how to
store wine.

by David Gray

The Hands-On Information Source for Proper Storage and Handling of Fine Wines.

Proper Wine Storage is Essential to the Enjoyment of Wine.

Every step of the way, from production, transport, import, wholesale, retail, and ultimately to the consumer, handling has an impact on how wine fares at your table. 

The author has compiled over 25 years of experience and expertise as an importer, retailer, and wine storage professional, and shares with you his wealth of knowledge on this subject of interest to every fine wine consumer.

The Goal of Wine Storage

Proper wine storage is not a new concept. Since man began making wine, sealed ceramic storage vessels, cool cellars, and caves have been employed to sustain the freshness and longevity of wine.

Most wines are made for short term consumption, though the basic precepts of storage and handling still apply. Wines with the potential to improve over time, are wines designed for long term consumption.

The typical goal of a wine collector is to keep these wines until they have reached their peak of development, at which point they should be consumed. That may take a few years, or literally decades.

To allow these wines to properly mature, it is necessary to abide by not only the basic precepts, but by sound storage practices which will lay the foundation for proper aging and development. Over time, a young wine made to age undergoes a chemical metamorphosis, which alters naturally occurring acids. Flavors meld, aromas develop, and a wine blossoms into maturity, revealing its true potential. Yet, subjecting a fine wine to improper handling will assure it never undergoes this test of time.

Heat Extremes

Heat is the villain of all villains. Wine stored for sustained periods at over 70 degrees Fahrenheit will mature prematurely. 

Wine will not spoil at 70, but will advance in development at a rate far exceeding that of a properly stored wine. For this reason, savvy consumers of the finer wines are alert not only to retail storage conditions, but to the length of time a wine has been sitting on a store shelf. Ardent collectors, who purchase wines “pre-arrival” or as “futures” to take advantage of assured availability and lower pricing, often rush to collect their wine upon arrival, to foreclose any further possibility of storage issues.
See my discussion of Long Term Storage.

Cold Extremes

To allow a wine to become extremely cold, short of freezing, is in and of itself not harmful.

Many wines, particularly whites, are in fact "cold stabilized" as part of the production process. These wines are chilled to near 38 degrees Fahrenheit for days, to assist in the precipitation of crystal "tartrates". The acidity, and thus tartness of a wine, can be significantly reduced through this process.The tartrate crystals fall to the bottom of the production tanks, and the wine is siphoned away.

On occasion a wine will exhibit tiny crystals at the bottom or side of the bottle, or if the bottles have been stored corks down, on the bottom of the cork itself. Many consumers mistake tartrates for glass, and discard a good bottle for fear of ingesting a piece of glass. If there is more than one, it is crystal shaped, rather than an obviously dangerous shard of glass, and it tastes very sour, you’ve got yourself a harmless tartrate crystal.

Freezing is another matter. Aside from the physical damage likely to occur as the expanding wine forces the cork up and out of the bottle, precluding any beneficial long term storage, the wine itself undergoes physical changes. I have on occasion had the unfortunate experience of tasting previously frozen wine, an experience the result of my forgetting a bottle laid in the freezer for a quick chill. Whatever uniformity of flavor and complexity the wine might have enjoyed often succumbs to a disjointed rendition of bad wine.

Constancy of Temperature

Significant variations in permissible temperatures, if allowed to occur regularly, can be as damaging to wine as impermissibly high or low  temperatures.

An increase in temperature increases relative pressure within the bottle, which may force air (or in extreme circumstances wine) past the cork. As a bottle cools, air with fresh oxygen may be drawn back into the vessel.

Oxygen, another enemy of wine, is a well known chemical catalyst. Catalysts speed up chemical reactions, and in the case of an aging bottle of wine, that is not good. 

Infrequent slow oscillations in permissible temperatures, such as slow seasonal variations in a passive cellar, can be harmless, though repetitive temperature variation occurring in all but the most occasional of circumstances, is for these reasons to be strictly avoided.

