Any time of year, it’s great to be able to combine practicality and pleasure by having a few good bottles of wine at the ready. Even so, many wine-lovers are hesitant about starting their own “private reserve,” because they worry about maintaining its quality over the medium to long term. Others invest in bottle coolers or refrigerated cabinets (“wine fridges”) without considering alternative solutions.

So what are the options for creating the right conditions to properly store wine at home?

Keys to success

Here’s a well-kept secret: generally speaking, wine is far less fragile than people think. Normally, to preserve all the qualities of bottled wine, you need only ensure the following conditions:

  • Ensure a cool temperature (between 12 and 18°C) and keep it as stable as possible. Wine can survive most seasonal fluctuations perfectly well; the real problem is sudden, repeated variations. These are likely to occur if, for example, the bottles are stored near a window or a source of heat.
  • Keep your reserve away from all sources of vibrations. For instance, don’t store it under a staircase, near an appliance like a washing machine, or near your home cinema’s subwoofer speaker.
  • Store wine in an odour-free environment, with the lowest possible light level.
  • Make sure the storage location is neither too dry nor too humid; the relative humidity should be around 40% in winter and a little more than 50% in summer (this is good for the “health” of the wine you plan to drink eventually, of course, but also for your health and that of your home!).

Some specialists recommend a higher humidity level (60% or more) to ensure that wine keeps properly, otherwise corks can dry out and/or shrink. But you needn’t worry about this as long as a bottle is stored horizontally, ensuring that the cork is always in contact with the wine.

Conditions often found in the home…

The good news is, many homes provide exactly the conditions described above. If yours does, then you can create a “passive wine cellar,” i.e., one that requires no mechanical temperature- or humidity-control systems.

“I’ve been storing bottles this way for 30 years and I’ve never had any issues,” notes Marc-André Gagnon, webmaster of the site Vin Québec.

If your house has a basement, you’ll find most of these wine-preservation conditions fulfilled in its coldest part, at the point farthest from the heating apparatus (furnace, water heater, etc.).

If your home is without a basement, don’t despair! An especially cool spot like a closet or cupboard can also be perfect for storing bottles.

…but not always

In other buildings, such as multiplexes, it can be harder to meet the conditions for satisfactory wine storage. In some smaller apartments and poorly insulated dwellings, it can be especially challenging. In this case, a simple wine fridge can be a practical solution to ensure bottles are always at the ideal temperature for drinking.

If you want to ensure best conditions for wine preservation—when the natural environment in your home fails to provide them—you’ll want to invest in a quality refrigerated cabinet. The problem, predictably, is cost: effective, reliable cabinets are expensive.

Mr. Gagnon warns consumers to avoid low-end models, which tend to be more vulnerable to temperature variations and vibration, and prone to breakage. In addition, quality after-sales service and warranties are often lacking.

To make an informed purchase, he suggests asking a family member or friend who has owned a wine fridge for a while, for recommendations. Protégez-vous and Consumer Reports magazines have also published information about these appliances.

The ultimate: an active wine cellar

For the true wine lover, nothing can top the practicality, and charm, of a full-fledged cellar. Besides the pleasure of tasting a grand cru, there’s the enjoyment of building a handpicked collection and storing it at home.

To build your own cellar, the first thing you need is enough room, in a corner of the house free from vibrations and odours. Construction requires special skills when it comes to the selection and installation of insulating and finishing materials, as well as the equipment to control the indoor climate in the cellar. All that translates into a investment of several thousand dollars—enough to make many people think twice, especially considering that these days, we tend not to live in the same house all our lives.

At least one company, though, markets a made-in-Quebec modular wine cellar with a capacity of up to 800 bottles. It assembles onsite and can also be disassembled if the owner moves—but that mobility comes at a price, of course!

Don’t forget the “cellar effect”

One tip, regardless of which option you choose: when deciding on the capacity of the room or appliance you choose, consider the “cellar effect.” What’s that, you say? It’s the tendency to increase the number of bottles in your private reserve once you’ve achieved the optimum storage conditions. As the saying goes, “Moderation is always in good taste”… and it also costs less!

Our thanks to Marc-André Gagnon de VinQué for his contribution to this instalment of Tips & Tricks.