Bottom Line/Personal: The big rage in kitchen design seems to be to have a fancy wine refrigerator, but do you really need that? Let’s find out.
I’m Sarah Hiner, president of Bottom Line Publications, and this is our Conversation With the Experts, where we get the answers to your tough questions from our leading experts.
Today I’m talking to Amy Dixon. Amy is the former buyer and fine wine expert at Stew Leonard’s wine stores, one of the top 10 retailers for wine in the country. She is currently managing a portfolio of fine wine collectors at Nicholas Roberts Fine Wines in Darien, Connecticut.
Amy lost 98% of her eyesight in 2007. Now, in addition to being a wine expert, she is a paratriathlete on Team USA, and she’s also on the watch list for their cycling team. You can learn more about Amy and all of her cycling and wine expertise at BlogSpot.BlindSommelier.com. Welcome, Amy.
Amy Dixon: Thanks for having me.
Bottom Line: You’re welcome. All right, every house kitchen-design program that I see, it’s all about the wine refrigerator or the wine cellar.
Dixon: I know.
Bottom Line: Really?
Dixon: Yeah, I know. It is a very expensive endeavor for sure, and it’s really not necessary. It’s a lovely addition to your kitchen or your home, but if you’re on a budget and you want to collect a few bottles of wine, there’s no need to spend thousands of dollars on a wine refrigerator. You certainly can find one for a couple hundred bucks at The Home Depot or at Lowe’s or even Home Goods, T.J. Maxx, any of those places. But again, you don’t need to do that.
The most important thing with wine is that it doesn’t like big temperature fluctuations. What’s the temperature in your home?
Bottom Line: 70°, plus or minus.
Dixon: Exactly. So wine was designed and is made, basically, to be consumed at 57°. That is the ideal cellar temperature. So when you think about France and the history of wine and champagne and Burgundy and Bordeaux, all those caves and all those beautiful cellars are hundreds of feet below the city that the wine was produced in. It’s very, very cold down there, and ideally it’s going to be between 55 and 60°. Most houses are not that temperature, and if they are, I’m probably not going to come visit you.
Bottom Line: We have free sweaters.
Dixon: Exactly, a free sweater with every dinner party. If you don’t want to freeze your guests out, there’s other alternatives that you can have to keeping your wine very happy while you’re there.
Bottom Line: So red wine is more particular about temperature than white wine?
Dixon: Not particularly. You really want to keep your wines as close to that temperature as possible. Obviously, if you live in an apartment building where you don’t have a basement or something like that, you want to keep the wine most importantly stored on its side. You want to keep it so that the cork stays moist, so it forms a proper seal, and you don’t want to have any big temperature fluctuations.
Anything longer than a few months, you really don’t want to keep it at room temperature at that 70°. So if it’s a few bottles or half a case, whatever, that you’re buying for just personal consumption, keeping it at room temperature is fine. Anything above 70° starts to get a little bit tricky, and the wine starts to prematurely oxidize. It actually speeds up the aging process of the wine.
Because even though cork performs a very nice seal in wine, it still is a permeable surface, because it’s cork—it is porous by nature. So it is allowing, over months and decades and years, a little bit of oxygen to enter that wine, which slowly changes wine. That is why wine evolves and why wine ages, because oxygen is slowly, slowly working its way into the wine.
By adding the heating element or anything above 65°, 70°, you’re expediting that process. That wine is prematurely aging. You really want to avoid doing that. Keep the wine in a basement in a cool, dark area. But again, your basement is a relative term. A basement next to the furnace? Probably not a good idea. A basement next to the washing machine or the dryer? Again, not a good idea. Vibration is another enemy of wine in addition to temperature fluctuation. It doesn’t like to be shaken up. It really likes a nice dry area where it’s on its side and it’s cool.
If you don’t have a wine refrigerator, a basement is a perfectly appropriate place. One thing that I do suggest is never, ever, ever install one of those above-the-refrigerator wine racks that are so in vogue in so many kitchens. What happens in a refrigerator? It has heating coils in the back—that’s where all the temperature is taken out of the refrigerator. And heat rises, so as soon as you put those wines above your refrigerator, you’re actually cooking them.
Put your vodka up there, put your rum, whatever, that’s not going to be affected by any temperature fluctuation. Keep your wine, if you don’t have a basement, on its side in the pantry. It’s perfectly acceptable.
Bottom Line: If I don’t have a basement and the kitchen actually can heat up quite a bit, how about if I just put it in a bedroom closet or someplace far away from the warmest room? The coolest part of the house?
Dixon: If you have a compass, which most phones do these days, you want to go on the north side of your house so it doesn’t have full sun exposure. Because believe it or not, that’s going to form a little microclimate within your house or apartment building. You want to find a north-facing wall to do that. Don’t do it on a south-facing wall, because even though it’s in a closet, it’s still going to be warmer than the rest of your house.
Bottom Line: Does it matter at all the age of the wine—if I’ve got a newer wine, will it be more tolerant? Can I keep it outside of proper…
Dixon: Excellent question. Older wines are going to be more susceptible to temperature changes. Before you purchased it—say if you purchase it at auction or at a wine shop, it’s probably been stored in a very cool environment. It has not been stored at room temperature. I can guarantee that, because they wouldn’t have the right to sell it to you if they did.
You really want to get it back to that temperature. And if you’re buying older wines, you’re probably at the point where you’re collecting enough that it would warrant buying a small wine refrigerator. And you don’t need anything fancy—really anything that you can set the temperature below 60° is ideal, and you can buy one for $100 bucks, again, at Marshall’s, Home Goods, T.J. Maxx, those places offer them.
Bottom Line: And how about Champagne?
Dixon: You do not want to store Champagne in the refrigerator for any length of time, because the cork gets too wet and no longer forms a good seal. There’s too much humidity in the average American refrigerator. I definitely recommend keeping champagne on the side just like other wines, and keeping it in a cool, dark place, no vibration, and keeping it on its side.
One thing that I advise about serving temperatures for people as far as storing and serving wine is that Americans tend to drink their white wines too cold and their red wines too warm. So take your white wine out of the refrigerator 20 minutes before you serve it, and put your red wine into the refrigerator 20 minutes before you serve it.
Again, because if you don’t have a wine refrigerator or a wine cellar to store your wines at the ideal temperature—for most wines, that would be at 70°, the temperature of your house— and that wine was produced in a wine cellar that was in the 50°s, the winemaker actually designed that wine to be consumed at that temperature, and there’s going to be different flavors that are probably off-putting and not indicative of good quality wine.
Bottom Line: All right, thank you, Amy Dixon. So the bottom line on how to store your wine? You don’t necessarily need a big expensive wine refrigerator. If you have the basement, that will do just fine. Or you can get an inexpensive wine fridge. The key fact is that you want to have it approximately 58°. You don’t want it at 70°…and you don’t want it too cold.
Now, that said, if you’re going to drink your wine quickly, go ahead and do it. You can buy it and you don’t have to do any kind of special storage at all, because it’s just going to be for a couple of months. Talking long-term, you want to be able to have it at that 58°.
Couple other key points—don’t put it up high… don’t put it above your refrigerator…don’t put it where it’s going to vibrate, because it wants to be cool and it wants to be still. This is Sarah Hiner with Bottom Line.