I’m a huge fan of wine. Up until I started dating a certified wine specialist, I pretty much solely enjoyed the drinking process. However, after two years of swirling and sipping, undertones and tannins – I have an entirely new appreciation for the art of wine-making.
Have you ever bought a really nice bottle of wine, brought it home and saved it for a special occasion – only to find yourself greeted by a disappointing bitter taste when you popped the cork? It’s an all-too-familiar story for many wine lovers. Sometimes, the culprit is a faulty cork. More often, however, it’s the air conditions.
Most homes maintain a temperature of about 70° F, with humidity levels around 20-30%. The proper conditions for storing wine are very different, however – and not exactly ideal for daily living. That’s why many wine enthusiasts store their wine in a cellar that is separate from their homes.
Temperature: 55° F
This temperature slows the aging process and allows time for certain chemical reactions to occur slowly over time, giving the wine complex aromas. It’s important to keep temperature fluctuation to a minimum, as it may cause the wine to expand and contract in the bottle, which will draw in air through the cork and cause oxidation.
Use an air conditioner to maintain a steady temperature in your wine cellar, especially if it’s located in a place that is not naturally cool (basements tend to be cool most of the time). A split system air conditioner works best, since you can control your wine cellar temperature without having to use that temperature for the rest of your home. Also, the parts of the AC that can cause vibration (which can be harmful for the wine) are located far from the unit.
Relative Humidity: 60% to 75%
You don’t want the air in your cellar to be too dry, or you’ll run the risk of your corks drying out and expanding, which can cause your wine to become damaged through oxidation. Sadly, this is often overlooked by even the biggest wine fans.
“One of my clients had extremely dry air in his wine cellar, and it dried out almost all of his corks,” says Michael Fisher, CSW (Certified Specialist of Wine). “Sadly, he lost thousands of dollars in wine collected over many years.”
If your relative humidity is below 70% or so, install a humidifier. Be careful not to let the humidity rise much above 90%, as this will cause mold to grow in the corks.
Use a thermo-hygrometer regularly to measure the temperature and relative humidity of your wine cellar. If the levels are outside these ranges, act quickly to preserve your precious wine bottles.
I continue to live in awe of the complex world of wine. I’m amazed by the number of steps that must be carried out perfectly during the process – from the grape-growing to the wine-making to the storage. But as soon as “best time of the day” rolls around and I’m sipping a delicious glass of cabernet, I’m always glad someone has done their homework.