Temperature and light. The ingredients of so many sunny days and happy memories. Grower of plants, bringer of color, warmer of bones. Sometimes it seems temperature and light can do no wrong.
Just don’t ask Mr. and Mrs. Winebottle about it. They’ll run out of the room screaming as if from eternal rest itself.
That's understandable. Temperature and light can absolutely kill your wine.
But if you nail your wine storage, you’ll have happy, healthy—and, importantly, delicious—wines for as long as you’d like.
In this guide, we’ll first look at the very basics of home wine storage. These are the things you need to keep in mind as you’re squirreling away bottles—no matter how many.
Then we’ll dig into the two concepts that forever hang over wine bottles like a curse, temperature and light, so you get a better idea of what you’re trying to prevent. Know thy enemy.
And, finally, we’ll get into the practical matters of what wine storage cabinets and racks will best help you manage the life of your wine collection.
Wine Storage Basics
There are six basic guidelines to wine storage. Before we cover anything in more depth, you need to familiarize yourself with the general landscape of wine storage. Being even vaguely aware of these six wine storage basics—based on common wine-collecting wisdom—will make all your future wine storage decisions easier and more effective.
- Stay cool. Temperatures above 70°F are harmful to wine, and above 77°F massively harmful, even for short periods of time. And temperatures below 50°F slow down the aging process and expand the liquid—potentially damaging the cork or seal.
- Keep it steady. Even within the acceptable limits of 50–70°F, if temperatures change frequently undue stress is put on both the cork and the wine’s precious little molecules. Keep your wine storage temperature consistent.
- Go dark. The less light, the better. When you turn the lights on, imagine your wines violently twisting their heads and staring daggers at the light source through squinted eyes. Like they’re some sort of late-in-life Howard Hughes.
- Get sideways. Store your bottles lying down. Sideways bottles are happy bottles. This keeps the cork in constant contact with the wine which keeps natural corks moist and maximally expanded. That maintains an airtight seal.
- Settle down. Don’t disrupt your wine bottles too much. A lot of vibrations can break apart delicate chemical structures and reintroduce tannins that have resolved, AKA become sediment. That’s a recipe for wine faults. One your wine is open and ready to serve, it can benefit from a little jostling: that’s exactly what wine aerators do.
- Don’t break a sweat. Humidity isn’t as dangerous as light, temperature, or vibration. Most wine enthusiasts agree that 50–80% humidity is acceptable. It’s a pretty big range and most indoor environments fall within it.
It’s not hard to lay bottles sideways, reduce vibration, or achieve and manage optimal humidity levels. What is more difficult is choosing the right temperature for a collection whose constituent parts have different optimal storage and serving temperatures—along with finding a balance between ideal light levels and the light needed to showcase your collection, if you plan to.
Wine Storage Temperature
Wine storage temperature and wine serving temperature are not the same thing. In fact, even serving temperatures within types of wine vary. But hitting ideal wine storage temperatures is easier.
In this section, we’ll briefly cover why wines have different ideal storage and serving temperatures. If you want more in-depth information, we’ve got a great post about wine storing and serving temperatures—complete with wine storage temperature charts.
Red Wine Storage Temp
55°F is widely agreed upon as the best red wine storage temperature. But 1–2 degrees cooler or warmer is still okay. If you’re close to 55°F, consistency is honestly more important than exact temperature.
White Wine Storage Temp
Luckily, 55°F is also considered the ideal temperature to store white wine. 1–2 degrees is likewise not a huge deal for white wine storage. Again, consistency is key.
Is it really this easy? It sure is. Some wines would certainly prefer 54° and others 57°, but the difference when storing them for the average home collector is negligible. Success when storing wine is all about creating a stable environment that shields wine from volatile and extreme temps. A couple degrees here or there doesn’t make much difference.
Wine Serving Temperature
Wine serving temperatures change a lot because serving wine has a different goal than storing wine. The purpose of an ideal wine serving temperature is to create the ideal environment for the molecules of the wine to move freely within their chemical structures. When they do, we experience them as the flavors, colors, and aromas that the winemakers intended.