Maintain temperature constancy. Regular variation in temperature of no more than a couple of degrees is permissible, though not ideal.


A humid environment is necessary for the proper storage of all fine wines sealed by natural cork.

Humidity helps maintain the elasticity of the cork seal by contributing to (or not diminishing) the natural cork moisture content of 5% to 7%. 

Excessive humidity will result in the development of mold. Mold can attack labels and render them unreadable. The visible presence of mold may also reduce the value of your collection. Several auction houses refuse moldy consignments, as they present a risk to their employees and clients alike. Mold on the exterior of corks can also impart off flavors to wine. To avoid the development of mold potentially harmful to human heath, the US Center for Disease Control has recently revised recommendations that relative humidity in indoor environments not exceed 50 percent.

I follow the CDC guidelines at The Wine Rack by David Gray, and at home, maintaining relative humidity at 50 percent. 

At home, humidity increases can often be achieved with a simple bucket of clean water and rag as a wick, a small inexpensive decorative style water fountain, a dedicated portable humidifier or mister, or humidity control integrated into the cooling system. 35 percent relative humidity is considered to be the human “comfort zone”, but is too low for long term wine storage.

Keep in mind that cooling units without offsetting humidity systems will draw water out of the air (and a cork), and reduce the relative humidity of the cooled space.  Monitor your humidity, and supplement as required to maintain humidity at 50 percent. The greater your humidity set point, the more energy that will be required to maintain that set point.

Effect of Vibration

Vibration is another, oft overlooked, enemy of wine. As red wine ages, it is common for the wine to “throw sediment”, a natural aging process which physically separates solids, principally tannic acid, from the wine.

Collectors will often try to introduce as little movement as possible into the aging equation, for fear of re-integrating sediments back into the wine. 

On a larger scale, vibration introduces kinetic energy into the wine, which is the opposite of what you are seeking to achieve. Think back to chemistry class, and recall that many reactions are expedited by stirring. The same principle holds true for wine naturally maturing through chemical change.  A vibration prone environment will, in relative terms, cause wine to mature more rapidly.

A 2008 study has found that even low levels of constant vibration detrimentally alters the chemical composition of wine in as little as 18 months. In 2011, wine writer, researcher, and educator, Maria Lorraine Binchet summarized the 2008 study as follows:

“The organoleptic information is there, just cloaked in chemical terms. The effect of vibration on wine is that it kills flavors and aromas. From the abstract:

Decreased Tartaric Acid = the primary acid in grapes, responsible for the taste, feel and color of a wine. Decreased tartaric acid means the wine tastes and feels less like wine.

Decreased Succinic Acid = reacts with other molecules to form esters, the defining flavor components of wine. A big effect.

Decreased esters = decreased flavor.

Increased Refractive Index = the wine becomes sweeter [yet loses overall flavor].

Increased Propanol = decrease in aromas, increase in smell of cooked potatoes. "High concentrations of propanol are probably an indication of inferior wine [Fleet, 1993].

Increased Isoamyl Alcohol = tendency to form acetone/acetates; smells of fusel, whiskey, banana popsicle. Indicates the wine has degraded.” ...

The abstract can be found here.

Well stored wine is in a static cool, dark, vibration free environment by design. This environment slows the chemical aging process. Slow aging allows a fine wine to develop aroma and complexity of flavor. This is a process that can take years to achieve. Long term exposure vibration (and/or heat and light) will result in degradation, undermining efforts to facilitate proper long term aging. 

Unless you are inclined to ignore science, avoid storage near vibration. Remember that just because you don't feel it, does not mean it is not there. Humans can detect vibration only at certain frequencies. 

If you are thinking about using a wine storage facility, first and foremost ascertain if it is near a rail system, as urban Metrorail systems are among the most notorious offenders. The Paris, France system has been causing problems for years. Washington, DC’s, Metrorail vibration attenuation system recently failed, "potentially affecting surrounding buildings and structures". These systems will be replaced over the next ten years, subject to funding. In the interim, vibration levels at some buildings near DC’s Van Ness station actually exceed the highest levels studied in the analysis mentioned above. 

