guide to storing wine at
Fine wine is expensive, and relatively fragile,
susceptible to poor storage conditions.
But despite the importance of this subject to the wine trade,
there’s an almost complete lack of proper scientific studies on the
effects of different environmental parameters such as changes in
temperature or vibration. All we have are anectdotal observations, and
educated guesswork from how heat and light affect chemical reactions
in general. Consequently, it’s just not possible to say how much
damage exposing a case of 1996 Lafite is going to be done by letting
it sit at a temperature of 35 ºC for a week. What we do know is that
wine ages superbly in the sorts of conditions found in underground
cellars, and in the absence of proper scientific studies it seems wise
to replicate this environment as closely as possible for healthy wine
Of course, you don’t have to keep your wine at
home. There are a number of companies who will cellar it for you.
Anyone buying with resale in mind would be sensible to keep their wine
with a recognized wine storage company, but for wines intended for
consumption, off-site storage has drawbacks. First, it requires
careful planning because you can’t just pop in and retrieve the
bottles you want. Then there are delivery charges each time you put
wine in or take it out—coupled with the annual storage charges,
these costs soon mount up. A further factor is that if you take a case
of wine out and intend drinking it over an extended period, you’ll
likely still require some sort of home storage facility.
As a result, where space affords, most wine lovers
find it most convenient to keep some or all of their wine at home. In
this article, I’ll explore the various options for home storage of
wine, looking at the choices available for a range of different
considerations for wine storage
I’ll begin by taking a look at theoretical
considerations pertaining to wine storage. Fine wine is relatively
fragile, and older bottles are considerably more fragile than younger
ones, for reasons I’ll come to later. The science of successful wine
ageing is relatively poorly understood, but what we do know is that we
like the way that fine wine develops in cellars that maintain a
constant year-round temperature of around 10–13 ºC, and which are
dark and vibration free, with have high humidity.
There is just one published study that I am aware of
that has attempted to correlate storage temperatures with wine
quality, conducted by a team at Inter Rhone Technical Services in
France led by Carole Peuch.
Four reds and one rosé wine were included in the study, which
investigated four different storage conditions: constant 14 ºC, dark,
lying down; constant 22 ºC, light, upright; varying 15–25 ºC,
dark, lying down; varying 15–26 ºC, light, upright. These four
conditions were designed to simulate conditions in a cellar, on
display on shelves and during shipping. Bottles were sampled at
regular intervals over a two year period by chemical and sensory
analysis. The wines kept at a constant low temperature with the bottle
lying down performed much better than the other three in terms of
retaining free sulfur dioxide (this is an indication of how much
oxidation has taken place). These wines retained their anthocyanin
(pigment) levels much better than those in the other three groups.
Wines stored in these conditions also performed better in the sensory
tests, being preferred by the tasters. This study is more relevant to
handling of commercial wines than fine wine storage, but the results
provide an interesting teaser for those of us curious about the
performance of fine wines over a much longer period.
Some of the key questions we’d like to know
answers to are as follows. Does wine age well at a constant
temperature that is slightly higher than cellar temperature? Does a
seasonal fluctuation of, say, 5 ºC matter? Will a brief heat spike of
say 30 ºC have long-term consequences for a young wine? Will a slight
vibration be problematic? In the absence of good data, all we can
really say is that the wisest counsel is for collectors to keep their
precious bottles in conditions as close to those of underground
cellars as possible. We can guess that a few days of non-ideal storage
aren’t likely to hurt wines too much, and many commercial wine
storage facilities make use of passive temperature control that
permits a degree of seasonal temperature fluctuation—indeed, most of
the professionally stored fine wine in the UK is kept in these
conditions—so one would hope that this isn’t too much of a
problem. But given the choice, we’d like wine to be kept at a cool
constant temperature in the dark.
A word on corks. As most readers are aware, corks
have their drawbacks, most notably taint and natural variation in
sealing properties. But we like the way that fine wine ages when
bottles are sealed with a sound cork. The oxygen transmission
properties of cork seem ideally suited for fine wine development over
time; from many discussions with collectors and experts, I’m
convinced that the optimal ageing trajectory for top wines is achieved
with a combination of a sound cork, a magnum bottle, and horizontal
storage at a constant 11 ºC at high humidity. Horizontal storage
matters with cork-sealed bottles; recent studies have shown that corks
perform worse and more variably in bottles kept upright. Humidity is
also important. It damages labels, but it’s great for the wine
because it helps keep the cork in good condition. In a humid cellar, a
sound cork can comfortably last 70 years—perhaps even longer [of
course, this depends on the original condition of the cork, too].
