How to Store Wine – 5 Ways to Preserve Wine and Ensure It Retains Its Flavor

How to store wine– One of the joys of wine is experiencing how flavors develop over the years. However, in order for your wine to reach its full potential, proper storage is key. There are a few simple guidelines to follow that will help ensure your bottles are stored safely and optimally as they age. Here are 5 essential tips for preserving and storing wine correctly.

Control the Temperature

Temperature is one of the most important factors when it comes to proper wine storage. Fluctuations in temperature can speed up or slow down the aging process, causing a wine to peak earlier than desired or develop off flavors. The ideal temperature to store wine is between 55-60°F. Consider investing in a wine fridge or a wine cabinet with temperature control. This will allow you to set the temperature accurately and keep it constant. If you don’t have a wine fridge, aim to find an area of your home that maintains a cool, consistent temperature. Basements or interior closets away from heat and light tend to work well.

Maintain Humidity Levels

In addition to temperature, humidity plays a big role in proper wine preservation. The recommended humidity level for wine storage is around 70%. If the humidity is too low, below 50%, corks can dry out and shrink, allowing oxygen to enter the bottle and oxidize the wine. Use humidifiers in your wine fridge or cellar to keep moisture levels appropriate. Additionally, make sure bottles are stored horizontally so corks stay moist.

Store Bottles On Their Sides

Storing wine bottles upright can cause the corks to dry out and oxygen to seep into the wine. Keeping bottles on their sides ensures the corks stay moist and maintains a tight seal. This prevents oxidization and preserves the wine’s flavors. Use wine racks designed to hold bottles horizontally or simply place bottles in wine cases stacked on their sides.

Protect Bottles From Light

Light exposure can compromise wine over time. UV rays and fluorescent light can create a reaction that leads to a fault called being “lightstruck.” This results in a spoiled, wet cardboard-like flavor. Keep your wine storage space away from any light sources. Use opaque racks or wrap clear bottles in dark cloth or bags to block light. Tinted glass bottles already provide some protection, but it’s still best to store them away from light.

Avoid Vibrations

Vibrations from appliances, slammed doors or foot traffic can disturb sediment in wine over many years. Try to store wine somewhere free of vibrations. Place bottles on rubber mats or wood racks to absorb extra shocks. Delicate wines like Champagne are especially susceptible to adverse effects from vibrations. If possible, keep them in an area away from heavy foot traffic and slamming doors.

Bonus Tips for Proper Wine Storage

  • Invest in a quality wine cellar or wine fridge with temp control for home storage.
  • Inspect corks and wine levels every couple of months. Top off bottles that need it.
  • Keep inventory of your wine collection and when bottles were purchased.
  • Utilize a professional storage facility if you have limited appropriate space at home.
  • Handle bottles gently and carefully when moving them.
  • Let bottles rest upright 24-48 hrs after transport before returning to horizontal position.

With these wine storage tips, you can be confident your collection will stay protected and retain the nuanced flavors as the wines mature and age gracefully. Paying attention to light, temperature, humidity, orientation and location will ensure your bottles reach their peak drinking potential. Cheers!

What Causes Wine to Go Bad?

Even with proper storage, wine can still sometimes go bad. Here are the main enemies of wine preservation and what causes bottles to spoil.


Oxidation occurs when oxygen comes into contact with the wine. Over time, oxidation can cause wine to lose fresh fruity flavors, take on nutty notes or turn brownish in color. Proper aging requires very gradual controlled oxidation, but too much oxygen exposure leads to premature oxidation flaws.

Causes of Excessive Oxidation:

  • Cork failure – dried, cracked or warped corks allow oxygen into the bottle
  • Improper storage orientation – storing bottles upright dries corks out
  • Insufficient sulfur at bottling – sulfur acts as an antioxidant
  • Agitating or moving wine excessively – encourages oxygen absorption

Heat Damage

Exposing wine to heat speeds up the aging process and can “bake” wines. It causes dull flavors, loss of fruit and a burnt, bitter taste. Whites and lighter reds are especially susceptible.