Trolleys, trains, pumps, washing machines, clothes dryers, dishwashers, and stereo equipment are also on the list. Wooden storage systems are preferable to metal, as metal carries vibrations more efficiently. Necessary equipment in the vicinity of stored wines, including wine storage units which utilize compressors, should be equipped with dampers to minimize or eliminate vibration.

"Even the best storage conditions cannot reverse damage caused by poor handling during transport."
Professional Storage Expert, David Gray.

long Term Storage

I am often asked what is the ideal temperature for storage of wine. I could spend hours discussing temperature and wine storage.

In short, the "perfect temperature" for storing wine historically arises from local custom. Local custom was, and in many instances still is, dictated by the passive temperature of the local passive cave or cellar. Do not be fooled into thinking that every passive cave or cellar is at the same temperature. They can vary considerably. So what is the “perfect temperature” today?

It is known that the colder the temperature, the longer the wine takes to evolve. In an article by Alexander (Al) J. Pandell, Ph.D., published in The Alchemist’s Wine Perspective ©, Dr. Pandell speaks of several “energy barriers”, affected by temperature, which a fine wine must overcome over time to age. He estimates that a wine will age 1.5 times faster if stored at 59 versus 55. Assuming Dr. Pandell’s analysis is correct, instead of taking 20 to 30 years to mature at 55, it would take the same wine 13 to 20 years to mature at 59. Keeping in mind that temperatures with this range all sustain healthy development of wine in the bottle, the question really becomes when, if at all, do you want to enjoy the wine at its peak of development?

Most professionals will utilize temperatures between 45 and 65 degrees Fahrenheit, with the vast majority (myself included), opting for a temperature between 55 and 60 degrees. Anyone who tells you that THE ideal temperature for storage is 50, 55, 60 or any other number within that broad range is expressing but an opinion, and perhaps a bit of self-aggrandizement, which should be weighed in light of the considerations above.

short Term Storage

Wines which you consume over the short term, can manage at up to 70 degrees without suffering damage.

Years ago I had a small "passive" (natural temperature control) insulated wine closet in the corner of my basement, eight feet underground. Temperature was not ideal, and averaged 65 to 70 year-round, but that was sufficient for my short-term, everyday needs. 

I store the bulk of my collection — wines which I plan to hold for an extended period — at my commercial facility, but the point remains that there is not necessarily a concern for alarm when your storage temperature is somewhat less than ideal, if intended for shorter term use. A typical example is an individual who buys exclusively to consume in the near future, and regularly replenishes. Some purists may take exception to the suggestion that short term storage at up to 70 degrees is permissible. Remember, however, that the vast majority of fine wine retailers in the United States  (from whom most collectors purchase)  maintain their storefronts and wines between 70 and 75 degrees. 

If you have a dark basement cupboard, closet, stairwell, or corner which never gets above the low 70's, exhibits nominal and slow temperature fluctuations, and is free from vibration, you are set from a short term storage perspective. Store well away from any source of heat and vibration, such as radiators, heat ducts, furnace, dryer, sound systems, dishwasher, pumps, air handler, water heater, hot water or steam piping, oven, stove, radiant floor heat, and sunlight. Enclose and insulate if possible or practical, to further minimize seasonal temperature and humidity variations. There should be very minor if any daily fluctuation of temperature.

Effect of Light

Light is another enemy of wine, as it is to beer, and many other beverages. The glass used to manufacture wine bottles is generally tinted.

This is for more than aesthetics, as ultraviolet light will promote the chemical degeneration of fine wine. (Persons coming from regions of the country where Hood diary products are distributed, may have noticed that they now package their milk in opaque containers for the same reason — to combat deterioration due to light.)

