Tim Atkin is an award-winning wine writer and Master of Wine with 35 years’ experience. He writes for a number of publications, including Harpers, Decanter, The World of Fine Wine, Gourmet Traveller Wine and The Drinks Business and is one of the Three Wine Men. Tim is a co-chairman of the International Wine Challenge, the world’s most rigorously judged blind tasting competition, and has won over 30 awards for his journalism and photography. So far, he don’t have a red nose to show for it…….
Temperature fluctuation is the single biggest problem for wine as it ages. Wine can cope with a certain amount of heat or cold, but not extremes of both. Be warned. A friend of mine stored his wine in an outdoor loo, which was fine until we had a freezing winter and he ended up with a lot of very expensive ice lollies.
At the opposite end of the temperature spectrum, you should avoid putting your wine in the airing cupboard, kitchen or the attic, unless you want it to age prematurely or taste like Madeira on an off day. Standard Life estimates that the equivalent of £3.5 billion of wine is being stored incorrectly in the UK, a state of affairs that could affect resale values as well as taste.
Wines like a certain amount of humidity, but not too much or the labels can turn mouldy. There’s nothing wrong with this (as long as you can read them), provided you plan to drink the wines yourself, but it would definitely affect their market value. By the way, 70% humidity is ideal for wine.
If you have a cool, deep cellar, then you’re very fortunate. Just don’t put the central heating boiler down there. But where should you keep your wine otherwise? Sadly, too many people make the wrong choice. Standard Life says that one in six uses the garage (where exhaust fumes and cold snaps are a problem), one in ten stores them in a cupboard beside the mop and floor polish and nearly half leave their wines in the kitchen or the dining room, where temperatures fluctuate with the seasons (and whatever happens to be on the stove).
There are a number of alternatives. If you don’t have a lot of wine, one option is a Eurocave (www.eurocave.co.uk), which is rather like a large fridge without the vibration (another thing that is detrimental to wine quality in the medium to long term). Capacities range from 38 to 206 bottles. You can set your Eurocave to chill wines to different temperatures in specific trays. This can be very handy if you want to store small quantities of wine and don’t occupy the ground floor of your building. However, if you do, and you’re serious about wine, a Spiral Cellar (www.spiralcellars.com) works out as the best value option in the long run. These are installed on site and come in a variety of sizes. The Spiral Cellar is effectively a downwards extension. Think of it as a kind of honeycomb (without the honey) made out of pre-case concrete modules that act as wine bins as well as part of the cellar’s structure. It requires no heating or cooling and is ideal for wine storage, being cool (from around 10-18ºC), humid and vibration free. Wine rooms from Spiral Cellars are a perfect option for your wine storage too.
Another possibility is to store your wine with a professional bonded warehouse company such as Octavian Vaults (www.octavianvaults.co.uk) or London City Bond (www.lcb.co.uk), although this can add up if you store a lot of wine over a long period of time.
If you don’t want to splash out on any of these options, the ‘least worst’ alternative is to store your wine under the stairs or at the back of a cupboard. Remember two things: watch out for nearby radiators and pipes and try not to expose your wines to direct sunlight. Otherwise, there’s always the fridge…
Wherever you put them, your wines should be stored horizontally, whether in racks, trays or bins, so that the corks stay wet and non-porous. By the way, if you’re buying wine racks, go for a good quality one made from metal and wood. You can buy these from Wineware Racks & Accessories (www.wineware.co.uk) or Wine Storage Solutions (www.brizard.co.uk).