Causes of Heat Damage:

  • Allowing wine to sit in hot vehicles or locations – rapid swings in temp accelerate aging
  • Improper storage – environments over 70°F cook wines slowly over time
  • Freezing then thawing – ice crystals form causing chemistry changes

Light Exposure

UV rays and fluorescent light cause a “lightstruck” spoiled character. With light exposure, wines form sulfur compounds and a wet cardboard-like flavor. Reds are more susceptible than whites.

Causes of Light Damage:

  • Storing wine in bright locations – light causes a chemical reaction
  • Frequent handling under bright lights – i.e. near retail displays
  • Bottles with clear glass – clear bottles don’t protect against light

Cork Taint

Cork taint refers to the musty “wet cardboard” smell caused by the chemical trichloroanisole (TCA). This chemical contaminates corks and causes wine to be “corked.”

Causes of Cork Taint:

  • Mold growth on corks that produce TCA
  • Storage in contaminated cellars – TCA is a persistent airborne contaminant
  • Unsanitary cork processing – can introduce TCA on corks


Wine that turns to vinegar becomes sharp, sour or acetic. It’s caused by acetobacter contamination, which converts alcohol into acetic acid.

Causes of Vinegarization:

  • Contaminated winemaking equipment – bacteria present on unclean tools
  • Damaged corks or loose seals – allows oxygen flow for bacteria to thrive
  • Opening bottles frequently – oxygen exposure encourages vinegar-forming bacteria

By understanding what damages wine, you can try to minimize these risks with proper care. But sometimes bad bottles still occur randomly. Always inspect wines before drinking and don’t hesitate to return clearly faulty or “corked” bottles purchased at restaurants or retailers.

Choosing Wine Storage Supplies

Equipping your home with proper wine storage tools and accessories will help your bottles stay protected. Here are some essential investments to create an optimal wine storage environment.

Wine Refrigerator

A wine fridge is one of the best ways to get ideal wine preservation at home. Units with dual temperature zones allow you to chill whites and sparkling while storing reds at cellar temperature. Look for:

  • Precise temp control from ~40-65°F
  • Vibration dampening compressors
  • UV-resistant glass doors
  • Solid shelving to hold bottles horizontally
  • Capacity for at least 24-50 bottles

Wine Racks

Quality racks safely hold wine horizontally and come in designs to suit any space. Considerations when buying racks:

  • Material – metal, wood, or coated metal wire all work
  • Adjustable shelving – flexible configurations to fit various bottle sizes
  • Stemware storage – some include glassware holders
  • Light blocking – solid wood or backed with UV film
  • Security – all bottles visible, no sliding shelves or cabinet doors


If your storage area is naturally dry, use a humidifier. Models made for wine cellars are available, as are home versions. Look for cool mist models and target between 50-70% humidity.


If your storage area requires extra lighting, use LED bulbs that emit no UV rays. Fluorescent and incandescent lights can damage wine. Place lights high or at ends of racks to minimize light contact.

Thermometer & Hygrometer

Use independent thermometers and hygrometers to monitor conditions. Digital wireless versions allow remote temperature checks. Verify readings against your wine fridge display.

Anti-Vibration Pads

Thick rubber mats or cork pads absorb vibrations from appliances near wine storage. This prevents disturbance that can degrade wines long term.

Setting Up a Wine Cellar or Refrigerator

Follow these tips when establishing an at-home wine preservation area using a cellar, wine fridge or specialty cabinet.

Choose a Dark, Cool Location

Pick an interior room away from heat sources or direct sunlight. Basements, closets, and north facing rooms maintain cooler natural temperatures. Have a thermometer on hand to monitor conditions.

