White wines come in many varieties. Chardonnay, Sauvignon blanc, Moscato, and Pinot grigio are just a few of the splendid variety of white wines available to choose from. Perhaps your taste in white wine is for sweet and fruity (Moscato), perhaps you prefer a more voluptuous and wide bodied flavor (Chardonnay). Or maybe you prefer something dry with just the right acid “bite” (Pinot grigio). Factor in sparkling wines and it’s safe to say there is a white wine for nearly every wine taste. Regardless of the variety of wine you prefer, proper storage is key to ensuring the finest taste and aroma of your wine when you’re ready to enjoy it.
What makes a fine wine?
There is no uniform definition of what a fine wine is. Even among wine connoisseurs there are divergent opinions as to the definition of a fine wine. For some “fine” is defined by a rating scale that ranges from “Very good” on the low end to “Very fine” on the high end of the scale. Still for others a fine wine sits supreme above all others by virtue of its superior performance across a range of predetermined variables. Thus in some regard the fine-ness of a wine is as much personal and subjective as it is uniformly understood.
In the end most experts would agree to some combination of the following characteristics in categorizing a wine as being fine: balance, finish, complexity, and character. Balance refers to the harmony among the wine’s components in essence a balance between the wine’s alcohol, fruitiness, acid and tannins. Finish is the final impression a wine leaves in your mouth. A finish that lingers is good while one that hardly lasts is not so good. Complexity refers to the wine’s different flavors and aromas. A fine wine should be enigmatic, with many facets to its nose and palate. Finally, a fine wine should have character. Character is what distinguishes a wine from so many other wines. Of course you don’t have to be a wine connoisseur in order to identify a fine wine. It takes most connoisseurs years to perfect their trade. For the average person there is a much easier way.
Price is another more common way of identifying a fine wine. Just as it can be said that there is a wine for every occasion it can also be said that there is a wine for every budget. Generally speaking, wines fall into one of four categories: (1.) Value wines (including jug wines), (2.) Industry average, (3.) Premium, and (4.) Ultra premium. These categories are by no means scientific, but they generally reflect the breakdown of wines as viewed from within the wine industry.
In general the industry considers a fine wine to be any wine that is classified as premium or ultra premium. From a pricing perspective premium wines are generally priced somewhere between $13 and $19; while ultra premium wines are from $20 upward. What is it that makes the price of wine a determinant for it being a fine wine? Well, the assumption is that the care and attention needed to make a fine wine (think balance, finish, complexity and character) is what makes it so hard to produce such a wine for under $13.
Storing Red versus White
There are four essential factors to consider when storing any type of wine. The four factors are temperature, light, movement, and positioning. In short, rule for storing wine is keep it cool, keep it dark, keep it still, and keep horizontal. While these factors may apply to all wines there are some special considerations to observe when storing white wine.
Keep it Cool
More than any other factor, the temperature of the storage area is most important when it comes to storing wine. Temperatures that are too hot can “cook” the wine producing a flat aroma and taste. Heat in fact is a wine’s greatest enemy, causing it to age faster than what is normal. Conversely, cold temperatures can produce ill effects on wine too. Freezing produces bottle ice that turns to water and mixes with the wine when the accumulated ice thaws. Also when wine inside the bottle freezes, it expands, producing the added danger of either the cork popping or the bottle exploding.
The ideal temperature for storing white wine is between 45 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit. And where possible, it’s best to keep it near the recommended serving temperature of 48 degrees. If on the other hand you’re storing both red and white wine then aim for a storage temperature that’s somewhere around 55 degrees.
If you’re simply chilling your white wine for a brief time before it’s served then it’s OK to keep it in the household refrigerator. But it should not be used for extended storage. The temperature inside most refrigerators ranges anywhere between 34 and 39 degrees Fahrenheit – well below recommended storage temperature for white wine. White wines especially can lose their vibrant flavors when stored at too cold temperatures. There is also the risk of the bottle cork drying out from exposure to cold temperatures, allowing air and harmful bacteria to seep into the bottle. So where possible avoid using the household fridge to store your wine for all but the briefest amount of time. When it comes to temperature the goal should be consistency, so try to avoid temperature extremes and rapid changes or fluctuations in temperature.
Turn the Light Down Low.
We all know how low light can create a romantic mood for enjoying a great glass of wine. Have you ever wondered why many wine makers bottle their wine in colored glass bottles? It’s because the dark bottles help to protect the wine from the damaging effects of direct sunlight.
Much like our skin, wine ages prematurely when it’s exposed to the UV rays of the sun. Moreover too much sunlight affects the body and the aroma of wine. Colored bottles in effect serve as sunscreen for wine by protecting it from the harmful effects of too much light. When storing your wine great care should be taken to avoid exposing it to direct sunlight. So consider storing it in window-less spaces or one that has a north facing exposure.