Light is energy, and energy introduced into wine will accelerate naturally occurring chemical reactions — resulting in premature aging and development. Light also tends to generate heat, another reason to avoid storing in the presence of constant light. For this reason, avoid wine retailers who place unopened bottles of wine for display in direct sunlight. Store, to the extent practical, in the dark.

Wine Storage Facilities

Not all wine storage facilities are alike. Some are better at environmental control. Some are dedicated facilities, often staffed by wine knowledgeable professionals.

Of those, some are stand alone, others are incorporated into some wine related establishment. Some are adjuncts to generic storage facilities or warehouses. 

Staff is always an important consideration in choosing a facility. Non-dedicated facilities often lack the professional expertise typically found at the dedicated facilities.

Remember, you are trusting valuable assets to a third party. Two recent high profile cases of fraud in California should serve as a warning. As of this writing, there is at least one wine storage "professional" doing business in the United States who has served time for crimes of moral turpitude. Do your due diligence. 

It raises red flags for me when a wine storage facility talks about “approximate” storage temperatures versus precise temperature, “refrigeration” versus temperature and/or environment control, and worst of all temperature ranges versus temperature stability. There is no precise temperature most suitable for wine storage. Rather there is a range of permissible temperatures, of which one must be chosen and maintained. Constant temperature fluctuation will do harm. “Refrigeration” is for vegetables. “Approximate” temperatures signals to me variation in temperature, as do temperature “ranges”. Significant variations in permissible temperatures, if allowed to occur regularly, can be as damaging to wine as high or low temperatures.   

Backup power is necessary for facilities that have poor passive capabilities in warm weather regions. Many underground, well insulated facilities can withstand lengthy if not indefinite power interruptions without harm. (These include numerous wine producing facilities around the globe.) If in doubt, ask about a facilities equipment and experiences at their location. Is the facility above or under ground? Where is the boiler room, if any, located? Heat rises!

Read contracts before you commit. Some facilities incorporate onerous provisions seeking to totally insulate themselves against lawsuits. Some of these "indemnification clauses" would have you agreeing to pay for their attorneys, costs, and liabilities in the event of any dispute.

Vibration has been proven to adversely affect wine. You would be prudent to avoid facilities where vibration may be an issue, particularly those that may be adjacent to rail lines and metro systems, or in buildings which have integral multi-level parking garages. Shake and bake is for chicken and pork.

That being said, the author takes no position with respect to the business practices and storage regimens of the following facilities, excepting his own, The Wine Rack by David Gray. The list is provided solely for the convenience of the reader.


As the popularity of collecting wine has grown, so has the market for insurance. It has been estimated that 85% of wine collectors are “completely under-insured”.

Companies typically offer two types of coverage — “blanket policies” with a per bottle limit and a cap on payout, or detailed listed coverage, which requires an accurate inventory. It is generally cheaper to place your collection, whether on or off site, on your homeowner’s or renter’s insurance. Expect a premium of 30 cents to 50 cents per $100 of collection value. Stand alone policies typically require a $200-$500 minimum annual premium. 

Compare policy terms carefully. I have seen policies that exclude theft, and require visually apparent bottle damage despite proof of mechanical failure, excessive long term heat exposure, and associated wine spoilage. Use independent certified appraisers. Insurers have been known to require proof of the pre-loss condition of every bottle claimed a loss, and refuse to accept pre and post damage appraisals from non-certified appraisers.

Wine storage facilities that have arrangements with insurers to refer clientele and provide appraisal services have a built in conflict of interest. You may be better served obtaining coverage independent of storage facility involvement.

Likewise, beware of storage facility representations that all clients are insured by the facility policy. The typical facility policy insures the facility against client claims, and may or may not cover "property of others". The client is his or herself insured only if he or she is, or is bound as, a named insured on the facility policy. A facility will typically be listed as a joint payee on any facility policy claim, thus retaining leverage over claimants to the extent the claimant may have contributed to a loss sustained by the facility. In short, there are distinct advantages to having your own independent coverage.

