Storing Wine on your Kitchen Counter

About once a week, someone writes me to ask the same question. Does leaving a wine out at room temperature, or storing it at room temperature, damage the wine? How about keeping wine in the fridge for months?

First, we're not talking about keeping a wine after it has been opened. If you want advice on that, be sure to read my Storing Wine After It's Opened Experiment which tried a variety of ways to store the rest of a partially-consumed bottle of wine.

We're talking about a sealed bottle, that you want to drink at some point. The cork is still intact, so no air gets in to it, which is the main destroyer of wine.

However, heat is the second major destroyer of wine. If you put a bottle of wine above the stove to store it for example, it can be toast in a few days. People do that all the time. The proper storage temperature for wine is 55F. So the question is really asking, what happens when a wine isn't at its proper storage tempreature.

Fridges are down at 35F, so way too cold. This can harm a wine a bit, although cold temperatures for a short period of time can of 'stop' a wine from changing. Which is why you put an opened bottle into the fridge, because you don't want it to worsen any more. Still, prolonged cold temperatures (say a week or more) start to damage the wine, sort of like how ice crystals form on ice cream if you let it sit in the freezer for too long.

But compared to hot, cold is pretty mild. Hot temperatures REALLY do nasty things to wine. So if you have it at 75F, when it really should be at 55F, it is baking the wine. Think of it as leaving milk out. Sure it might look milk-like if you leave it out all day and put it back into the fridge the next day, but some really nasty things have happened to it internally. Wine can turn to vinegar in a relatively short period of time if you let it bake like that.

So in addition to starting at a bad temperature (too cold), going to a bad temperature (too hot) and then returning to a bad temperature (too cold), you have another problem, which even minor fluctuations in a wine cellar can create. That is, the wine is a liquid. Like most liquids, it expands and contracts when it heats and cools. It's in a sealed container, so as it gets "bigger and smaller", it pushes the cork out and pulls it in. Wines have been known to pop the corks out completely if they get too hot. But even if they don't, that cork is getting pushed out and pulled in as the temperature changes. The sliding causes the seal to be less tight, letting in air. So now we're back to the primary destructor of wine.

So yes, what is going on there is very bad for wine, but not necessarily because the wine is changing temperatures. It's all the other things involved in the scenario which are far worse for the wine. If you just stick the wine in a cool closet, and leave it there until you drink it, it'll taste far better. If you're going to spend money on wine - even an inexpensive one - you want it to taste good, and not like could-be-salad-dressing ...

Wine Basics Main Page

All content on the WineIntro website is personally written by author and wine enthusiast Lisa Shea. WineIntro explores the delicious variety and beautiful history which makes up our world of wine! Lisa loves supporting local wineries and encouraging people to drink whatever they like. We all have different taste buds, and that makes our world wonderful. Always drink responsibly.