It is indeed a distinct joy to select a bottle of a choicest wine, stored for years, from your own cellar, uncork it, pour the contents into glasses, enjoy it with your friends and experience the marvel at the changes brought on by maturity. You then think, recall and brag about the price paid for it. You would feel like complimenting yourself for having struck such a bargain!
Wine is an ever-changing thing and the way it is stored has a direct effect on its aging. There are some simple pre-requisites for storing it well, viz. proper temperature, humidity, darkness, stillness and a clean and well-ventilated environment.
Suitable storage environment is one that provides stable temperature, no light and no vibration. The cupboard, indoor space or outdoor construction must be well shaded and well insulated with minimum scope for air to move inward and outward.
The temperature should remain between 50 deg. F and 59 deg. (10 deg. and 15 deg. C. respectively). The Cellar will be in danger zone if the temperature goes beyond 77 deg. F. Seasonable variations in temperature will, however, have little effect but variation in a single week should not be beyond one degree. Wines not stored in ideal conditions will age differently from what is suggested by winemaker. One should use a hygro thermometer to monitor temperature and humidity level. If the cellar- whether underground or above ground level- is dug properly, only a minimal temperature control system may be required. A temperature controlled cabinet is an ideal option, which come with capacity of up to approx. 800 bottles. As size of bottles may vary (for example, size of champagne bottles are larger than Riesling bottles), it needs to be verified whether the capacity suggested by the manufacture is correct. A larger number of bottles would minimize temperature fluctuations. Should the quantity of bottles be more, a professional storage facility can be considered.
Dry atmosphere is not suitable for a natural cork which is compressed and thrust into the bottle as an air tight seal. Dry conditions cause shrinkage of the cork and reduce its resilience. If the cork is defective, wine may flow out of the bottle and increase ullage, which in turn may allow air to find passage into the bottle. Laying bottles in horizontal conditions will keep the cork in contact with the contents of the bottle and would not allow the cork to dry up. Screw capped bottles do not require humidity. Wine is not harmed by excessive humidity; only the labels may turn a bit moldy.
Light ages a wine bottle prematurely and clear bottles are quite susceptible to this problem. Ultraviolet light causes degradation of organic compounds, especially the tannins. This not only reduces aroma, flavor and structure of the wine but also makes it flat and thin. Wines should be safeguarded against exposure to light, more particularly the sparkling wines, which are more sensitive to light.
Bottles should be stored with labels up. This helps in three ways (a) it can be seen easily what the wine is (b) bottles are not disturbed to see what is there in the cellar and (c) the sediment will form on the opposite side to the label and will be clearly visible. Also, the label is less likely to be damaged. This reduces the value if the wine is stored for investment purpose.