If a wine served too warm, its structure breaks apart and the heartier ethanol molecules take center stage. The wine becomes astringent and overly alcoholic-tasting. But a wine that’s served too cold mutes a lot of the desired flavors and aromas.
Red Wine Serving Temp
The ideal serving temperature for full-bodied wines is between 60–65°F. Light- and medium-bodied red wines should be served lower, around 55–62°F. Learning how to use a decanter is helpful for letting wine temperature rise before serving. And once you learn, check out our list of best wine decanters and read a little more about wine decanters vs aerators.
White Wine Serving Temp
Chardonnay, the fullest-bodied white, has the highest ideal serving temperature of any white wine: 50–54°F. The serving temperature for light-bodied and medium-bodied whites, along with sparkling wine, is 43–50°F.
How Wine and Light Interact
Wine has a lot of naturally-present chemical compounds—wine tannins probably the most well known. When one of those chemical compounds gets too strong or too weak, it throws the whole structure out of whack. And when we can taste or smell the imbalance, it's said to have crossed the sensory threshold. Another name for this is a wine fault.
Too much light exposure causes wine faults, and those wines are called light-struck. Managing your wine cellar lighting or home wine storage lighting is how to avoid that. Here’s what you need to know about the effects of light on wine:
- Light affects wine, but it depends on the type and strength of the light, how long the wine is exposed, what type of wine it is, and what the wine bottle is made of.
- Light-struck wines become prematurely aged and have a skewed flavor, color, mouthfeel, and aroma.
- The most damaging types of light are fluorescent and UV lighting.
- All types of wines are damaged by light, but the lighter the wine, the quicker and more substantially light will impact it.
- Likewise, the lighter the wine bottle the easier it is for wine to be damaged by light. Clear bottles are the worst, green bottles are okay, and amber bottles are the best.
- It takes between 200–500 hours of moderate light exposure for a wine to become light-struck.
- LED lighting that can be dimmed is the most ideal for home wine storage and wine cellar storage
- Wrapping bottles in cellophane or keeping bottles in cardboard or wooden containers is ideal, though not very pretty; if your intent is to show off your wine collection, you can get wine bottles with enhanced light-filtering properties.
Read the above linked-to article about wine cellar lighting for a more in-depth treatment on light, wine, and how to mitigate light's effects on wine.
Finding the Right Wine Cabinets and Racks
If you want to display your wine collection, you’ll have to sacrifice a little exposure to light, or a little inconsistency with temperature, for the look you want. That’s why it’s crucial to pick up the right wine storage furniture. The right wine storage racks and cabinets should enhance your preferred aesthetic while helping you maintain optimal temperatures and light levels. For more detailed information, check out our post about wine storage furniture.
Choosing Wine Cabinets
Ask yourself the following questions when looking for home wine storage cabinets.
Should I Get a Refrigerated Wine Cabinet?
A non-refrigerated wine cabinet is basically a piece of traditional wooden furniture that has insulation. It doesn’t regulate temperature or humidity. If you have a wine cellar or another temperature-controlled environment, you can get a non-refrigerated wine cabinet and place it in there. If not, you should look into a refrigerated wine cabinet.
Is a Wine Cooler Right for Me?
Wine coolers and refrigerated wine cabinets are different.
A wine cooler is an electronic appliance that excels at chilling wines that will be served soon. They have more temperature volatility than refrigerated wine cabinets, so they’re not suited for long-term home wine storage and wine cellar storage and aged wine.
A refrigerated wine cabinet, alternatively, is designed exactly for long-term storage and aging. It’s able to manage numerous conditions (temp, light, humidity) and it’s fully-customizable and repairable.
A wine cooler is probably right for you if you have a collection of under 40 bottles, are looking for a functional short-term and cost-effective solution, and don’t have any wines that you want to or are intended to be aged.
How Big Should My Wine Cabinet Be?
Getting a 50-bottle cabinet and fitting 50 wine bottles in it isn’t as easy as it sounds. Total bottle capacity is affected by the types of bottles, the materials of the shelves, and the way the bottles are put into the cabinet.
