Making It Last: Storing Wine Long Term

As a whole, my parents really don’t partake in the consumption of alcohol. When it specifically comes to wine? My mother’s response, and I quote: “Bleh.”

Friends who don’t know her well like to gift her wine at birthdays and holidays, which she in turn didn’t really know what to do with prior to my sudden interest in all things fermented and tasty. So she resolved to stash it all in a cupboard somewhere. Sometimes for a long time.

A really, really, really long time.

I really had no idea what I was going to find when she asked for help digging through the liquor cabinet to determine what to keep and what to toss.

As seen above, a few really neat items emerged that warranted documentation. Unfortunately, many ended up undrinkable, and I’ll explain why in a moment.

Wine storage can be tricky, moreso and especially if you don’t consume it and don’t ever plan on it. Put simply, why would you bother? And I don’t blame or judge anyone who thinks this way. Wine isn’t for everyone; some choose to keep it in somewhere in the house for guests and otherwise forget about it. Doing so has equal vailidity with a decision to invest a good amount of money in a high-tech climate controlled wine fridge.

In reference to the latter end of the spectrum, a former colleague of mine moved to a new household across the state last year. One of his main concerns during the process? How to safely transport his massive cellar of over 500 bottles. No joke… the idea of simply throwing things in boxes and packing up a moving van with wine made me cringe in sympathy for his plight. I have to wonder how many bottles didn’t make the trip through those winding mountain passes. It certainly gave me intense anxiety when I needed to shift my tiny collection to a new apartment, and I had only moved about twenty miles!

After only a year-and-change of study, I can’t even remotely claim to know the finer points of wine storage, but I have learned some basics… enough that I was able to, with many a playful wince, laugh alongside my mother as I explained why opening the above pictured bottles wouldn’t be the best plan.

We really do have the best adventures, she and I. Can’t wait for the next one!

Quick Tips for Wine Storage

First and foremost, not all bottles are meant for long-term storage. Some types of wine should be consumed within six months of purchase because they’re designed as fresh styles, while others can, in the right circumstances, keep for about three to five years. When in doubt, ask the vendor from whom you purchase the wine what they recommend.

If further in doubt after that, peruse the interwebz at your leisure. Wine Spectator, Wine Folly, and Decanter offer fantastic resources, to name a few that I trust.

Whether considering short- or long-term storage, however, some things to remember —

  • Keep any and all bottles away from light sources, including but not limited to sunlight and interior lights. A dark closet, especially if rarely used, offers a great house or apartment option. Lots of sites such as Amazon or more wine-specific vendors offer simple storage solutions if you have a tiny living space like I do.
  • Store unopened bottles that have corks on their side. Corks are actually made from wood that, if not in contact with the wine, will dry out and allow a flow of oxygen into the bottle. Oxidation eventually leads to spoilage, which proves less than pleasant unless you like drinking vinegar. Furthermore, dry corks are a lot more difficult to remove and can even start to disintegrate when you try to remove them (by the way, this is not what “corked” means when discussing faulty wine. I’ll go into that another day).

Caveat to the second point: Corks are actually designed and used in order to allow a super small amount of oxygen in contact with the wine. This is purposeful and helps to gracefully age the liquid, even producing additional flavors and aromas. However, dried corks allow in far too much oxygen and speeds up the process dramatically, leading to sadness. Because ruined wine equals sadness.

  • Protect from dramatic temperature changes. Try storing your wine away from windows, cooking areas, or water heaters in order to limit variances in temperature, which can completely destroy a wine’s flavors in as little as minutes. Basements work well if you have access to one.

Don’t even place a bottle on the dishwasher as it’s running… trust me. This tip also applies when bringing bottles home. I made the mistake of going to a local winery one day, buying a bottle, and then going shopping for a couple of hours as the wine sat in the car. It was 90 degrees outside. So much regret.

Likewise, I have left a bottle of red in the car during freezing weather. Another BRILLIANT idea that lost me thirty bucks I’ll never get back… but hey, you can learn from my mistakes, right?

I’ll close this post by delivering on my previous promise: why didn’t I trust the older bottles I found at the back of the liquor cabinet, curious though I was?

First, I discovered that they had been stored in an upright position for an unknown amount of time. Maybe at one point they were stored sideways, but too much time had passed without that knowledge.

Internal monologue: That Chablis Grand Cru isn’t looking quite so appetizing now…

Second (and third, I suppose), for at least some of their lives the bottles were kept in a closet with both bright lights and close proximity to laundry appliances. How long? No idea. But as I mentioned, it doesn’t take long for heat, light or increased oxidation to completely alter a wine.

Internal monologue: Ergh, old white wines do tend to turn brown after a while, but I don’t think they’re supposed to be that brown…

Most importantly, much of the bottles’ history from decades-ago purchase to finding themselves in my eager hands remained shrouded in mystery. When dealing with older vintages such as those, old doesn’t necessarily mean great, or even good or acceptable. Bottles with uncertain history become suspect in terms of quality, which degrades rapidly when improperly stored.

Therefore, no Chablis for Allie. Le sigh. A girl can continue to dream, yes?

Two wine challenge posts coming up over the weekend so I can get caught up — stay tuned!

Published by Allie

Foodie explorer with Stardew Valley dreams. Lover of wine but not beer, cheese but not milk, and all things chocolate. Working to learn as many self-sufficient, at-home food production skills as possible.

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