As for artificial lighting, most have minimal effect on the quality of wine. At most you might consider avoiding exposing your wine to fluorescent lighting since these lights do emit small amounts of ultraviolent light, though hardly enough to warrant avoiding them completely.
What about Humidity?
Along with temperature, humidity is a condition that can adversely affect the condition of stored wine. Therefore care should be taken to maintain the proper humidity level of the stored area. Too much humidity encourages bacteria growth and spoilage, and at minimum can damage wine labels. Too little humidity can lead to cork drying the seepage of air into the bottle. When it comes to humidity 50-80% is considered safe, with the ideal condition somewhere around 65%.
Keep it sideways
You’ve no doubt heard that storing wine on its side keeps the wine against the cork and thus keeps the cork from drying out. Wines sealed with metal caps and synthetic corks obviously are not subject to drying. As noted above, a cork that has dried out is prone to allowing air into the bottle; this in turn can spoil the flavor and aroma of the wine. It is also true that sediment formation occurs inside the bottle over time as part of the wine’s natural aging process. Storing the bottle with the label side up makes it easier to see if there are any sediments and allow them to gentle fall to bottom of the bottle when it’s picked up.
As mentioned, sediment can occur in stored wine as it ages. Abruptly disturbing the sediment and adversely affect the wine’s flavor, producing a gritty and unpalatable taste. Even vibrations that can be caused by jarring movement, heavy traffic, or appliance motors can disturb sediment and negatively affect wine. As such, wine should be stored in a way that keeps it from being moved for any reason other than to be opened and served. This means arranging your stored wine bottles so that one of them doesn’t have to be moved in order to get to another. It’s one more reason to store bottles with the label visibly upward so they don’t have to be moved to be read.
Finally, it’s important to remember that wine breathes, so it shouldn’t be stored with anything that emits a strong odor for risk of the smell permeating the cork and ruining the flavor of the wine. So be certain there is adequate ventilation in your storage area. And when you’re ready to open a bottle of stored wine, be gentle. Remember: raise the bottle smoothly. Don’t jar, shake or rattle the it so as not to redistribute any sediment.
How Long to Store?
It bears noting that not all wines improve with age. As a rule inexpensive wines don’t improve over time. While some red wines can mature for anywhere from 2 to 10 years, the majority of wines – red and white, are intended to be drank within a few years. Generally, most white wines are at their peak upon release and therefore best enjoyed as close as possible to their vintage year (although there are a select few Chardonnays that can be aged for over 20 years).
Ideally a cool moderately humid cellar makes the perfect location for storing your wine. If you’re so inclined as to have such a location – especially if it’s cordoned off, has adequate ventilation, AND has an available north facing wall; then all you need to do is put in some lighting and shelving and you’re ready to go. Most of us however, aren’t so lucky. In which case there are other options to consider.
Wine Closet: If you don’t happen to have a real cellar here’s how you can turn a closet into makeshift wine cellar.
- Empty an out of the way closet on the ground floor of your home. Preferably one that’s not subject to rapid or extreme temperature changes.
- Glue 1 inch foam insulating board to the walls and ceiling to insulate the interior of the room.
- Replace the closet door with an insulated steel door, and glue foam to it as well, if you can.
- Place weather stripping where needed all around the door in order to keep out outside air, especially heat.
- Finish off the room with shelving that will enable enough wine to be store comfortably without having to shift any of the bottles for any reason. Be sure to have lighting that’s adequate to read the labels without disturbing the bottles.
- Finally, consider any need you may have for controlling the temperature of your new wine closet and invest accordingly.
Wine Cooler/Refrigerators: Wine coolers (also called wine chillers) are free-standing unites designed to store wines at a specific temperature. They come in a range of prices and offer conveniences and features to meet most every budget. On the plus side wine coolers are fairly compact, are good at controlling temperature and allow bottles to be stored sideways. However the drawback to coolers is that they can’t control for humidity, nor do they offer any capability for the long term aging of wine.
Storage Cabinets: When it comes to wine storage options wine cabinets are set apart from wine coolers by their ability to control for temperature and humidity. Some even have different temperature zones for different wines. Moreover their larger size enables the wine enthusiast enough capacity to accommodate both short term and long term storage. As might be expected this added capacity comes at a significantly greater cost. Thus for anyone just starting out or who might be on a limited budget, wine coolers might be the better storage option.
Not all white wines are meant to be served at the same temperature. For instance for dry whites the temperature should be between 46-57F; whereas for sparkling wines and champagne the temperature should between 43-47F. So before pouring your wine, be sure to allow time for the temperature of the wine to rise or fall to appropriate serving temperature. Finally, once opened, cork then store your white wine back in your wine cellar or closet if you have one. But if you don’t, don’t worry, placing it in your refrigerator is a suitable way to keep it good for anywhere from three to five days.