In order to store wine in a proper manner, you must take into consideration three things: temperature, natural light and humidity. All wines should be stored between 53 and 58 degrees and near a 70 percent humidity level. The worse thing that can happen to a bottle of wine is exposure to heat. Large changes in temperature are also especially bad.
I recently opened a 1992 Chateau Lafite Rothschild Red Bordeaux that I originally purchased in 1996 with the idea that I would drink it in 2013 to celebrate my daughter’s 21st birthday. Instead, it was opened much earlier because I was afraid that it would taste like vinegar if stored for those extra three years. Although the wine had been stored properly, 1992 was not a very good vintage for Bordeaux.
There are many wines that can or should be “laid down” for some period of time — by laid down I am referring to storing the bottle in a horizontal position for several years. By keeping the bottle in a horizontal position, the cork stays moist because it remains in contact with the wine. If you were to store the bottle in an upright position for too long and without the proper humidity, the cork would dry out and break into tiny pieces upon opening.
Getting back to the 1992 Lafite, in viewing the color of the wine it was clear from the orange hue of the rim that this wine was at its’ peak. The tannins were completely integrated and the wine felt very soft in the mouth, containing hints of cedar and black currant. In drinking this wine, it was quite obvious that it had already peaked.
In some parts of the country, a homes’ basement is able to maintain the proper temperature and other conditions that allows one to properly store wine. In the South that isn’t the case so it is necessary to purchase a refrigerated storage unit or find a rental facility specifically designed to store wine.
Affordable refrigerated wine storage units are quite easy to find and are available in various sizes. I have seen units that hold a few as six bottles and of course there are units available that can store a thousand or more.
While most of the wine that we purchase does not need to be laid down for long periods of time, storing it in a dark cool space until opened helps to maintain the integrity of the bottle. I opened a 2009 Clos Du Bois North Coast Chardonnay that was only released in July 2010, but had been stored in my refrigerated wine cellar for a month.
The 2009 Clos du Bois contains the aromas of citrus and apple, with the flavor of buttery vanilla and a little spice. This wine retails for $12 and pairs nicely with shellfish. There was no benefit to keeping this wine in a cellar other than my cellar is kept at 55 degrees, which is the perfect temperature to drink Chardonnay. If kept in a regular refrigerator it would have been necessary to the remove the wine 20 minutes prior to drinking to reach the proper temperature.
Jim Rawe, a family attorney in Bradenton, is an avid collector of fine wines.