Install Proper Shelving

Use sturdy racks that slide bottles in and out while keeping them stored laterally. Allow for air circulation between bottles. Angled “wine waterfall” designs utilize gravity flow.

Maintain a Constant 55-60°F Temperature

Utilize a wine refrigerator’s temperature controls or coolers like fans or chillers in cellars. The 55-60°F range is ideal for both red and white wines for preservation.

Set Humidity Around 70%

Monitor humidity and use humidifiers to avoid overly dry conditions below 50%. Remember, drier environments risk drying out corks.

Guard Against Vibrations

Place wine fridges or racks on anti-vibration mats, especially if near appliances. Excess vibrations can disturb sediment.

Minimize Light Exposure

Choose opaque shelving, or wrap clear glass fronts with UV window film. Use low wattage amber or yellow LED bulbs where needed.

Ensure Proper Ventilation

Refrigerator units require ample ventilation space. Cellars also need good air movement to prevent mold. Install exhaust fans if needed.

Use Inventory Systems

Number rack spaces and bottles and keep detailed logs of your wines. Track purchase dates, quantities, and storage locations.

With attention to these cellar conditions, you can feel confident your wine will stay protected as it evolves over months or years in the bottle.

How Long Can You Store Wine Properly?

With ideal storage conditions, fine wines can age gracefully for decades, improving in complexity and value over many years. However, most everyday wines are at their peak around 2-5 years after the vintage. Here are some general guidelines for maximizing wine’s shelf life:

1-2 years

Most standard white, rose and light-bodied red wines are best consumed young. Example varietals:

  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Pinot Grigio
  • Gamay
  • Pinot Noir

3-5 years

Medium-bodied reds reach their prime around 3-5 years when vibrant fruit balances tannins. Examples:

  • Merlot
  • Grenache
  • Sangiovese
  • Cabernet Sauvignon

8-15 years

Robust, structured reds and dessert wines age beautifully for over a decade. Top examples:

  • Aged Bordeaux blends
  • Barolo
  • Vintage Port
  • California Cabernets

20-50+ years

Only high quality wines with exceptional balance and acidity will last many decades. These include well-stored, top vintage:

  • Bordeaux
  • Napa Cabernet
  • Vintage Champagne
  • Sauternes

100+ years

A rare few wines approach “immortality” and remain lively for a century or more. The pinnacle are famed regions like:

  • Pre-1900 Madeira
  • 19th century Vintage Port
  • Centenarian California “ghost” wines
  • Historic Sauternes and Tokaji Essencia

So while most everyday wine is best enjoyed within a few years, fine wines reward patience. But without careful storage, no wine will live up to its potential. By providing ideal conditions, you can preserve wines safely for aging near the top end of these ranges.

How to Check If Wine Has Gone Bad

Sometimes even properly stored wine can go faulty. Here’s how to inspect bottles and identify signs of spoilage before drinking.

Examine the Cork and Wine Level

Gently remove the cork and check for defects. Make sure the wine reaches near the bottle’s lip – if there’s more than 1.5 inches empty space, it may be oxidized.

Check For Sediment

Some aged reds will throw sediment with time. Carefully hold a light behind the bottle and inspect the clarity and color. Cloudiness or floating particles can indicate spoilage.

Assess the Color

Tilt glasses against a white surface to check color. Young whites should be pale and vibrant. Older wines may show some darkening. Browns, yellows or oranges likely mean defects.

Sniff Aromas

Give the wine a few good swirls and smell for any “off” odors like nail polish, vinegar or damp cardboard that can indicate faults. Healthy wines should smell pleasant and fruity.

Taste Carefully

Sip a small amount and move the wine across your palate. Flavors like bandaid, bitterness or vinegar point to spoilage. Taste should be balanced.

When In Doubt, Don’t Chance It

Trust your instincts – if anything smells or tastes funky, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Use common sense and avoid bad wine.

