For our tenth wedding anniversary, I wanted to get my husband, Bryan, a sweet gift to show how much I’m looking forward to the next 10. Also, we love wine. So, I splurged on a bottle of Bordeaux from Château Margaux, which is in a part of France we’ve visited. To help it age nicely (so we can enjoy it together on our 20th), I turned to an expert to find out how best to store wine…
First, I needed some help picking out the bottle, so I put my trust, and $100-ish price limit, in my local wine store, whose clerks know (all too well) our preferences and buying habits. If you’re thinking of a long-term wine purchase too, try to get some advice from a seller who knows which wines from which vineyards will become finer with age and which won’t.
My gift was a big success. Bryan loved it, uttering a dude-like, “This is AWESOME,” and immediately grabbing his Wine Bible to nerdily read up on it. We tucked it away on its side in one of our tiny kitchen’s cabinets, where we hope it will keep well and we aren’t tempted to grab it on a random Wednesday night. And where we seriously hope our toddler can’t get to it.
Holding on to a bottle for 10 years seems simple enough, but now, halfway into its stored life, I’ve been wondering if I could do a better job of preserving it. Do the temperatures in my New York apartment vary too much? Also, instead of 10 years, what about 10 days? We share bottles over dinner on our little balcony all summer but sometimes we don’t finish them the same night. What are the rules for keeping everyday wine fresh at home?
I called Holly Anderson, the director of national sales for Napa Valley’s Vineyard 29, which is known for its Cabernets and state-of-the-art winery. Holly is a fan of sentimental wine purchases. When her daughter was born six years ago, she painstakingly researched the best bottles to save for her to drink on her twenty-first birthday and wedding day. “I want my girl to be able to drink wines as old as her at the major milestones in her life,” Holly said. Plus, she pointed out, it’s way more cost and time efficient to buy and save than to track down a 2009 bottle in 2030.
The key to storing wine, Holly told me, is to keep it in a cool, dark place. Fluctuating temperatures and too much light can destroy a wine, turning it into a vinegary brew. Not everyone knows this, but many local wine stores will keep your special bottles for a fee, or, if it’s just one, they may be kind enough to find a free spot. That’s an ideal storage scenario, but if you can’t swing it, she recommends purchasing a local secondhand wine fridge for less than $100 on Craigslist.
But what if, I asked, you live in a small place with no room for a wine fridge, or just have no interest in getting one? Think of the coolest, darkest place in your house, she suggests — a high shelf in a dark closet, for example — and store it there. Keep it in its box, if it has one, to block out light. (Funnily enough, a friend of Holly’s keeps a case of wine in his office’s computer server room because it’s so consistently cool and dark.)
Whatever you do, know this: Regular refrigerators, are too cold for long-term storage. Plus, Holly says, “You’ll see it every day and you’ll probably just drink it!” And don’t keep the bottle standing upright, Holly advises. Wines should be stored long-term on their side with the cork angled downward, or upside down in their box. Keeping the cork in contact with liquid prevents it from drying out, shrinking and letting air in.
So, now that I’m moving my 20-year bottle out of the kitchen… what about the Pinot Noir sitting on the counter from this week that’s 1/2 full? An open bottle of wine is like a half-eaten apple left out on the counter. As soon as it’s exposed to air, it starts slowly going bad. Generally, though, the experts say that if it still tastes OK to you, it’s fine and safe to drink.
Here are seven more tips for optimal storage of everyday wine:
Red lasts longest. The bigger and bolder the wine, the longer it will keep. Five days is a good outer limit for any opened red. Keep it corked in a cool room, or at least not next to a hot stove.
Chill it out. Storing an opened bottle of red in the fridge isn’t ideal, but it can be helpful to put it in there for a few minutes before serving. “Adding a little chill to a red will hide some flaws,” Holly says, if it’s been open for a few days. (It’s fine to store corked white wine in the fridge for a few days while you’re finishing it.)
Drink whites even faster. Whites are tougher than reds to preserve. If it’s the fruity, crisp, fresh taste you like about white wine, then Holly says to prepare yourself: that aspect of white wine is the first thing to deteriorate, within a couple days of opening.
Upright is right. Storing short-term bottles upright is just fine, and it’s practical: an open bottle stored upright is less likely spill.
Finish the bubbly. Champagne and other sparkling wines will lose its fizz quickly. Try to drink those bottles the day you open them, Holly warns. (Within a day or so, you can try the raisin trick to jump start fading bubbles.)
Skip the gadgets. There are a ton of wine preservation doodads out there, including pricey options that promise months of preservation. Most of these are not the panaceas you’re looking for, though. But if you’d like to try something, Holly recommends argon gas cartridge systems. They’re relatively inexpensive and can help keep open bottles tasting great for a couple more days.
When in doubt, cook. Once a wine has seen better days, it can still be used for cooking! Consider it part of your spice rack. A several-day-old bottle of red was flavoring Holly’s carnitas the night we spoke, and she also likes using leftover dry white wine for risotto, or red for deglazing a pan-seared chicken breast instead of broth. Yum!
Do you have a special-occasion bottle you’re holding on to? (Now we’re inspired to get one!) What are your tips for storing wine? We love these wine stoppers.
Erin Geiger Smith lives in New York and writes a series for Cup of Jo on wine, beer and cocktails. She contributes to many publications, including the Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.
(Photo by Henri Cartier Bresson, Paris, 1954.)