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Why Your ‘Cool’ Basement May Not Be Safe For Your Wine

Thursday, October 28th, 2010 at 5:05:11 PM
by Marshall T., Wine Enthusiast Companies

The aging process of wine can be a tricky concept to fully grasp, as wine itself is quite tempermental by nature. Wine has a handful of true enemies that can hinder its evolution into its greatest potential. Some of those enemies that will have the most adverse affect have to do with temperature range and consistency, humidity range and consistency, light, vibration and air cleanliness.

Proper storage temperature for all wine (red, white, champagne, etc) is between 53-57 degrees. Quite often people will ask if keeping wine at 60 degrees is bad for the wine, as their basement typically stays around that temperature. The answer is… it may be. At 60 degrees, the aging process is expedited. So a wine that should reach its peak in 8-10 at proper storage temperature may get there in 3-6 at 60 degrees. But more importantly is the CONSISTENCY of that 60 degrees in your basement.

While many basements may stay at 60 degrees for part of the year, it is very rare that the temperature stays consistently the same year round. So even a fluctuation from 58-70 from the coldest part of the year to warmest can be very harmful and is really what can ruin the wines over just a few years if it is not monitored properly. The same holds true for the humidity. While most basements may hold between 55-75% for part of the year, it is the times where it falls below or rises above those levels that the corks can either dry out or get over soaked and wreak havoc on your beloved wines.

Minimal light and zero vibration play very important roles in storage, however those are two variables that are fairly easy to control in your basement environment if everything else is optimal. But many people forget about the smells and odors that are inherent in their homes because we live with them everyday. Any kind of non neutral odor that passes through the cork and into the wine can interfere with the aromas and flavors that are evolving in your wines. This is the same reason we do not recommend using pine or cedar for wine cellar racks, as the aromatics can ruin an entire cellar filled with your prized collection.

So if you are lucky enough to live in a house that has an area that CONSISTENTLY stays between 53-57 degrees, 55-75% relative humidity, has little light, no vibration and no harmful odors….Congratulations! You have a natural wine cellar and you should load it up with as much great wine as possible, and maybe even charge your friends to store their wine in there as well. But if you are in the majority and have conditions that fluctuate on a yearly basis from these levels, then you may want to look into investing in a temperature controlled wine cellar or refrigerator. If you are not sure, place a temperature and humidity gauge in that area and take some readings as the seasons change. This way you can be sure that one way or another your wine is fully protected and ages exactly how it was intended.

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8 Responses to “Why Your ‘Cool’ Basement May Not Be Safe For Your Wine”

  1. This is a very interesting subject – thanks for sharing your thoughts on this.

    I’ve heard that Robert Parker says if you can keep your wine under 65F you should be fine. And more recently I’ve read that Jon Rimmerman from Garagiste suggests that keeping wine at too constant a temperature can create a suspended animation situation where wines don’t age as well as if their temperature is allowed to seasonally vary from say 55F-63F as it would in an underground wine cellar.

    I’d love to hear your thoughts on these other observations, especially Rimmerman’s. Thanks!

  2. Thanks for the comment Robert, and you bring up some good points. Again, keeping wine under 65 can be OK as long as you are aware that you are really speeding up the aging process. So if you are not planning on holding wines for more than a few years, then a consistent 60-65 can work out. However, I would have to disagree with the varying temperature theory. The temperature fluctuating that much would have a similar effect to “skunking” beer when it is pulled in and out of a fridge a couple of times. Of course wines of a very high caliber tend to withstand potentially harmful circumstances for abbreviated time frames, but I wouldn’t think it would be worth the risk in the long run.

  3. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Wine Enthusiast, Robert Dwyer. Robert Dwyer said: Wine Enthusiast: Why your cool basement may not be safe for your wine [...]

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  5. 5 gerald miller said:

    Guess I have to jump into this discussion. My wine closet is heavily insulated, plastered and has a fairly tight door. Over a year I have monitored the temperature/humidity with a tracking thermometer, and the temperature fluxuates from 55 degrees to 68 degrees during the year. No light. No vibration. Around 200 bottles, around 50-50 white and red.

    Wines are priced around $10.00 or $22.00 on average. None are intended for storage longer than two years as a general average. Closet and the room look fairly interesting for what I was trying to achieve.

    A selection of whites are stored in a wine cooler at around 45 to 50 degrees. As they are consumed, they are replaced with wines from the “closet.”

    My assumptions are that the temperature is lower and more stable than anywhere else in our home. It is certainly lower temperature than floor displays in a wine shop. There is no investment quality wine in the wine “closet.”

    If there would be any harm to the wines under the above conditions, is the white or red more at risk?

    Any comments, good or bad, will be appreciated. I am fairly new to this, and am anxious to learn.

    Many thanks!!

  6. Hi Gerald,

    55-68 degrees is a pretty large fluctuation, even for shorter term storage as you mentioned is the case for most of your collection. While some of the better wines will probably survive, you may lose a bottle here and there with that kind of inconsistency. Reds tend to be a little sturdier than whites and can probably handle it a little better. I would think the best thing to do is to gauge how many bottles are compromised by the storage climate, and see if you find that number acceptable. The downside you may encounter is not in ruining so many wines to the point where they are turned, but not letting them reach their full potential depending on the quality of the wine.

    I hope that helps Gerald. If you have any more specific questions you can contact one of our Wine Storage Consultants at 800-377-3330.


  7. 7 gerald miller said:

    OK, some time has passed and I have to add an update to this conversation.

    I still have serious issues with the answer. I am not interested in an expensive wine cooler. I think my storage is better than what you would find in UPS, Fedex or trucking warehouses. Certainly better than what you will find in wine merchant stores with erratic heating and cooling outlets around the store. Seasonal differences.

    Yesterday in a conversation with a degreed “wine expert”, I was told that your answer was one from a wine snob trying to sell a giant wine cooler. Why can’t we all be REALISTIC?

    Isn’t this the problem that hinders wine enjoyment?

    Sorry for ultimately being unappreciative. I really expected a better answer. Politeness is being pushed aside. I am 72 years old and have never experienced a corked, spoiled or “skunked” wine in all of those years. I guess every shipper, restaurant, wine vendor and homeowner must have controlled refrigeration every step of the way.

    If this is an off-the-wall response, let the comments follow. Comments from real people please.

    Respectfully submitted,

    Gerald Miller

  8. Hi Gerald,

    I am sorry if you felt that way regarding your conversation. I would think that they may have just been attempting to explain what the “ideal” wine storage unit would be. However if you have never lost a bottle in your current storage scenario it would seem that what you have is working just fine. Again, these temperature and humidity specifications are for somewhat longer term storage of wines. So if you are comparing what you have to that of a UPS or FedEx warehouse, which are extremely short term locations where wine may be sitting, than you are probably correct and not in need of a longer term storage vehicle. I hope this helps clear up any questions or concerns.

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