Loving good wine is one thing, taking care of it is another. In his new book, Wine Simple, renowned sommelier Aldo Sohm, who has spent more than a decade as wine director of the three-Michelin-starred Le Bernardin, breaks down the fundamentals of tasting, buying, pouring, and, most important, preserving vino. “Wine is a delicate, living substance, which means it’s sensitive to temperature, light, even being in a bottle that’s been standing up for too long,” he writes. When it comes to storage, it turns out most of us are doing it wrong. (Hot tip: Your arsenal should never live on top of the refrigerator!). In this excerpt on what not to do, the connoisseur busts seven myths and reveals the best ways to store your bottles instead.
Lay Bottles Horizontally
Really! The cork will dry out, leading to oxidation, which results in less-than-pleasant-tasting wine. (And remember: Don’t buy the standing bottle at the store; ask for one that’s been lying horizontally, which might be kept in the back.) Wine should always be stored horizontally, with the label facing up. If the wine has a screw top, crown cap, or glass cork, don’t worry about laying it down.
Think Beyond the Kitchen
It’s too hot in there! Wine starts to get really unhappy at around 78 degrees and starts to “cook” at 90 degrees. When I first moved to New York, I stored my wine in my oven, since I never used it. Boy, was that embarrassing when the Wine Spectator journalist asked to see where I stored my wine… (Even if you don’t use your oven, chances are, you’re still cooking on the range top, which gives off not-insignificant heat.) And don’t stick it on top of the refrigerator either: The fridge not only gives off heat, but those constant vibrations disturb the wine over the long run.
Don’t Store Your Whites and Champagne in the Fridge for Longer Than a Few Days
The humidity is too low in there, meaning the cork dries out and all sorts of bad things happen. Over time, the wine absorbs fridge odors through the cork, too. Also, the fridge is too cold for storing your whites and champagnes, which are rather fragile, not to mention that white is sensitive to light! And yes, you can taste the difference between a perfectly stored bottle and the one stored in the fridge for a month.
Your Apartment/House Is Probably Too Hot, No Matter What You Think
The ideal storage temperature for wine is 55 degrees Fahrenheit, with about 75 percent humidity. That sounds like my basement, you’re thinking? Great…as long as it’s not musty or moldy: Those odors make their way into the bottle over time. So probably not there either!
Which Leads Us to the Wine Fridge…
If you realize that you’re becoming serious about wine, and buying bottles that you care enough about that you want to maintain them in good condition until you drink them—whether it’s in six months or 16 years—you should start researching wine refrigerators right now. You can get a decent one that holds 12 bottles for under $100 and hide it in your closet or basement, or get one that holds 36 and show it off in your kitchen. (Craigslist can be a good source, as can green building supply sites, which cheaply sell appliances that contractors have ripped out of model homes.)
To recap: Look for a cool, dry, and dark place to stash your vino. As Sohm notes, one option is a small, temperature-controlled fridge (like this $80 one by Cuisinart that holds eight bottles). But if you don’t have room for one, consider stashing your bottles in a rack at the bottom of a hall closet (they’ll stay relatively cool there). The most practical solution is to simply drink as you go, storing nothing. A few recommendations from Sohm himself to get you started:
Reprinted with permission from Wine Simple: A Totally Approachable Guide From a World-Class Sommelier by Aldo Sohm with Christine Muhlke, copyright © 2019. Published by Clarkson Potter/Publishers, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Illustration copyright: Matt Blease © 2019.