I still rue the day I opened a prized bottle of French Burgundy I'd been saving for a couple decades. Not too surprisingly, when the bottle was open, I discovered that the wine was closer to Port in flavor and texture than fine Burgundy.
I say "not too surprisingly" not because French Burgundy doesn't age well—it does—but because in my earlier days as a wine consumer, I didn't really know anything about wine storage. Before I opened the bottle, I recalled that it had sat for a year or so on a metal wine rack in my Manhattan apartment, right next to a hot water pipe in the kitchen. Yikes!
You'd think common sense would have told me not to store wine next to a heat source. But, such is the foolishness of youth and the nature of crowded New York studio apartments.
So that you don't make the same expensive mistake, here are some tips about basic wine storage that may be useful.
Wine is a living thing. It develops in the bottle both before and after you purchase it. So how you keep or store your wine affects its development. The more expensive the wine, the better care you'll want to give it. That might seem obvious. But the reason you want to treat expensive wines with kid gloves (aside from the mere fact that they're expensive) is that more costly wines are usually intended to age longer than inexpensive wines, which are mostly consumed at a young age.
A fairly consistent temperature is the single most important storage factor for wine. That temperature can range from 50 degrees Fahrenheit to about 59 degrees. The key is to avoid sudden fluctuations in temperatures, like leaving your wine in a hot car on a warm summer day and then placing it in the fridge. Slow, gradual temperature changes don't do much to harm wine, but quick ones do.
You'll notice that in most wine cellars, red wines are kept on the top racks of the cellar, and white wines near the bottom. Heat rises, and so in any given space, the top will usually be warmer than the bottom. White wines and Rosés are served and stored at cooler temperatures than red wines, hence their placement in wine cellars. The top of the refrigerator in the kitchen (a warm room to begin with) is not an ideal location for wine storage.
Light can harm wine in bottles, so you'll want to store wines in a relatively dark location, certainly away from direct sunlight. You also want to give them stability—they shouldn't be moved around a lot or subjected to vibration. So, don't store your wine near a washing machine, and keep bottles off the floor if you live near railroad tracks.
Probably the single most common mistake people make when storing wine is storing the bottles standing up. As artificial corks become more and more popular, this may become unimportant. But wines with wood corks need to be stored on their sides, which keeps the cork in contact with the wine. Otherwise, the cork may dry out and begin to shrivel, which ultimately can lead to air seeping into the bottle, causing oxidation and ruining the wine.
Be nice to your wines and they'll be nice to you, whether you live in a Manhattan walk-up or a 12-room Sandy starter castle.