Red, white, or rose all day. You love your wine. Unfortunately, you lack a fancy wine cellar (or even a wine fridge) so, you want to know how to store wine to keep it fresh and make it last.
Fortunately, there are a lot of low tech tricks to keep your wine fresh and tasty no matter how long you store it. Wine, though, can be a very fickle friend (or foe!). So, make sure you choose wisely when setting up your wine storage.
If you don’t, you might end up with a mouthful of stale, vinegary, awful wine.
And no one wants that!
Why/How Does Wine Go Bad?
Ah, oxygen. Without it, we couldn’t live. Literally.
It’s also wine’s number one enemy. I know that’s a little harsh, but it’s the truth.
But, wait, you’re saying. Doesn’t oxygen help wine? Isn’t that why I decant the wine and swirl it in my glass?
Well, yes, that’s true. When you first open a bottle of wine, you’re supposed to decant it. That’s a fancy way of saying “pour it from one container to another.”
And, the reason you do that is to add oxygen to the wine. This initial “add” helps soften the wine’s flavors, mellowing it and enhancing the taste.
If you can’t decant the wine (like, say, at a restaurant), you’re supposed to swirl the wine in the glass first to achieve the same effect.
The problem is that, just like a bad relationship, over time, oxygen and wine don’t mix.
The longer you leave wine exposed to oxygen, the more likely it is to oxidize. That means the oxygen is breaking down all of the good stuff that makes the wine, well, taste right. Too much contact with oxygen and you’ll end up with an oxidized glass of wine that could taste like a mouthful of vinegar.
That’s why it’s important to know how to store wine bottles properly. It doesn’t matter if they’re open or closed bottles.
Wines are very finicky.
Treat them well, and they will reward you. Ignore their needs at your tastebuds’ peril.
Storing a Closed Bottle
Obviously, the best place to store your wine collection is in your wine cellar, which every home has.
Kidding. But that would be nice.
Since you’re probably like me and don’t have a wine cellar, you have to improvise.
When figuring out how to store wine, there are a few key things to keep in mind when creating your makeshift cellar. But, as long as you follow the rules, your wine collection will be safe and sound.
In the dark
All wines (red, white, sparkling. It doesn’t matter) should be stored in the dark.
Interestingly, all light is bad for wine.
The sun will ruin wine, as will regular indoor lights. Keeping out the light is, in fact, one of the reasons that some wines come in colored glass bottles. The colored glass helps keep the light out, like sunglasses.
But why is any kind of light bad for wine?
If we’re talking about natural sunlight, the UV rays can damage and prematurely age wine, just like our skin. And, since there’s no sunblock for wines, keeping your wines out of direct sunlight is the best thing you can do to protect it.
Indoor lighting, on the other hand, doesn’t generally have UV rays to worry about. However, depending on the light bulb, it may give off heat.
As you’ll read below, that’s also bad. So, you want to make sure that no matter where you store your wine, you don’t heat the bottles with the lights.
That doesn’t mean storing the wine in a dark room with no light. You can have light in the room, just make sure it’s indirect light.
On its side
Everyone knows how to store wine. The bottle goes on its side.
But, did you ever ask why?
You may already know that part of the “how to store wine” conundrum means you store a bottle of wine on its side to keep the cork wet.
This way, when you open the bottle, you don’t end up with cork in it because the dry cork flakes apart. But, there’s another reason to keep that cork wet.
As the cork dries out, it may transfer a funky odor to the wine. When that happens, your wine will taste a little less than fresh.
However, the “store it on its side” rule only applies to some bottles of wine.
If you buy a bottle of wine and plan on drinking it soon, say in a month, you’re safe to store the bottle standing up.
Any longer than that, and you should store it on its side.
But, lots of bottles don’t come with corks these days. You might be wondering how to store wine that doesn’t have a traditional cork.
Bottles with screw-tops or plastic corks don’t need to be stored on their side. There’s nothing to keep wet.
So, now you’re probably wondering how to store wine with a cork but is a sparkling wine.
Don’t store it on its side.
Ironically, keeping the cork in contact with the wine is bad in this case.
The carbonation can create too much moisture which will shrink the cork, letting in oxygen, which, as we know, is bad for wine.
I don’t know anyone that likes humidity. It makes you sweaty and does bad things to your hair.
While your wine doesn’t have hair (I hope), some experts say wine should only be stored at 70 percent humidity. That’s similar to the humidity level of an underground cave.
The theory is that if the storage environment is too dry, the cork will dry out, then shrink.
And you know what happens next.
However, other experts say that any humidity level between 70 and 90 percent is fine. If you store your wine someplace that seems kind of dry, add a pan of water to the storage area, and that should help create the right humidity level.
If the wine bottle has a plastic cork a screw top, don’t worry about the humidity level. There’s nothing to dry out!
In the right temperature
There could easily be a book covering how to store wine at the right temperature. There’s the chapter on red wines, the chapter on white wines, the chapter about the type of grapes, and so on.
However, picking the right temperature isn’t nearly as important as keeping that temperature constant.