The high-shouldered Cabernet Sauvignon bottle is what most people think of when they imagine a wine bottle. And that’s the bottle that manufacturers think of, too, when they design home wine storage and wine cellar storage solutions. But there are bottles with wider bases, like pinot noirs and chardonnays, that won’t fit in standard wine slots as well. If you have a lot of atypical bottle shapes in your collection, you should purchase a cabinet with a higher stated capacity than the amount of bottles you’ll be putting in it.
Also, scalloped-wire shelves—as opposed to wooden shelves—often have a small dip in them that provide more vertical room for bottles. That’s also helpful if you have wider-bottomed bottles in your collection.
It’s also worth noting the way the manufacturer suggests the bottles being stored. If the cabinet wasn’t intended to handle wines placed in the unit in only one direction, but that’s how you prefer to configure your wine cabinet, the unit probably won’t be able to handle its stated bottle capacity.
Do I Need More Than One Temperature Zone?
While red and white wines have what is effectively the same optimal storage temperature, some collectors prefer to really zero-in on just the right temperature for their wines. If that’s the case, they’ll need a dual- or multi-zone cabinet.
Additionally, if you’d like another zone to bring wines up and down to their serving temperature, look into multi-functional cabinets. They allow you to adjust a zone’s temperature without exposing wines in long-term storage to any volatility.
Choosing Wine Racks
Wine storage racks can be part of a simple wine storage setup or an elaborate wine cellar racking installation. They’re very basic and that makes them very versatile. Here are the primary types of wine racks that we cover in the above linked-to wine storage furniture post.
- Wall-mounted wine racks typically have a capacity of 6–12 bottles. They’re constrained by the fact that they’re attached to a wall, so they can’t weigh too much. If you have a small wine collection, want to conserve floor and counter space, and primarily value the aesthetics of your wine collection, look into wall-mounted options.
- Hanging wine racks have similar constraints as wall-mounted: a smaller capacity because weight is an issue. One great thing about hanging wine racks, though, is that they usually have room for stemware. If you have a small wine collection, want to conserve counter, floor, and wall space, look into hanging racks.
- Countertop wine racks are also on the smaller side but not because of weight issues, because of space issues. You can find countertop racks that exceed 30 or even 40 bottles. It’ll just be a challenge finding enough counter space for it. If you have a small or medium wine collection, spare counter space, don’t want to mess with installing things in walls or ceilings, and value convenience over aesthetics, look into countertop wine racks.
- Floor wine storage racks are useful because you’re able to build out larger wine storage solutions with them. They come in larger capacities, too. You can easily find floor racks that hold upwards of 75 or 100 bottles of wine. If you have a medium or large wine collection, don’t want to worry about height or weight, and have spare floor space, look into floor racks.
- And, finally, wine cellar racking is a must for the avid wine collector with a cellar. These are stable, stackable, 100+ wine cellar storage solutions that line the walls of wine cellars. If you have a wine cellar and a large wine collection, you need wine cellar racking.
Home Wine Storage: Achieved
Your ability to manage the amount of heat and light your wine experiences depends on the size of your collection, the aesthetics you’re going after, and the physical space you’ll be using. If you consider those three things against everything you’ve read in this book, you’ll be able to choose the most effective wine storage furniture for your purposes. And you’ll be well on your way to becoming a sommelier. Even if you’re your own personal, unofficial sommelier. If you’d like to become an official one, though, we’ve got some great resources on sommelier classes, sommelier levels, and some cool sommelier documentaries and movies.
If you have a cellar, you don’t much need to worry about a refrigerated wine cabinet. Unless you want to store 200 bottles of red on cellar racking and 30 bottles of white in a cooler, temperature-regulated cabinet within the cellar.
And, remember, the bigger the better. If you have the space to spare, always err on the side of too much in your home wine storage solution. Especially given that wide-bottomed bottles like pinot noir and chardonnay will likely end up in your collection.
Hopefully this has given you a lot to think about. After you collect your thoughts, onward, and collect your wine!