One option is to let your wine be cared for by the
professionals, and make use of a wine storage company. There are many
of these in the UK, ranging from large outfits such as Octavian and
London City Bond, to merchants who will store the wine you buy from
them for you.
your own cellar
If you have the space, then one option to consider it building your
own walk-in cellar. It’s not a trivial undertaking. First, you need
to partition off the space—perhaps part of a garage, or a small
room. Then you need to install a vapour barrier, and insulate the area
well. The better the insulation, the less hard your conditioning unit
will have to work, which will increase its lifespan, and save energy.
You need a conditioning unit, of which there are several on the
market. Some care needs to be taken in positioning this and deciding
where it is going to vent. There are lots of things that need to be
considered. One is the jump between ambient temperature and cellar
temperature, which can’t be too high. It’s not going to work
having a cellar in a garage space that’s routinely hitting 100 ºF
in the summer; in this case you might need to put an air conditioning
unit on the garage, and have a conditioning unit on your cellar. You
also need to have a back-up plan in case of mechanical failure:
conditioning units do fail from time to time, so if you have a serious
collection and live somewhere where it gets really hot in summer, then
you might want to have the redundancy of two conditioning units. What
about power cuts? In some locations these aren’t rare. For how long
can your cellar space maintain a sensible temperature in the middle of
summer in the event of a power failure?
Of course, if you get it right, then to have a
proper cellar at home is a really attractive option. For most of us
city dwellers, though, where living space is at a premium, it’s not
I should mention here the Spiral Cellar. It’s a
solid concrete cylinder, sunk into the ground and with access through
a trapdoor. 2 m wide, the cellar comes in depths of 2, 2.25, 2.5 and 3
m depths, taking up to 1600 bottles. They are commonly fitted in
garages and conservatories. There are two big advantages to this
option. First, they don’t take up any living space. Second, they are
passive cellars, relying on the fact that the temperature just below
the ground in the UK hovers around 10 ºC and with several tons of
concrete surrounding the wines, fluctuations are kept to a minimum.
This means that there are no moving parts to go wrong, nor any
electricity bills. But this is an extremely expensive option: the
final price will depend on your specific requirements, but expect to
dish out around £15 000 if you choose to go this route.
One factor to consider if you’re thinking of
constructing a walk-in or spiral cellar is that you can’t take them
with you when you move. Therefore it’s worth considering whether
they will add to the value of your home, if you are likely to be
selling in the short or medium term. This will depend on the area and
also the size of your house. If you live in a suitably upmarket
location then potential buyers might consider a cellar to be an asset.
But if you live in a small suburban 1930s terrace and you’ve hived
off part of the kitchen area for wine storage, then you might put
Wine cabinets are the most versatile and affordable
way of storing wine at home. In the absence of a domestic cellar,
off-site storage is not enough. Even if the bulk of your wine storage
is off-site, either with merchants or a specialist storage company,
you will need somewhere to keep wine sufficient for short-term needs
in easy reach at home. If you are buying fine wine, though, with an
extended drinking window, there may be a period of some years between
the time you want to consume the first and last bottles of the same
case. This makes temperature-controlled storage conditions of some
kind a necessity, especially so if you are living somewhere where
summer temperatures are high. The vast majority of homes in the UK,
for example, are not air conditioned, and there was a period over
summer 2003 where ambient temperatures hovered around 30 ºC for a few
weeks. And even in air conditioned homes in warm climates,
temperatures can rise to wine-damaging levels during heat spikes
despite the air conditioning. In tropical climates even temporary
storage of wine in the home for current consumption needs might
require some sort of temperature-controlled storage, in which case the
demands of the wine cabinet will be less than one where wine might be
kept for several years.
Wine cabinets come in many different shapes, sizes
and finishes, and range in price from relatively cheap to enormously
expensive. At one end of the market they are little more than adapted
refrigerators, and can be dubbed wine fridges without upsetting the
manufacturers too much; at the other, they are more like bespoke
pieces of furniture specifically designed with wine storage in mind,
and the manufacturers prefer them to be called wine cabinets. The
broad middle ground between these two extremes encompasses specialized
units that are designed with wine storage in mind, and are finished at
a high enough quality level that they don’t look out of place in
living areas of homes. A note on terminology: the term ‘wine
cooler’ is adopted by some manufacturers to refer to units which are
designed for keeping wine at a suitable temperature for drinking:
these protect wine to a degree from temperature variations, but allow
a degree of temperature variation inside the unit that makes them
unsuitable for extended storage of wines.
to bear in mind
The first issue for cabinet storage is capacity.
