which may last longer, or corrode younger. Check out the storage charts below from Wine Folly, where we outline best practises for aging wine.
Q. Why is it important how my wine is stored?
A. Several reasons: it protects your wines, which are after all an investment, and wine gets better with age – if stored properly! And some wines simply shouldn’t be drunk too young.
Q. What happens to make a wine get better with age?
A. Chemical reactions in the bottle change the taste, aroma and color of a wine – usually making it smoother and more complex.
Q. What is the best temperature to store wine?
A. 10-15 Celsius (so on average13C) is the optimal wine storage temperature
Q. Do humidity and light levels matter?
A. Yes! Dry air will dry the cork, and may cause it to fail, so aim for 60-70% humidity, and avoid sunlight.
Q. Any tips for storing an open bottle of wine?
A. You can store it for up to 5 days – but try a vacuum pump to remove the air, or decant it into a smaller bottle.
Q. What about dedicated wine coolers or cabinets?
A. These can be the easiest and most visually appealing way to store wine properly, and they automatically create the best conditions for storing your wine.