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Less-than-ideal cellaring

Hi all. A q prompted by a brief discussion on another thread. Has anybody had experience of long-term wine storage in less-than-ideal conditions, and what were the results?

Some context: we’re renovating our kitchen, and I had hoped to get the builders to do a DIY spiral cellar, but the £15-20k cost put me off (or put my wife off, to be more precise). We don’t have space for a large wine fridge or ageing cabinet.

Currently my long-term storage is mainly at TWS plus a few odds and ends elsewhere. So I’m thinking of converting our understairs cupboard into a dedicated storage area, with a mix of shelves for wine boxes and racks for loose bottles. I reckon I could get c 200 bottles in there. It’s dark and constant temp, if a bit warm. I haven’t checked humidity yet.

I use the same space currently for storing bottles I’ve picked up at auction and elsewhere. I’ve kept a few bottles there for a few years, very occasionally up to ten, with no obvious ill effects. I wouldn’t expect to store anything for longer than that at home. But as I say, it’s obviously less-than-ideal conditions, and I’m wondering how big the risk is over that kind of storage period, and what if anything I can do to improve the conditions without vast expense.

There’s not much research on the impact of different long-term storage conditions on wine, and much of the advice online seems to be based on speculation, or the tradition of keeping wine in cool, dark cellars, rather than experience. I’m tempted to say the importance of ‘ideal’ storage conditions is over-stated, but I haven’t got much evidence to back that up.

Sorry if this has been discussed before, I couldn’t immediately see another thread on this topic, but may have missed it. Any experiences or views welcome.

Jim

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It depends how warm. We had no wine storage at our last house so I kept things under the stairs and it was I would estimate consistently about 17 - 19C in there. I would say that most whites were a bit iffy after a year, we had full bodied young reds there for 3 that did pretty well. I don’t really keep more than 3 or 4 bottles at home now that I expect to keep longer than 6 months, and they are all in wine fridges.

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The general consensus is it’s better to store at a constant temperature than to have fluctuations on a regular basis. I’m sure there are a number of threads about long term storage. For every one who says they have never had a problem storing this way you’ll get someone saying not to do it. In many ways you have answered your own question if you haven’t detected any problems storing this way for up to 10 years.

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I’ve not noticed any big issues with wine stored in my brick built/tiled roof garage. Although there are clearly seasonal temperature variations, the diurnal ones tend not to be big. In Scotland, getting too warm is rarely a problem. It’s dark and vibration free too which helps.

I would say for 80% of the year the wine is within the so called ideal range or slightly below.

I have had a storage cabinet for 4-5 years now, but there is always overspill…

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I suspect I’ve had fewer than a dozen bottles that I’ve kept for more than four or five years, and that’s usually been an oversight. Most disappear in a couple of years. The safe option of course would just be to keep wine for relatively near-term drinking at home. But I like having my babies close at hand… And the storage charges, while cheap on a per-case basis, do mount up, which is irritating, especially for wines at the lower end of the price spectrum.

Jim

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You can easily and cheaply check temperature/humidity with a max/min thermometer like this ThermoPro TP50 Room Thermometer Digital Indoor Hygrometer Monitor Temperature and Humidity Meter

More expensive you can get a USB monitor that you can set to record temperature & humidity at time intervals e.g. every hour, plug into your computer and download readings to a spreadsheet.

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Local carpenter did this for me under the stairs. I use the cellar unit for my better wines and put my cheaper and earlier drinking wines in the case/rack area without controlled temperature. However, as this area is adjacent to the front door and has no direct sun light from windows, the temperature is remaining fairly even around 18 degrees.

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I have read (but can’t remember where) that a warmer storage location will potentially accelerate the wine’s ageing process, but without developing as much complexity of flavour that you would get with a cooler, slower cellaring.

So in other words, if you are looking to store for years at a time, in the hope that the wine will improve, cool but constant is probably fairly important. I don’t mean it needs to be 10-12 degrees, but modern ‘room’ temperature 20 degrees+ for years at once will not get you the results. And as others have said, consensus seems to be that a reasonably constant temperature is important. Mild seasonal variations are ok, but daily fluctuations when the heating comes on and off, not so much.

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In terms of temperature I understand chemical reactions, like ageing, double in speed for every increase of 10C. So if you store wines at 20C they will mature twice as fast as at 10C. As others have said smallish seasonal variations are less important than daily fluctuations. Don’t store wine in kitchens as they heat up and cool down all the time.