People embarking on the journey of becoming a wine nut severely
underestimate how their hobby will grow, and hence the sort of
capacity they will require from their wine storage facility, be it
cabinets or a proper cellar. It’s clear that if you are pulling out
cases from storage with a view to drinking them over the course of
several years, this will rapidly ramp up the need for cabinet space.
The number of collectors with multiple wine cabinets testifies to the
fact that most people end up bigger wine nuts than they’d planned to
be at the outset.
Along similar lines, the advertised capacity of most
wine cabinets assumes that you are cellaring only Bordeaux-style
bottles, and that you cram the bottles in as space-efficiently as
possible. Often this means using fixed shelves rather than sliding
ones, which means stacking the bottles in such a way as to make access
to those at the bottom of the pile tricky. If, like most wine
drinkers, you purchase wines that come in bottles of a range of
different shapes, then you’ll lose out on capacity. And while
slide-out shelves are less space efficient than shelves, they are much
more convenient. The consequence of all this is that cabinet capacity
is usually considerably less than advertised by manufacturers.
Accessing your wine once it is tucked away in a
cabinet is not always straightforward, especially if the cabinet is
full. To save a lot of digging around and pulling lots of bottles out
just to locate the one you want, it’s worth keeping a record of what
you’ve put where. Boring to do, but the initial pain saves a lot of
time later on.
Beware temperature differentials within the cabinet.
Often the temperature at the bottom is different from the temperature
at the top. And if the cabinet isn’t well designed, there could be
daily fluctuations in temperature of a few degrees as the compressor
kicks in and out. Not ideal over the long term.
Vibration can be an issue. Domestic fridges vibrate
when the compressor is on. We don’t know how much vibration affects
wine, so it’s safest to assume that it could, and therefore that it
is not compatible with fine wine storage. Most wine cabinets will have
special slow cycle compressors connected to the main unit with some
sort of dampening to eliminate vibration in the unit. Check this is
the case with the model you intend to purchase.
Noise of operation is also worth considering if you
are planning to site the unit in a living area or study. Some are
quieter than others. How noisy is too noisy will be a matter of
Your choice of where you put the cabinet has
implications. If you plan to site the cabinet in a living area of your
home then aesthetics become an important issue. Of course, this is a
matter of personal taste, but there are some cabinets I’d be happy
to have in my living room, and others that I most certainly
wouldn’t. Unsurprisingly, the better looking ones tend to be more
expensive. One option is to have a wine cabinet included in a fitted
kitchen: some of those designed for this location look extremely
elegant, either as slide-in under-worktop models or full height units.
Along these lines, most cabinets are designed to
operate within a proscribed environmental temperature and humidity
range. This means that unless you are living in a part of the world
with a fairly benign climate, garages or outbuildings are not always
suitable places to house cabinets, in which case you’ll need to keep
your cabinet in an air-conditioned area of your accommodation. Some of
the cabinets have heating as well as cooling circuits, and these are
able to operate at lower ambient temperatures. How the cabinet is
insulated matters: those with better insulation will have an easier
job of maintaining a steady temperature while those with less
insulation will keep the cooling unit very busy, with implications for
power use and noise.
Mechanical reliability is clearly an issue for a
unit that is continually switched on. Certainly, for those living in
climates that can reach extremes, having a cabinet out of commission
for several weeks while a new compressor is installed could be a major
problem. In this regard, it makes sense to buy a cabinet from a
manufacturer represented by a competent agent in your own country who
will act promptly if something goes wrong.
The market for wine cabinets is a little
bewildering. There are dozens of manufacturers in most markets, all of
whom offer a range of cabinets. Here I’m going to mention some of
the key players, with a focus on the UK and US markets, but bearing in
mind that the larger manufacturers have agents in most countries where
fine wine is appreciated. This is not a comprehensive list, and I
apologize to any manufacturers whose units were not included here.
Prices given are either in the UK or USA, and are guides only. Some
discrepancies may exist between markets: in general, prices seem to be
lower in the USA than in Europe.
