History's Lessons on How to Store Wine

For more than 7,000 years, people have enjoyed wine and devised different ways tostore "the nectar of the Gods". In ancient Mesopotamia and Egypt, people kept wine in clay jars, which they sealed with a lump of clay to preserve the contents. For bulk storage and transportation, wine was stored in amphorae - large pottery vessels with spouts that werestoppered with cloth, leather and cork or fired clay, then sealed with mortar. Sumerian texts speak of large, wooden (probably date palm) barrels of wine being boated from one town to another. By 1600 B.C. in Mycenae, wine makers (vintners) were cellaring wine.

Storing wine in glass bottles began with the Romans, who developed glass blowing and discovered that glass did not affect the flavor of wine. However, there were two problems with Roman wine bottles: the thinness of the glass made them susceptible to breakage, and because no standard bottle size was established, customers had no reliable way of knowing the amount of wine that merchants claimed to be selling them. Consequently, many customers would use their own containers. Because glass was blown, glass bottles were typically onion-shaped. However, it was found that a longer, flatter bottle shape allowed wine to be stored on its side, which kept the cork damp and helped the wine age properly. Some Roman wines were successfully stored up to 100 years. Unfortunately, much of the Roman knowledge about glass making disappeared with the end of the empire in 476 A.D. Wine storage during the Dark and early Medieval Ages was typically in containers made of clay or wood, and even flasks made of animal skins. Starting in the 11th century, glassworks wereestablished in Venice, resulting in theproduction of glass bottles for wine once again.

Up to the 1600's, wine bottles were fragile and expensive-two problems that the English would resolve. By proclamation of King James I (1567 to 1625), all glassmakers were to stop using wood to heat their furnaces so as to not deplete the forests. The glassmakers turned to coal, which allowed for a much hotter fire. Sir Kenelm Digby is credited as the inventor of the modern wine bottle. By using a bellows to make a furnace even hotter, Digby was able to create bottles that were thicker and stronger, and with the then-unknown benefit of being darker (sunlight deteriorates wine). Given the abundance of coal in Britain, glass bottles were produced in greater quantities and at reduced cost, making them affordable to more people. Using cork as a stopper for wine bottles - a practice started by the Romans - also became popular.

By experience, people learned that exposing wine to air, heat, and light deteriorated the liquid.Storing wine in a cool, dry location away from direct sunlight, was required. The Romans stored their wine in catacombs which, being underground and protected from the harsh environment, preserved the wine and let it age gently. In the region that is known today as France, wine was stored in containers placed in abandoned crayeres, limestone excavation sites left behind by the Romans. Incidentally, the Romans introduced grape vines into the area, setting the stage for an industry for which France would become famous worldwide. Caves were also dug in different parts of Europe for the purpose of storing wine;one such cave now serves as a restaurant in Hungary.

Wine Cellars

Since very few people have a cave on their property in which to store wine, many homeowners use a wine cellar, which vary greatly in size, cost, and storage capacity. Some wine cellars are nothing more than a closet in which bottles are stored on shelves. Mini wine storage units, also known as wine cellars, sit on the countertop and hold about six bottles. Under-the-counter units hold 30 to 200 bottles, depending on size.Sixty to 300 bottles can be stored in wine cellar credenzas, whereas garage wine cellars hold 100 to 600 bottles.Furniture wine cabinets accommodate up to 700 bottles and walk-in wine rooms (which are large boxes made of oak or another quality wood) can accommodate 1,200 bottles.

Electronic wine cellars can control the temperature and humidity, and keep direct sunlight away from your bottles. Some have two or three compartments, each with a temperature control. Ideally, red wines, ros̩s, and white wines (along with sparkling wines)should be stored at different temperatures. Humidity control is also important so that labels remain in good condition and corks do not shrink (which allows oxygen to enter the bottles, eventually ruining the wine).The problem with some home wine cellars is that they look great but do nothing to control temperature and humidity. For example, some upscale homes have a walk-in brick wine cellar with a stylish iron grate door.Such a cellar isinadequate for proper wine storage because air from the rest of the houseis able to circulate through.The recommended average wine storage temperature is 12ʡ C, which is about 8 to 10ʡ C cooler than the temperature of most people's homes. Excessive heat will ruin wine, hence the need for temperature control in a wine cellar.

Wine cellars use a refrigeration unit,one or more temperature sensors, and acontrol module to maintain the pre-settemperature.Make sure that the Freon used is the environmentally friendly R134 Freon. Some wine storage cabinets and credenzas have a separate quick chiller compartment in which a few bottles can be cooled without affecting the temperature of the other bottles. Wine cellar prices vary greatly, from $200 for a metal countertop unit to $15,000 for a large, crafted wine cabinet made of cherry wood. A custom-designed and professionally constructed wine storage room may cost even more. Before spending money on a wine cellar, determine how many bottles you will be storing and the location of the cellar in your home. Also, as you expand your wine collection and it becomes more valuable, be sure to increase your home insurance to protect your investment.

Buying, storing, and collecting wines become a passionate hobby for many people. Whether your collection is small or large, be sure to take care of it properly with a wine cellar,and enjoy your aged wines at the peak of their maturity.