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Knowing how to properly store unopened red wine can help you better manage your wine and provide a much richer experience when you finally pop the cork. Storing red wine right can prevent damage, enhance the notes and complexity of your wine, and help it age gracefully for a much richer experience. Proper red wine storage is a vital skill to master and it is simple once you know.
How do you store unopened bottles of red wine? Red wine is ideally stored around 55° F so a climate-controlled wine refrigerator or a wine cellar is best because they control humidity and temperature and keep the wine in darkness. If you don’t have a wine fridge or cellar, a simple wine rack in a climate-controlled setting will allow for proper storage. It is important that no matter where you store wine, you do so with the bottle laying flat to keep the cork wet.
It is important to do things right and more importantly, not do the right things wrong. Storing red wine can be a painless and easy process. In this article, you will learn how to properly store unopened red wine and what factors can potentially damage it.
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Storage of Unopened Red Wine
Drink Cheap Table Wine Right Away
Table wines under $20 are designed to be opened and drank right away. You really won’t benefit at all from aging these cheap wines. Red table wines are made to drink right away. In America, they know their audience.
Many Americans want their wine right away and don’t want to wait 6 months to 3 years. I mean seriously, that is a long time to wait when you just want some right now. View these cheap table wines as the fast-food of red wine.
Buy it under the assumption you’ll polish it off within the week. There probably won’t be any harm in aging these wines for months/years but they are finished products. They won’t improve much if at all with more time. Just stick them in a wine rack. Even placing them in the kitchen refrigerator is fine too. These are not sacred creations.
Red Wine Storing Guidelines
1. Lay Bottles Flat
Laying your wine bottles flat, will keep the cork from drying out and cracking which can allow oxygen to penetrate through the cork and oxidize your wine.
2. Kitchen Refrigerators are NOT Ideal
Fridges will keep wine too cool for long-term storage and they produce tiny micro-vibrations that can agitate and ruin your wine through prolonged exposure if you are storing the wine for more than 6 months. For a week or so, a kitchen fridge is fine but any longer, and it is detracting from your wine.
3. Improper Storage Ruins Wine
If you store red wine under less-than-ideal conditions, you will be taking years off the wine. Keep red wine store in cool, dark, humidity-controlled locations with the bottles laying flat to keep the cork in great shape.
Determine Where to Store Red Wine
1. Wine Rack
Wine racks are the simplest and cheapest effective way to store unopened red wine. These contraptions look great and do a good job keeping red wine safe and secure. The thing with wine racks is you will need to control the climate you place them in.
It will be your responsibility to make sure the wine stays in a dark, cool, low-humidity environment away from major appliances that can cause wine-damaging micro-vibrations. If you are going to use a wine rack, keep the rack closer to the floor than the ceiling as heat rises.
2. Wine Refrigerator
This is the best way to store wine if you can’t afford a wine cellar and are limited on space. A good wine fridge is climate controlled to achieve and maintain the ideal storage temperatures for red wine, white wine, and even get cold enough for champagne.
If you get a dual temperature zone wine fridge, you can store both red and white at their respective ideal temperatures simultaneously.
Wine fridges control temperature, eliminate light exposure as well as wine damaging micro-vibrations, and hold wine bottles horizontally to protect your cork.
Depending on your budget, space, and ambition, you can get a wine refrigerator that holds 2 bottles of wine, 64-bottles of wine, and pretty much everything in between.
If you want to properly cool your wine, a wine fridge is a great investment. This is one of the very best models currently available for a low price on Amazon. It is great for reds, whites, and even sparkling wines like Prosecco. Check it out to read real customer reviews.
3. Wine Cellar
Building a quality wine cellar can be very expensive and require the planning and space to do so. If you already have a nice wine cellar, use it. If you do already have a wine cellar, you probably aren’t reading this article because you have been very knowledgeable about wine storage for a long time.
This article is for us unlucky enough to have disposable income, space, and learned wine knowledge that comes with the ability to own a wine cellar.
Reason to Age Red Wine
Admittedly, aging wine has grown to mythical levels of reverence. The truth is while aging many wines can improve upon them or make them more complex, aging wine won’t create miracles. Perhaps the best reason to age wine is it can save you a ton of money in the long run.
Instead of buying a 15-year aged red wine for hundreds or even thousands of dollars, you can buy a new-release red wine for a tiny fraction of the cost and in 15 years, you’ll have a 15-year aged wine.
The downside is you have to wait 15 years and if space and patience are limited, justifying keeping a bottle of wine that long becomes hard.
To make it easier on you, even a 2 or 3 years aged wine can be a very worthwhile experience. Wines that age best are Bordeaux reds, burgundies, high-acid whites, and champagne. These wines have the structure, tannins, and/or acidity to handle the aging process with grace.
How Long to Age Wine?
Note: Consult with the wine’s expiration date and also ask the seller when the best drink by dates are and how long he or she recommends aging the wine for. It is also important to know these are loose regulations and the wine may not be best according to their timelines.
White wine: 1-2 years beyond the expiration date
Red wine: 2-3 years beyond the expiration date
Cooking wine: 3-5 years beyond the expiration date
Fine wine: 10-20 years
White wine: 1-5 days
Red wine: 1-2 weeks
Cooking wine: 1-3 months
But I like My Wine ‘Fruity’
Don’t age your red wine. If you enjoy that fruity taste and scent, aging your red wine for more than 6 months will round out the winemaking it more complex but take the edge off that fruitiness you love.
If you want to learn how to keep open organic red and white wines for as long as possible check out this article.
Dangers to Red Wine Longevity
Prolonged light exposure can damage your red wine by prematurely aging it and also potentially chemically altering the compounds of your wine.
