The Monster (wine) Under My Bed
As a follow up to our Destroying Wine Privilege post, a guide to starting a wine collection for the common person, it’s imperative to the mission that wine also be stored properly while we keep it. Of course, us average citizens don’t have a temperature and barometric-controlled wine cellar in which to pamper our prized possessions. So, what’s Joe-the-Plummer-Turned-Wine-Collector to do?
I first started getting into wine as a hobby while in graduate school. As a 23-year old with negative income living in a 500 sq ft apartment, options for keeping a well-curated wine collection didn’t really exist; I had to improvise.
Well, since I didn’t really know what I was doing, the mistakes piled up quickly. I cringe as I write this now, but hopefully you, the reader, can have a steady inventory of great tasting wine in your home for years to come by avoiding my common errors.
1) The kitchen is no place to keep wine. To describe it as a “galley” kitchen would be too generous. Our first apartment had something you’d probably consider a two-sided walk-in closet for a kitchen. For two years, my future wife and I had to use the adjacent kitchen table as a prep and resting area while cooking. I started using the space above the cabinets but below the ceiling for wine bottles. I might as well have put them in the oven. Without going into all the jargon and chemistry about it, when you keep wine too warm, you’re indeed essentially slow-cooking the wine. A dried-out cork, or one that has wine bleeding through evidence your mishap. The vinegary taste is usually a dead giveaway as well. Your kitchen is likely the warmest operational room in your home. Save your wine from the fiery flames. Get it out of your kitchen.
Next, we installed some fake wooden shelves in the eating area to showcase the wine bottles, but considering the wall was about 6 feet away for the kitchen appliances, nothing fared any better.
2) Windowsills aren’t an upgrade. To fake a bourgeoise status, a preposterous act given my circumstances, I displayed my underdeveloped wine collection to house guests by placing them on a windowsill in an adjoining common area.
UV light is no better than heat. It breaks up the molecular compounds responsible for the wine’s flavor and structure. Once destabilized, the wine ages too quickly and spoils.
3) It’s not a gallon of milk – keep wine out of your kitchen fridge. This point does not apply as much to my personal story because I wasn’t keeping white wines, but it’s important to mention at this juncture. Your household refrigerator is set around 36 degrees or so. With the molecules in the wine moving so slowly at that cold temperature, you’re not really tasting the wine! There’s a reason Coors Light tastes best ice cold. The real taste of it only comes around as it warms up. In the case of Coors Light, most find this undesirable, even the most ardent defenders of the brand. To get the best experience of your wine, you’re going to want those compounds speeding up.
Wine refrigerators come in all different shapes, sizes, and price points. It’s an easy investment to make no matter the type of abode. Don’t overspend. At the end of the day, you just need something that maintains temperature (55 for whites, 62 for reds) and fits the amount of wine you aim to have on hand.
4) No good vibrations. I rightly realized I needed to do more research. A quick scan of the internet told me dark, cool places for wine storage were the way to go. Well, obviously our apartment lacked a basement. We had every closet packed to the brim with our stuff crammed into this apartment like a fat guy in a little coat. But I eyed the one pseudo-closet that had space – the utility closet with the HVAC unit. I could no longer play to my vanity by parading my generic, undeserving wine collection in plain sight for even the delivery person to see. But surely this would fit the bill.
Vibrations coming from something like your AC unit, or even just the thump, thump, thump from trips up and down a staircase, shake the wine, which can be similarly disruptive as UV light. The increased energy can break up those esters in the wine and make it smell and taste dulled over time. You’re aging this wine for it to be even more incredible, not less interesting than when you first bought it.
5) Cozy at last. The final location I theorized proved successful. The idea came to me while reading a book in our bedroom. It always felt cooler in there than elsewhere in the apartment, and with the shades drawn, very little outside light regularly flooded in. To maximize the darkness, and make sure we aren’t always tempted to drink them, the wine could go under the bed and we’d forget about it alongside all the other randomness that found its home under there.
The process paid off. We would soon move to a townhome with a great basement for wine, but those first half-decent bottles I kept under the bed in our old apartment aged well. My wife and I would celebrate several special occasions with those wines. And while the home collection has upgraded since, both in content and environment, those wines from under the bed did their job – they made memories.