Eurocave is the market leader in wine cabinets, with sales to the year
end of 2006 of 28 million Euros. They make a
large range of units, from serving-temperature cabinets that aren’t
for long-term storage, to classic wine storage cabinets where
everything is kept at the same even temperature. These cabinets have a
reputation for reliability and look extremely attractive. For a
supplement, they can be fitted with smoked glass, UV-filtering doors,
or cased in stainless steel. For those who want a more traditional
look, the Elite Range consists of Eurocave units cased in natural
woods, hand crafted by cabinet makers. Should you so desire, you can
also get them covered in leather (crocodile grain, ostrich grain or
long grain). Taste is a personal thing.
As an example of the Eurocave core range, the
Classic Large V283 is 1744 mm high by 654 mm wide by 689 mm deep. If
you opt for the combination of three sliding shelves and three storage
shelves, the maximum capacity is 206 bottles and the price is £1960
in the UK. A choice of 14 sliding shelves makes the cabinet easier to
live with but reduces the capacity to 196 bottles, and brings the
price up to £2350. A UV-filtering smoked glass door is £300 extra,
but increases the aesthetics of the unit considerably. Stainless steel
finishes are also available for a supplement. The Elite range of
natural wood casings brings the price up a bit, but opens up the
possibility of joining a couple of cabinets together in the same piece
of furniture. These start at £3500. The Eurocave cabinets have 5 cm
of cellar quality insulation in the walls, a special compressor that
doesn’t vibrate the cabinet, and can operate in ambient temperatures
of 0–38 ºC.
The Transtherm range is a good quality one, but perhaps just a notch down
from Eurocave in terms of
visual appeal and after-sales service. These units are able to
operating at ambient temperatures ranging from 0–35 ºC, maintaining
internal temperature range of 1.5 ºC. The walls of the units are
insulated with 4.5 cm thick high-density expanded foam. The units
maintain a relative humidity between 55 and 80%, and the aluminium
back wall allows for a homogeneous temperature distribution through
the interior compartment. The slow cycle compressor is mounted on
silent blocks to avoid any vibration inside the unit.
As an example from the range, the free-standing
Ermitage cabinet is 1810 mm high, 680 mm wide and 680 mm deep. With 13
sliding drawers the capacity is 173 bottles and the price £1730; with
three sliding shelves and three storage shelves this capacity can be
increased to 229 bottles, and the price drops to £1450.
good-looking units at an attractive price. The slow cycle compressors
have been chosen for their lack of vibration, humidity is kept at
ideal levels and the walls of the units are insulated with 4.5cm of
polyurethane foam. As with the Eurocave and Transtherm units, there is
a heating element as well as a cooling element, so these cabinets can
be used at ambient temperatures ranging from 0–35 ºC.
An example from the range is
the AG1 1-Temperature Large Ageing Cabinet, which has a capacity of
280 bottles when equipped with 4 shelves, and 189 bottles when
equipped with 13 shelves. Dimensions: 1810mm high, 680mm wide and
680mm deep. Cost £1149.
Liebherr is a huge company employing some 24 000 staff, manufacturing
a range of products including cranes, earthmoving devices and mining
equipment. They have a specialist refrigeration division with a good
reputation for quality, with a broad portfolio of wine storage units.
These maintain 50–80% relative humidity and have specially developed
low vibration compressors. Their operating range is 10–38 ºC (some
in the range can operate up to 43 ºC). Both free-standing and
built-in units are offered. These are affordable and reliable, but
they don’t have quite the same good looks as some of the more
expensive cabinets, and with their restricted operation range
consigning them to the garage may not be a possibility.
Examples include a single-temperature under-counter
unit, Vinothek WK1802, with a 68 bottle capacity for £595. For more
serious wine storage, the Vinothek WK 4126 has dimensions of 1644 mm
by 660 mm wide by 671 mm high and fits 168 bottles, for £780. Larger
still, the Vinothek WK 5700 is 1708 mm high by 750 mm wide and 710 mm
deep, with a 231 bottle capacity for £875.
A German manufacturer of domestic appliances with a reputation for
high quality, making a small range of what it describes as ‘wine
coolers’. An example is the KWL4172SGed model, which takes 162
Bordeaux-shaped bottles, is 1658 mm high by 660 mm wide and 683 mm
deep. There’s a heating element so it can operate at low ambient
temperatures and it keeps ideal humidity. Cost £1500.