Sinclair, LaPlaya, and AXA are among popular programs.

Storage Units

Dedicated storage units, placed in the home, provide an alternative solution to collector’s wine storage needs. Several manufacturers produce a wide range of such units, both in terms of quality and capacity.

These units fill a legitimate need for consumers who desire in home storage, and lack passive capability. Several of my storage clients have these units in their homes. The best units are designed to minimize or eliminate vibration, have accurate independent temperature control zones, and are handsome to behold. Most do not, however, offer humidity control — an important consideration when you consider that cooling units, by their nature, draw down relative humidity.

Unless over-packed beyond intended capacity, these units indeed provide ease of access, and can be more convenient, compared to off-site storage. There are a number of potential concerns as well. 

The units can be costly, requiring a substantial initial capital outlay. The best units cost thousands of dollars, plus freight, and perhaps assembly. 

You must dedicate space to the unit and door swing, and allow easy access for loading, regular use, unloading, and maintenance. When placing a unit against a wall, remember that rear coils must always be kept free of dust, spider webs, and other debris to function properly. 

All but one style, which utilizes a convective cooling system, subject the wine to subtle but constant repetitive vibration. In some models, water often condenses on the rear interior wall of the unit, eventually depositing mold on bottles allowed to come in contact with the wall.    

Power outage is a serious concern, and can potentially result in disastrous consequences. Ask yourself, based upon your geographic location, what would your storage temperature be after several days, perhaps weeks, of power outage (or compressor failure) at the hottest time of the year?    

Compressors WILL eventually fail, requiring costly repair or replacement. HVAC Techs earn good money, particularly in the hot summer months, when just getting an appointment can be a task. Manufacturer’s warranties are a bellweather of what to expect in terms of performance, and you should consider them carefully. You may wish to invest in an extended on-site warranty. 

As the operator of a wine storage facility, I receive several calls a year inquiring whether I know someone who can repair these units. Ask yourself, do you have a plan to accommodate prompt repair of your unit compressor?  What is the name and phone number of your closest repair facility. Do they offer on site service? Are you prepared to unload your unit, and if necessary transport it for service? What is the cost to replace the compressor in your unit? 

In recent years, with a marked increase in U.S. wine consumption, a number of refrigeration manufacturers have begun to produce small and inexpensive “wine refrigerators”.  Caveat emptor. Most are ill-regulated, and pose serious vibration issues. You are equally served, in my opinion, by just setting aside some space in your refrigerator.

Freight Consolidators

Wines, once released by producers, are trusted to the care of freight consolidators. These professionals may work for the producers, importers, distributors, wholesalers, or retailers.

Wines destined for long distance transport require protection from temperature extremes. Domestic wineries typically employ long distance haulers with access to special temperature controlled trucks. 

Transoceanic shipments utilize “reefers”, special temperature controlled cargo containers loaded on steamships. Here there is fodder for advocates of proper wine care.

There are two types of reefers: operating insulated, and non-operating insulated. Shipping is normally paid by the recipient importer/distributor/wholesaler/retailer, and many seek to avoid the additional cost of operating reefers. This is unfortunate, as the cost – a few dollars per case, can be easily absorbed by the storage conscious consumer. 

Some merchants trade the risk of temperature damage for a few thousand dollars per container, believing that the consumer will never know the difference. The standard practice is to use insulated containers and restrict shipments to the temperate Spring and Fall months. This practice incurs risk, as placement on the steamship, atypical weather extremes, and dock/labor/customs issues can themselves, or in combination, subject cargo to unacceptable temperature extremes. 

Consumers — Ask your retailer which of their imported wines were transported in operating reefers. The answer can be telling.

Importers, Wholesalers, and Distributors

There are hundreds of wine distributors, and thousands of retailers. Some utilize temperature controlled warehouses, and other do not.