Taking a few moments to inspect and sample wines will help avoid health risks and disappointment. While most spoiled wine is harmless, some bacteria like lactobacillus can cause reactions. Know your collection, watch for warning signs of problems, and enjoy bottles in their prime drinking windows.

Frequently Asked Questions About Storing Wine

Proper wine storage often comes with a lot of questions for newcomers. Here are answers to some of the most common wine preservation FAQs.

Does wine need to be refrigerated?

Wine does not necessarily need to be refrigerated – but it does require stable cool temperatures around 55°F. A refrigerator can accomplish this, but so can a properly climate-controlled wine cellar.

Can you store wine at room temperature?

Storing wine long-term at average room temperature risks speeding up the aging process too quickly. With normal home conditions around 68-72°F, wine won’t store optimally.

How do you fix corks that dry out?

If your corks get too dry, you can rehydrate them by standing bottles upright in 1-2 inches of water for a day or so, which allows the corks to reabsorb moisture. Then return bottles back to horizontal storage.

Can you freeze wine?

You should never freeze wine intentionally. The freezing process and expansion of ice in wine causes chemical changes in the structure that irreversibly alters the wine’s makeup. Thawed freezer-burned wine will taste off and oxidized.

Is it OK to store wine on its side?

Yes, storing wine horizontally on racks is best for preservation. It keeps corks moist and swollen so they don’t allow oxygen through. Vertical storage can dry corks out over time.

Can you age wine in the fridge?

Your regular kitchen fridge isn’t ideal for aging wine long term, but some wine collectors do use small fridge units specially designed for wine storage. Known as wine fridges or wine coolers, these keep consistent cellar temps between ~55-60°F and let wine age slowly.

How do you fix a corked wine?

Unfortunately, there’s no way to “fix” a wine that’s become corked or contaminated with TCA. This chemical flaw makes wine smell musty and unpleasant. Corked wines are ruined and should simply be disgarded.

Storing Different Wine Varieties

How to best store wines depends somewhat on the grape variety, origin and production style. Here’s a quick guide to properly preserving some popular types.

Cabernet Sauvignon

Full-bodied Cabernets have tannic structure that lets them age beautifully. Store at 55-60°F for over a decade before enjoying their mature cedar and currant flavors. Oak barrel aging helps them keep fresh.

Pinot Noir

Finicky Pinot Noir demands cool storage around 55°F to maintain fruit integrity and prevent premature oxidation. Despite delicate tannins, fine examples can age 5-7 years in ideal conditions.


Unoaked Chardonnay is best drunk within 2 years. Barrel-fermented oaked styles have more longevity thanks to richness – 5+ years well stored. Keep all Chardonnay at 53-57°F.


Even great Rieslings are best under 5 years old. Chill to 47-53°F to preserve zesty acids and stone fruit flavors. Sweeter late harvest Rieslings can often age beautifully 10-20 years.


Velvety Merlot can taste flabby after just 2-3 years. Drink most examples young and chill to 55-60°F. Top Pomerol and St. Emilion have potential to age over 5-8 years.

Sauvignon Blanc

Lean, zippy Sauvignon Blanc is made for near term drinking. Store cooled to 50-55°F and enjoy vibrant citrus and herbaceous notes within 1-2 years of vintage.


Store vintage Champagne horizontally around 45°F. Ideal conditions can allow outstanding grower Champagne to evolve deliciously for 10-20 years. Drink non-vintage bottles within 2-3 years.


Peppery Syrah produced for early drinking should be stored cool at 55°F and enjoyed young. Serious Shiraz and Rhone blends can age thanks to ample tannins – 65-70°F for a decade or longer.

The basic rules of cool temps, dark spaces and humidity control apply to all wines. But factoring in variety and production style helps determine ideal longevity. Monitor your bottles closely as they age and enjoy them at their peak of maturity.

When to Drink Different Types of Wine

As a general guideline, here is an overview of when to ideally enjoy different wine styles:

Young Whites