These are very attractive furniture-style units with a good reputation
for quality and reliability, made for the US market. These are
cabinets most people would be happy to have in your living room;
I’ve heard favourable reviews of these units. An example is the
5200, which has a top-vent exhaust (which means they can be set flush
against the wall), foil-backed polyisocyanurate insulation, a quiet
Breezaire cooling system. It fits 622 bottles and retails at $4525.
The model 3100 has the same Breezaire cooling system and top-vent
exhaust, and fits 368 bottles for $3149.
This US manufacturer makes an elaborate and quite ornate range of
furniture-style wine storage cabinets, with prices starting at around
$3000 and rising much higher. They are highly customisable. They also
make a more affordable, less ornate cabinet, the Vinotheque Wine
Reservoir Wine Cellar, which at $2329 combining optimum mixture of
temperature and humidity control with a good capacity (224
Bordeaux-sized bottles). Good reports on reliability.
US manufacturer SubZero make extremely elegant, high-end wine cellars
designed to be built into kitchens, with both under the counter and
free standing units, the largest of which fits 147 bottles. These are
very expensive, but if money isn’t a problem, then this is a luxury
US manufacturer with a range of cabinets. These include the Sonoma
500, retailing for $4099, with a 510 bottle capacity and a US-built Wine Mate cooling system,
and the 400 E-3, retailing for $1895 with a Wine Mate cooling system
and a capacity of 450 bottles. Most of these units come with a rear
vent, which requires a minimum of 4–6 inches clearance at the back,
12 inches on sides, and 6–12 inches above for proper ventilation.
However, top venting is available as an extra. There are lots of
custom options available. Mainly good reports from users, but many
recommend upgrading the racking to suit a wider range of bottle sizes.
These are perhaps the most affordable high-capacity wine cabinets.
They’re the IKEA of the wine world: the cabinets are delivered
flat-packed and you assemble them yourself. They come in three colours:
black, oak and cherry. Some concerns have been raised about
reliability issues on the internet wine boards, but these units also
have many happy customers. The VP500 double-width unit is $1895; the
VP220 single-width unit is $1195. Also marketed as Koolspace.
French-manufactured dedicated wine storage units
with a steel casing and aluminium inner wall, with 50 mm insulation in
between. Humidity is kept at 70%. As an example, the Domaine VSI 6L
takes between 174 and 234 (depending on the shelf configuration) and
costs £2030. They also make a more affordable line called I.C@ve, the
largest of which is the IC7L, which takes 301 bottles and costs £1675.
Both ranges can operate in ambient temperatures of 0–35 ºC.
A small range of elegant-looking stand alone and
slot-in units for kitchens, at very attractive prices. As an example,
the WF1541 is 1800 mm by 595 mm wide by 680 mm deep and takes 154
bottles. The Wi6111 is an undercounter unit that takes 54 wine bottles
an costs £470. These units have a heater and can operate from ambient
temperatures of 5–35 ºC.
Italian manufacturer of expensive furniture-style
units, made of solid wood, ranging from a unit that holds 57 bottles
for £2703 to the giant CEX4501 which takes 552 bottles for £13451
(dimensions 2000 mm high by 2980 mm wide by 640 mm deep).
Internationally distributed, the U-Line wine captain series consists
of under counter kitchen units.
Available in the US and Europe, these are good-looking units whose
selling point is their quietness of operation. As an example, the
CS200 (£1500, $2300) has a 206 bottle capacity when fitted with three
fixed shelves and one sliding shelf. Glass door or stainless steel
finish are available as extras.
Canadian manufacturer of a large range of cabinets in both
contemporary and furniture styles.
selection of retailers
UK retailer with a wide range of cabinets
Exclusive UK agent for Eurocave cabinets
UK retailer selling Vinosafe, Caple and Arredo
UK retailer, the online arm
of Corner Fridge company
UK-based retailer with a selection of wine units
Stockists of a wide range of wine fridges/cabinets, based in
San Francisco based sells Transtherm, Silent Cellars, Vinoteque,
Vintage Keeper and Eurotech
California-based retailer of storage solutions for wine
Wide range of wine cabinets, US based.
California based wine retailer also representing Vinoteque,
LeCache and Whisperkool.
C, Vidal S, Pegaz J-F, Riou C, Uchot PV 2006 Effect of storage
conditions on the evolution of bottled wines. Rhone en VO, Journal
of Viticulture and Enology of the Rhone Region, 2006 Edition (also
published on www.infowine.com
accessed March 2007)
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