Over the course of years, I have personally observed some of the most callous conditions imaginable. I once saw hundreds of cases of top California cabernets sitting in a 90-100 degree unconditioned “warehouse”, destined for the market. I have observed wines offloaded in Washington, DC’s summer months from unconditioned delivery trucks, with wine literally bubbling out from underneath the capsules. 

On the other hand I have seen huge modern warehouses, maintained at relatively benign room temperature or cooler. A number of distributors – particularly smaller wine dedicated operations – use small conditioned trucks or vans equipped with commercial cooling capability. This can be the difference between a wine arriving safely at a cool 60, or at an impermissibly high temperature. 

Consumers – ask your retailer which distributors they use and what type of facilities they employ. Has the retailer been to the premises? How does the retailer know that the wines they purchase have been stored properly? When more and more consumers start asking these questions, the trade will get the message.

The same applies to the retailers themselves. What are the temperature conditions in the store? What are they in the store's warehousing areas? Does the retailer allow wines on display to come in contact with direct sunlight? Are wines stored for long periods standing upright, with corks not in contact with wine?


I may not make too many friends in the kitchen design field, but the kitchen is one of the last places I would consider for storage of fine wines, except perhaps for the very near term.

I have seen open storage built-in above stoves and grills, next to dishwashers, and in the direct line of afternoon sunlight.  Heat, vibration, and light are all present in varying degrees within most kitchens, making them among my least desirable locations for a collection.

There are a number of quality under the counter units available, and there is something to be said for the convenience of having access to wine in the kitchen. Regardless, in-kitchen storage would, for the reasons I have specified, not be my first choice for anything except short term storage of ordinary consumables.

Passive Cellars

Certainly among the most desirable of storage options, the stark reality is that many collectors cannot afford, or are unwilling to invest in a dedicated passive underground cellar.

Underground cellars are impractical in many areas due to the water table, excavation costs, or other urban considerations. 

To maximize the passive cooling capacity of the surrounding earth, an ideal passive cellar must be built well below the eight foot depth normally associated with a residential basement. The benefit is a often a naturally humid cellar, with constant of near constant year-round temperature of 55-60 degrees. 

Historically the passive cellar has become the romantic ideal of the wine connoisseur. Built within the sub-foundations of castles, chateaux, and great estates, nestled among alcoves of stone and brick arches, are legions of wine covered by dust and cobwebs, some untouched for centuries.  Visit Chateau Montrose in the Medoc, and ask to visit their subterranean cellar, where you can see what I am talking about. 

Modern variants of the passive cellar do exist, with stone, brick, tile, and exotic wood racking, though “active” cellars with cooling systems are far more the norm. Still many producers and some commercial storage facilities, have tunneled into hillsides to achieve a passive capability.  

An interesting variant on the passive cellar had been developed and marketed by Spiral Cellars, Ltd in the United Kingdom. A circular, concrete, modular passive cellar is dug directly underneath your home, with access though a “trap door” in your floor. 12,500 collectors have had the system installed in England and France.  

Building a Cellar

The considerations necessary for design and construction of an in home wine cellar are so broad as to make detailed discussion beyond the scope of this handbook.

That said, it is nearly every wine collector's dream to have an in home cellar, though it is not always possible, practical, or affordable. If you have a dark, vibration free subterranean space you may have passive capability. Active cooing systems must be able to vent warm air, preferably to somewhere other than the cellar. You may need access to water and drainage. Cooling units, whether stand alone or split systems are expensive. WhisperKool and Breezaireare among the popular brands.

Figure out your square footage requirements and double them. Many of my clients at The Wine Rack by David Gray have in home cellars already at capacity.

If you are handy, you can do this. It is not rocket science. You will, however, need a qualified HVAC installer if you use a split system. 

If you are not so handy, contact a reputable contractor. With popularity of home cellars on the rise, several wine cellar design/build companies have emerged, particularly in urban areas. Get an estimate of time for completion and double it. Check references. I have yet to see a cellar completed on schedule.

Good luck and happy cellaring!