Since Wednesday, D.C. has been mired in the first (and definitely not the last) heat wave of the summer. You’re not comfortable in it, and neither are those bottles of wine sitting in your un-air conditioned home while you’re away at work.
Wine spoilage is a serious risk when the mercury starts to rise. Whether your average bottle costs $7 or $70, they will turn into the same sour, raisiny, oxidized plonk if you allow summer heat to have its way with them.
How hot is too hot? No one has figured out an exact number yet, but it is generally agreed that above 70° Fahrenheit wine ages much faster. Once it’s been above 80° for more than a couple of hours, don’t expect it to be at its best when you open it. The optimal storage temperature is often cited as 55°, or as small degree-ranges including that number.
Wine writer and scientist Jamie Goode puts it best on his great blog Wine Anorak: “If it’s too hot for people, it’s too hot for wines.”
So what can you do? There are several options for keeping your wine cool and happy:
- Wine refrigerator: These gadgets range from luxurious wall-installed models that panoramically exhibit your thousand-bottle collection, to little six-bottle rectangles that fit under your desk. Either way they’re a bit of an investment, with the cheapest, smallest ones starting around $80. But as long as you have a reliable model, you can at least rest assured that any wine you store in it will remain at a constant temperature of your choosing. A thorough rundown of the pros and cons of wine refrigerators can be found on the Affordable Cellar blog.
- Cellar or basement: The term “wine cellar” didn’t always refer to a devoted room holding hundreds of bottles. If you have access to any cellar or basement, it’s probably cooler and more temperature-stable than the rest of the building and as such can probably protect your wine. If you do take this route, invest in an accurate digital thermometer so you can monitor the ambient temperature. Just remember: Excessive heat is bad for wine, but so is excessive fluctuation. If you see the cellar temperature is 59° one day, 52° the next, and 68° the next, don’t leave your wine there.
- Off-site storage: For the more serious collector, there are warehouse spaces that will store your wines under (presumably) optimal conditions for a fee. You might think of these as very large wine refrigerators. For ultimate peace of mind in keeping a large collection, a good storage facility is incomparable. The downside is that if you are hit with a sudden 3AM craving for that Richebourg 1990 you have in storage, you’d better go take a cold shower because you aren’t getting it right away. A leading D.C. wine storage facility is The Wine Rack.
- Ordinary refrigerator: If none of the above appeal to you, your wines—even your reds—are better off stored in your main refrigerator than they are sitting on your countertop or in your coat closet on a 97° day. It’s dark, cold and quiet and you do have room if you take those last two cans of Diet Coke out of the 12-pack carton and throw the cardboard away. If you want a bottle of red, just take it out 60-90 minutes before serving.
As a postscript to this, if you walk into a shop to buy wine this summer and it’s no cooler inside than it is outside, turn around and leave. You will not get what you pay for in a place where they don’t take proper care of the product.
Also, think twice about getting wine delivered to your home or office, since it doesn’t take long in the back of a car or unrefrigerated truck on a July day for wine to go bad. If you must, verify with the supplier that the wine won’t be exposed to hot temperatures for more than a few minutes between their door and yours.