More and more people seem to be getting into wine these days than ever before, and while I’m glad to see people interested in bottles that are more interesting than the Yellowtail of my youth, what hasn’t seeped into the collective consciousness just yet is proper wine storage. As a wine expert, I cringe every time I see someone store their wine on the kitchen counter, but I wanted other pros (who are much more successful and knowledgeable than me) to give their thoughts on this subject, and for suggestions on how to store wine when you don’t have an unlimited budget or tons of space.
When asked about the biggest wine storage mistake he sees, Jay Youmans, who runs the Capital Wine School in Washington, D.C., and is a Master of Wine, said, “The worst place is probably on a rack in your kitchen next to the oven. Because it’s a lot of bright light, and the temperature is constantly changing because of the the heat in the kitchen and the oven.” And I didn’t even lead the witness!
Maria Denton, beverage director of Old Ebbitt Grill and The Hamilton in Washington, D.C., agrees. I asked her about the worst places to store wine, and the first thing out of her mouth was: “Worst place is the kitchen counter. The kitchen has the most variable temperatures of the entire apartment. Unfortunately, you see a lot of these little ornate on-the-counter shelves. Also, the kitchen tends to be the brightest.”
So if you have one of those little racks you bought at HomeGoods when you moved into your first apartment and you’re using it to store wine on your kitchen counter, all of us wine nerds are here to tell you noooooo. Wine’s biggest enemies are heat, light, and big swings in temperature — things that basically occur in every kitchen on a daily basis.
Why It’s Bad to Store Wine on Your Kitchen Counter
Heat causes a number of problems for wine. Wine that’s been exposed to temperatures above about 75 to 80 degrees F for an extended period of time won’t taste its best. How long this takes depends on the wine. Some wines, like, say, a Pinot Noir from France’s Burgundy region, are fragile little flowers who will suffer from this type of exposure more easily.
Temperatures above 80 degrees will really start to cook your wine. Wine that’s been in a kitchen without AC over the summer, or that’s been in the trunk of your hot car, can taste kind of jammy and sour at the same time, or like prunes. Prunes are always the example used in wine education books to describe the flavor of heat-damaged wine. Personally, I always get a whiff of something that reminds me of canned fruit cocktail from heat-damaged wine.
The other dangerous thing about extreme heat damage is that, if the wine is closed with a cork, the heat can cause the cork to push out of the bottle, breaking the airtight seal, and sometimes causing wine to leak out along with it. Not only is this sticky and gross, but if wine’s getting out, that means air is getting in, and now you have two problems: heat damage and oxidation, which is what happens when wine is exposed to too much air and it starts to taste flat, cardboard-y, or like old apple cider.
The Best Place to Store Bottles of Wine
So now that we know what not to do, let’s talk storage solutions.
With a title like Master of Wine, you’d think Jay Youmans would have a custom-built cellar, but that’s not the case at all. “I don’t have a true temperature-controlled cellar, but I keep it in the basement. And it stays about 65 year-round down there,” he says. For the average wine-lover who has nice (but not super expensive or old) wine to store, he says that “under the bed, in the closet, just kind of out of the way on its side, out of the direct light, is fine.”
Maria Denton has a similarly un-fancy setup in her apartment: “We have a closet that has a wine rack in it.” She adds that “The shelving unit is the cheapest I could find, too. It’s a metro shelving unit that was designed for wine.” She also, however, says those inexpensive shelving units designed to store shoes would work just as well.
Denton adds: “Don’t rule out your bedroom clothes closet (this is where I stored my wine for years when I lived with roommates), unused dresser drawers, or under the bed (use the shallow boxes meant for linens) as places to store your wine.”
One more word of advice about wine storage and collecting: Don’t go overboard. Denton and I both have sad memories of going to peoples’ houses and seeing bottles of wine that would have tasted great a few years ago, but are now way over the hill. “People get gifted a bottle and they look it up and think, Oh, this is a nice bottle of wine — I should age it before I drink it, and that’s not necessarily true. Sometimes the best time to drink even an expensive bottle is right that week when you get it,” she says.
So keep your wine out of the kitchen, everyone! Maybe you can use that little HomeGoods rack for those bottles of flavored vinegar you’ll probably never use. And if someone gives you a nice bottle of wine as a gift, don’t keep it forever, hoping for just the right special occasion. The perfect occasion might never come. The wine might not last that long. Life is uncertain. Drink the damn wine!