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I convinced mother-in-law to open these two around Christmas 2019 (this post)

They’d been in pride of place - the wine rack next to her oven for well over 10 years. I feared the worst but both were in excellent condition. Don’t know if Cabernet Sauvignon is robust or we were just very lucky.

Having somewhere appropriate to keep wine for a few years gives you a better chance that it will be drinkable when you decide to open it.
I think you will also get a bit of invaluable peace of mind and will be less likely to second-guess a fault If there is a whiff of farmyard or sulphur upon opening.

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A very nice set-up; similar to what I’ve got in mind. My cupboard’s quite deep so I may see if my kitchen designer can knock up pull-out shelves on runners, so I can have another row of boxes & bottles at the back :champagne:

I’m inclined to go for solid or tinted glass doors to deal with the light but since you have the fridge for longer-term hibernation, your arrangement makes a lot of sense.

Jim

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Thanks Toby, kind of you to join us. That’s very interesting. I can’t do the exponential maths in my head, and it depends what the baseline is, but if my cupboard is at a broadly constant 18C, by that rule of thumb wines might age 25-35% faster than they would at 13C. However whether they’d age in a less predictable or stable way is another question.

The only way to really resolve this would be to keep exactly the same wine, in different conditions, for at least ten years, in sufficient numbers to suppress any effects from bottle and barrel variation, and then to blind taste and chemically analyse for differences. Perhaps TWS would be prepared to sponsor such an ambitious assessment on behalf of its members :wink:

I have a vague recollection that one of the big producers might be part-way through something along these lines but extreme patience is required on the part of the researchers!

Jim

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That’s the sort of anecdotal evidence I think we have to rely on, and is grist to my mill - hard to imagine worse storage conditions. Robust wines like those are surprisingly, well, robust.

However I wouldn’t take chances for the sake of it, and keeping the light away in particular seems key (although not it seems for your mother-in-law).

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Thanks Peter. Yes, I’ve got my eye on something like that - probably a cheap one to begin with and if I get sufficiently obsessed, a connected one.

Not much point currently as the existing cupboard opens onto the empty shell of the old kitchen, with no rear wall, ceiling or floor :cold_face:

Jim

Cabernets will resist the effects of less than ideal storage better tha, say pinots or white wines, as they are protected by being rich in polyphenols, tannins and colouring matter. Glad they were good, but still would not recommend storing next to an oven.

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Adam at Wineracks made the racking for me to my measurements. What I did not show is that on the other side we fitted plain doors (the other side has LED lights fitted to add a bit of a feature when we feel like it) and then more racking and shelves to maximise the space and provide back to back access. This also helps with temperature control and reduces light.



One tip, you can probably see a loose panel bottom left of the first photo - we left this side so that we could remove the doors to fit the racks or change them in the future. I just need to tidying this up a bit now.

Adam - Tel: 0115 9441434 - www.wineracks.co.uk

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Your poor hound. What a cosy bed he lost :cry:

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I suspect this might end up like the school project I read about before Christmas, in which children had to count the different varieties of sweets in different boxes of chocolate (Quality Street, Roses etc), to teach them about averages, statistics and so on.
I think it was Quality Street that had the most even distribution.
The teacher did admit, however, that the data might have been distorted/eaten.

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She won’t be told. I’ve been warning her about the dangers of her warming rack for years, but unfortunately this experience just vindicated her laissez-faire approach to storing wine :sob:

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Interesting thread and useful comments/insight from you all.
I’ve been considering adjusting my storage plan recently and this has been a reassuring read.

I currently have a single temperature cabinet that holds about 140 or so bottles (manufacturer says 168). Otherwise everything in reserves storage.
Regularly refill gaps in cabinet with removal of 12 bottle (4x3 bottles usually) boxes from reserves.
Works ok but there’s always the wine you fancy tasting one particular evening and it’s the one you didn’t include in your last 12 pack…

So beginning to think should withdraw more wine that’s in/entering its drinking window and I’m very likely to either drink all of it, or the last couple of bottles will make their way into the cabinet anyway, within 4-5 years. Chance of some OWCs which I never get with my current system, more instantly available variety, lower storage costs and reasonably low risk of the wine quality being hugely impacted it would seem over this sort of timeframe.

Just need to decide which bit of the house is most suitable for storing the extra boxes. I would probably use the cardboard boxes/OWCs rather than open racking for the slightly greater insulation/resistance to temperature variation.

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