Ideally, for long-term storage, you will want to keep your wine bottles in complete darkness to eliminate the threat of light damage to your wine.
Furthermore, light exposure over time can fade your wine bottle label which will diminish the aesthetics of the whole experience some.
A little light exposure for brief periods is completely fine but long-term storage should be in darkness for best results.
Wine does best when stored in a 100% calm environment where it can age in complete tranquility. This means you will want to find a way to store your red wine in a place that won’t be subject to constant vibrations.
This is a reason I recommend not storing wine in or near household appliances. For example, storing wine in or on top of a kitchen fridge can do a number on your wine.
Believe it or not, your kitchen’s refrigerator produces constant micro-vibrations, that in time, will significantly affect the integrity and robustness of your red wine. Keep your wine bottles away from kitchen appliances if you want to store wine longer than a few days.
Temperature is the factor most people seem concerned about regarding long-term wine storage. Temperature can wreak havoc on wine and cause it to prematurely age or alter its integrity and notes in time.
I know a lot of people are concerned with storing red wine at too cold of temperatures and they have a valid concern. Storing unopened red wine in temperatures too cool will over time degrade the quality of the wine.
That said, I feel like the true enemy when it comes to temperature is heat. Heat causes more damage to wine than cold. An ideal temperature to store unopened red wine at is about 55° F.
Much above or below that number can cause you issues. Scientific studies by Pérez-Coello & colleagues (2003) and by Scrimgeour & colleagues (2015) both confirm that elevated storing temperatures can negatively affect the wine.
Oxidation is the big issue that seems to get far less coverage than it deserves. Oxidation, in my opinion, can alter a wine quicker and more noticeably than any other factor. Oxidation occurs when oxygen molecules are allowed to pass through the cork and into the wine.
The bottle should remain airtight and the influx of oxygen can cause the chemical makeup and purity of your red wine to change. It all comes down to cork protection. You want the inside of your cork to remain in direct contact with the wine and the outside part of the cork to not dry out.
Laying your wine bottle on its side will keep the wine in direct contact with the cork which keeps it moist. Controlling humidity is equally important. If stored in too dry conditions, the part of the cork exposed to air can dry up and crack which can allow oxygen to enter.
If it is too humid, the cork may warp or even mold which causes its own set of problems for your wine. Speaking of oxidation to wine, I found a 2010 report by Kilmartin on the effects on non-enzymatic oxidation very informative. It speaks of how oxidative stress on wine is bad and the importance of controlling for it.
Is it OK to Refrigerate Red Wine?
For short-term storage (1-4 days), it is okay to store red wine in the refrigerator but for extended storage, a kitchen refrigerator is too cold and produced micro-vibrations which can significantly damage the integrity of red wine. I would strongly advise against storing red wine in your refrigerator if you are serious about wine quality.
The ideal storage temperature for red wine is about 55° F but the normal temperature inside a kitchen refrigerator is around 35-40° F. This means refrigerators are too cold for long-term storage of red wines.
Prolonged exposure to these cooler temperatures can cause your wine to degrade over time. Perhaps an even bigger issue with a kitchen refrigerator is the micro-vibrations your fridge will emit in normal functional use.
You will never be able to feel them yourself but your fridge is releasing tiny vibrations that can stir up and damage your wine if stored inside for an extended time.
Cheap table reds you can buy for under $20 are probably fine to store in a refrigerator a few days because they are already fairly cheap quality.
That said, I’d recommend you take them out of the refrigerator about an hour before serving them because it will be way too cold to serve.
How to Tell if Wine Has Gone Bad
I feel like red white is easier to tell if it has turned than whites are. Sometimes, you may not even notice a difference at all if red wine has turned but that is rare. The best way to determine if red wine has gone bad is by the smell, look, and taste of the wine.
If you notice a slight off-putting or tangy odor, that could be an indication. Most reds have rich rounded red coloration but if you notice a browner tint to it, that can be a strong indication the wine has turned.
Also, go by the flavor of the wine. If it just doesn’t right or good, toss it. A red wine that has gone bad, you will be able to taste it. Take note of any tangy, bitter, or subtle off-putting flavors. If you notice any of the above symptoms, it is a good idea to just toss the wine out and not drink it.
Storing Opened Bottles of Red Wine
This may come off as a bit controversial but I feel the best way to store opened red wine is actually in your kitchen’s refrigerator. Sure you can probably leave your red wine with a wine stopper out in your kitchen for a few days but I think you’ll be better off with the wine in the fridge.
For one, your fridge is nice and dark which is important for long-term storage but also aids with short-term storage of opened wine. The biggest thing though is temperature. You shouldn’t store red wine in your refrigerator because it is too cold but after it has been opened, the oxidation process will quickly ruin your wine.
By placing the wine in the cold fridge, oxidation will be greatly slowed down. You may be able to store your red wine after the cork is popped a few extra days by doing so in the refrigerator.
Scientific Literature Referenced:
Kilmartin, P. (2010). Understanding and controlling non-enzymatic wine oxidation. Managing Wine Quality, 432-458. DOI:10.1533/9781845699987.2.432 (via: ScienceDirect)
Pérez-Coello, M., González-Viñas, M., Garcı́a-Romero, E., Dı́az-Maroto, M., & Cabezudo, M. (2003). Influence of storage temperature on the volatile compounds of young white wines. Food Control, 14(5), 301-306. doi:10.1016/s0956-7135(02)00094-4 (via: ScienceDirect)
Scrimgeour, N., Nordestgaard, S., Lloyd, N., & Wilkes, E. (2015). Exploring the effect of elevated storage temperature on wine composition. Australian Journal of Grape and Wine Research, 21, 713-722. DOI:10.1111/ajgw.12196 (via Wiley)