Cellaring wine

So, you are investigating a wine refrigerator or thinking about building a wine cellar. What do you look for?

Constant temperature and darkness are reason wine does better in a dedicated refrigerator or cellar. Proper temperature for storing wine is constant 55-59º F. Best humidity 55-75%. Your kitchen fridge stores wine too cold and likely too dry. Your kitchen counter is much worse.

Darkness is crucial because ultraviolet rays from light can spoil wine. It is reason most red wines come in dark glass.

Almost all wine refrigerators require you to store wine on its side. Conventional wisdom has been to keep corks moist, but cork makers claim this is an old wives tale. Humidity does not change inside the bottle, keeping the cork moist. Maybe the cork could dry with decades of upright storage, but never in wines consumed soon after purchase. And with screw tops it doesn’t make any difference.

Which brings us to what should go into your storage system, especially if you commit to aging some of your purchases.

• Wines with moderate to high acidity age best. Wines lose acidity over time, so start with higher acidity wines.

• Red wines with higher tannins age well. When young, tannins may be so puckering you can’t enjoy the wine. But tannins preserve wine and mellow over the years. The wine you could not drink today may be perfect in five years.

• Alcohol levels are controversial. In general, higher alcohol wines—15-plus ABV—break down quicker than lower alcohol—around 12% ABV—wines. But this is not universally true. Amarone della Valpolicella, usually past 15% ABV, can last and improve for years.

• Sweet wines—sweet riesling, sauternes, Madeiras—can age for decades, even centuries. Just as in jam, sweetness acts as a preservative.

Finally, a word about what to buy. Almost every wine you buy for less than $30 is meant to be drunk the day you buy it. You can put it is your wine fridge or cellar to get it to proper temperature, but it is very unlikely cellar age will improve the wine. Age might even harm the quality. Wines you put down for years are going to cost $30 or more, often a lot more. Hey, if you can afford the wine fridge, and especially a wine cellar, you need to put quality wine into the budget.

Last round: Cornstalk walks into a bar. Bartender: “Want to hear a joke?” Corn stalk: “I’m all ears.”