Temperature fluctuations can create problems in the bottle. It doesn’t matter if the change happens rapidly (like when you open a door) or if it happens slowly, (like you take a bottle out of the fridge to let it warm up).
A change in temperature can wreak havoc on your wine.
The temperature swings may cause the wine or the cork to expand and contract, which could alter the delicate chemical balance of the wine.
Or, it could cause the cork to shrink.
Either way, the inconsistent temperature can make your wine taste awful no matter when you drink it.
That said, you should make sure that the temperature never goes above 77 degrees Fahrenheit. If that happens, you could “cook” the wine, leading to a not so great tasting bottle.
So, don’t store your wine at room temperature for too long, or leave it sitting in the living room if you aren’t drinking it tonight.
And, never store it in the kitchen, on top of a refrigerator or in a laundry room. These are all places that are likely to get too hot and could cook your wine.
Not in the fridge
By now you probably think the fridge is the best place to store your unopened wine.
But, it’s not.
And there are many reasons for this.
While the fridge is cool and dark, it’s actually too cold for your wine. While you don’t want the temperature to get about 77 degrees Fahrenheit, the average fridge temp is somewhere around 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
That’s great for leftovers, but not great for wine.
Just like a too hot temperature will “cook” your wine, a too cold temperature will inhibit your wine’s development. That means that the wine isn’t aging properly when it’s in the fridge, and it will taste weird when you drink it.
Also, storing your wine in the fridge will likely dry out the cork. While the fridge is cool and dark, it also tends to be dry.
Refrigerators are, by design, dry because humidity can cause your food to rot (defeating the purpose of having a fridge). That low humidity environment will dry out the cork.
How to Store Wine That’s Open
The party’s over, and as you’re cleaning up, you find you’ve got open bottles of wine. Instead of pouring them down the drain, you want to know how to store wine that’s open to drink another day.
No matter what kind of wine you’re saving, once the bottle is open, do not store it on its side again, for two reasons.
First, and you probably guessed this, there’s no way to recreate the seal, and you’ll end up with a wet, drippy mess.
But, you also shouldn’t do it because you’ll expose more of the wine to oxygen. Once you’ve poured out even one glass of wine, you’ve added air to the bottle.
There’s no way around it.
If you store the bottle upright, you’re exposing only a tiny surface area of the wine to the oxygen. But, when you store it on its side, you’re exposing a lot more of the wine to oxygen, accelerating the oxidation process.
The most obvious answer is on the tip of your tongue
While you’re drinking the bottle, you should replace the cork between pours. This helps minimize exposure to oxygen.
Once you’re done for the night, replace the cork as tightly as you can, without getting it stuck.
Make sure you use the right side of the cork, though. It’s probably easier to get the “clean” side of the cork in the bottle. But, that’s been exposed to a lot of oxygen. If you use that inside the bottle, you’re just adding more oxygen to the bottle.
Use the “stained” side instead.
You don't have to keep it there
If you can, transfer the wine to a smaller bottle. Use a funnel to make the transfer then seal the new bottle tightly.
It’s not perfect -- the wine has been exposed to oxygen, but it’s better than leaving half a bottle in a whole bottle.
No, this tip isn't a contradiction
I know. We just got done telling you not to store your wine in the fridge. But that was only for closed bottles.
Open bottles are a different story.
Once you’ve opened the bottle, you’ve introduced oxygen. To slow the oxidation process down, you should put the open bottle in the fridge.
Just like the cool, dry fridge helps inhibit mold growth on last night’s pizza, it will do the same for your wine, slowing the oxidation process.
Just make sure you finish the bottle in three to five days. After that, the wine won’t taste as good anymore.
Special Tips for Sparkling Wine
The worst thing about a bottle of sparkling wine is that if you don’t finish it, the whole thing goes flat.
Sure, it might still taste fine, but it’s not the same.
So, if you find yourself with an open bottle of bubbly, try one of these tips to help it last a little longer.
Just like any other bottle of wine, you can try to stick the cork back in. Obviously, there’s only one way to replace it (check out the shape), so give it a shot.
If replacing the cork doesn’t work, take some plastic wrap and put it over the opening. Secure the plastic wrap with a rubber band or a twist tie.
Stick a fork in it.
Actually, it should be a spoon, but a fork works in a pinch.
I thought this was crazy until I tried it.
But it works beautifully.
It’s hard to recork a bottle of bubbly. So, while you’re drinking the bottle, stick a spoon (or fork) in the opening. I don’t know how it works, but it keeps the bubbles in the bottle!
It can be a plastic or metal spoon. It just needs to fit in the opening.
And, it will keep your sparkling wine bubbly!
Just make sure you finish the bottle within about three days. After that, there’s probably nothing that can save it.
Knowing how to store wine is a great way to protect your investment and really enjoy your wine collection. A good bottle of wine, no matter the cost, will last a long time when stored in the right environment.
Even better, if you know how to store wine you’ve opened, you’ll be able to get more enjoyment out of every bottle of wine. You won’t feel obligated to finish the open bottles after a party.
And, you won’t have to pour it down the drain and feel guilty about wasting the wine (and your money).
How do you currently store your wine? Share your tips and tricks in the comments section below!