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The wineanorak guide to storing wine at home

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 storage. 

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 budgets.

Theoretical 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[1]. 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].

Off-site storage
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. 

Building 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 an option.

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 buyers off.

Wine cabinets
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.

Issues 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 personal tolerance.

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 different makes
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.


se are 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.

Le Cache

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 storage solution.


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.

Vintage Keeper

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.

Dometic ‘Silent Cellar’

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.

A 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 California

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. 

Canadian retailer


[1] Peuch 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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