When it comes to investing in fine wine, the storage process is just as important as selecting the correct vintage to begin with. We all know the phrase ‘aged like a fine wine’, but there is more to the process of aging then simply buying the wine and waiting. Correct aging will increase the quality of wine and will help to add considerable value over time. Conversely, incorrect storage may render an investment ultimately pointless; if wine spoils it can dramatically reduce in value, regardless of its age or rarity.
So, how do you ensure that your wine is being stored in a way that will allow it to age to its fullest potential, thus guaranteeing the best possible returns? One solution is to simply pay for specialist wine storage through an external company. When it comes to provenance, being able to show that you’ve made the commitment to having your wine stored by professionals is a great way to ensure that it retains the value that its quality should represent from the offset. Additionally, having your wine stored professionally can often be the simplest way to guarantee that the aging process is taking place under the best possible conditions, by those who are best qualified to carry it out.
However, paying for professional storage can be costly and it is by no means mandatory. Much of the joy that comes with investing in fine wine comes from the curation, storage, and display of one’s own personal collection. If do you choose to age your wine in your own home, then there are a number of things worth taking into consideration.
Here are some things to look out for to ensure you’ll be getting the best value out of the time spent aging.
Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, is temperature. Adequate temperature control is paramount for ensuring that your wine ages at the correct rate. Even just a few degrees higher than 21°C will result in the wine slowly “cooking”, leading to in a loss of flavour and aroma. If stored wine regularly reaches temperatures of over 30°C, then many of the compounds within the wine can be boiled off entirely. This can happen due to the increased rate of the reactions involved in the aging process itself. Additionally, higher temperatures can cause the cork to expand, gradually forcing it out of the bottle.
Keeping wine too cool can also have negative effects; colder temperatures will cause the air bubble in the bottle to shrink, creating a vacuum and potentially pulling in more oxygen – this will oxidise the wine and cause it to deteriorate in quality. Aim for a happy medium of around 10 to 15°C and try to avoid regular fluctuations outside of this range. One tip for maintaining this is to program a thermostat with these values as the upper and lower limits and allow your heating system to regulate the atmosphere in the room automatically.
Almost as important as controlling temperature is making sure that the bottles are stored at the right humidity. Just like lack of heat, dry air can cause the corks to dry out and shrink, allowing oxygen to get to the wine as the seal becomes compromised. It can give the wine a musty taste, overpowering the other flavours present. Conversely, too humid an atmosphere can encourage mould growth on the cork and the labels, which will also devalue the wine when compared to bottles that are kept in pristine condition.
Aim to keep the humidity between 50 and 70% and avoid any extremes outside of this range. If the humidity regularly exceeds 70%, simply installing a dehumidifier will likely be sufficient to keep it in check. If the area frequently becomes too dry, then one tip for adding moisture to the area is to keep a bowl or pan of water near to the storage area.
Another important factor to consider is light.
Ultraviolet light is especially harmful for wine and will expedite the aging process unnecessarily; this is the reason that most red wines come in tinted bottles. Light can also make heat regulation more difficult as it can contribute to raising the storage temperature, resulting in many of the problems mentioned in the suggestions on temperature given above. Artificial light may be less harmful to the wine itself than natural light, but many household bulbs can still cause the labels to fade and lose their vibrancy over time.
White and sparkling wines typically come in clear bottles and will be the most vulnerable to any ultraviolet radiation that comes with light exposure, so take extra care in shielding them from potential harm. To be on the safe side, store wine in as dark an environment as possible at all times. If the area is lit artificially then consider investing in incandescent bulbs, as these will typically emit the lowest amount of ultraviolet light in contrast to fluorescent ones.
Finally, orientation can play a big part in making sure the aging process is taking place under optimal conditions.
Keeping the correct amount of moisture around the cork is the biggest concern here, but so is the amount of vibration that the wine is exposed to. Wine stored upright will result in the cork drying out much faster in warmer, dryer conditions and should therefore be avoided. Keeping the cork moist by storing horizontally will help to further prevent any oxidisation that could occur due to temperature and humidity fluctuations, adding an additional safety net. It is also the most efficient way to store large collections, even for screw-top wines that have no cork to consider.
Further to this, it’s important to keep the wine as still as possible as it ages, in order to disturb as little of the sediment in the bottle as possible. Sediment that is disturbed from the bottom of the bottle can stay suspended in the wine and will interfere with the aging process by speeding up the process unnecessarily. It will also interfere with the taste of the wine; if there is a high amount of sediment present when a bottle is finally opened, it will result in a gritty, unpleasant taste.
This may seem like an overwhelming amount of information at first but putting all of these tips into practice need not be a daunting task. If you are looking to store your wine at home, then first look for an area that can be kept dark and is well insulated. If the wine is being kept in a cupboard in a kitchen, then keep it away from any appliances that will cause heat fluctuations, such as refrigerators and ovens.
Cellars or basements often make the best environments as they are usually cooler and moister by design, making their regulation easier. Attics can also be a good choice, but make sure any boilers that are present near wine racks or storage crates have been insulated, to avoid the heat interfering with the aging. Finally, consider investing in a dehumidifier, a thermostat with upper and lower limits, and incandescent light bulbs to make the regulation as stress-free as possible.
If there are no such spaces in your home that would be immediately suitable, then you could consider purchasing a specialist wine fridge. These units come in a range of sizes and will ensure that the wine is kept in near optimal conditions, though larger fridges can take up a lot of space and will represent an extra cost on top of the wine itself. Whichever method of storage you choose, following this guide will help you get the most out of your fine wine in the long run and allow you to make the best returns on your investment.