No matter what your favorite: white, red, rose, or sparkling, storing your wine correctly is essential. Simply putting your favorite bottle on the counter top or above the refrigerator and forgetting about it for a year or mroe could drastically alter the taste of the wine. Then, when you’re ready to enjoy it on a special occasion, it might not have the flavor you expected.

The unfortunate truth as that wines are a perishable commodity, without the right care they can go bad. That is why properly caring for and storing it can actually improve the wine’s aroma and flavor over time. But incorrect storage may mean that you’ll be left with a wine that has an “off” taste at best or is undrinkable at worst.

Consideration 1: How long do you plan to store your wine?

The first step in proper wine storage is to consider how long you plan to store your wine. Generally speaking, I would consider short term storage to mean about 3 to 6 months unopened. Storing it ordinarily should be limited to your cheaper, less cherished wines. Long term storage requires special considerations.

Only top-quality red wines can be stored for significant lengths of time. White wines in general have a shorter shelf life. But with proper storage, certain wines can be stored for decades. But the old adage that wine gets better with age is generally untrue. Only a minority of wines are appropriate for long term storage and, again, that can only be done with the correct storage conditions.

Consideration 2: Correct storage conditions

Whether we are talking about the short or long term storage of wine, the same rules apply. The first and most crucial thing is to remember that the bottles should be laid horizontally instead of upright because this ensures the cork will remain moist. This keeps it from drying out.

It is best to keep the wines in a quiet, vibration-free environment, so placing them on top of an electrical appliance or a place subject to external forces should be avoided.

It is important to remember that wine can be greatly affected by its surrounding temperature. You want to store the wine in a cool area where the temperature is consistant. The ideal temperature for most wines is about 55 degrees Fahrenheit (12°C).

Another consideration is that light can have a negative impact on wine, which is why many wine bottles are made of colored glass. Ideally, wine should be stored in a dark place and be kept out of direct sunlight. Too much light can react with proteins in wine, forming a haze and producing bad aromas that alter its flavor.

For long term storage, the correct atmospheric conditions are also required. Humidity has to be very high, ideally 70% or more, in order to prevent the cork from drying out, which reduces the chance that the wine evaporates. A finaly consideration is the wines surroundings. Other foods or liquids with strong aromas could be absorbed into the wine itself.

Consideration 3: When to finally enjoy the wine.

Light red wines with slightly higher tannins and acidity can generally be stored for 3-5 years. This includes wines like Zinfandel, Garnacha, and Petite Sirah. Low tannin grapes like Gamay, Zweigelt, Lambrusco, and Dolcetto should be drank sooner. But, there are some wines that will last even longer, possibly 10-20 years. bolder red wines that will easily cellar for 10 or 20 years, like Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Super Tuscans from Italy, Sangiovese, and Malbec, are good examples.

With these bolder reds, it gets a bit more complicated. The length of storage often depends on the tannin levels. To tell the difference between a bold red wine that will last 10 years and one that will last 20, you will have to consider the winemaking techniques and the region in which it was grown. For example, Old World Merlots will cellar longer than New World Merlot, because the Old World wines often have more complexity. Of course, this is just a generalization. There are fine wines being produced in California that can rival even French wines in terms of longevity.

But, regardless of the wines age, when the time comes to pop the cork and savor all your hard work, you’ll need to finish the bottle within a few days of opening. Otherwise, oxidation will set in. So that said, whenever the time is right, enjoy it!

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