Decantress advises a wine drinker with heat anxiety.
In the dead of summer, my apartment's daytime temperature often approaches 90 degrees. There's a wine fridge to keep worthy bottles at ideal temperature, but spillover is unavoidable. I understand that higher temperatures encourage wine to age faster and less gracefully, but how much heat can a wine withstand before it crosses over into cooked? Can I pile excess bottles into the regular fridge during the hottest months? What do somms do? They can't all own gigantic EuroCaves. –Sweaty
You’re not alone. Summer wine storage is a much-discussed topic in sommelier circles in places like New York, where the annual schlep of the window AC unit is as shared an inconvenience as avoiding sludge puddles from snowmelt in winter. Most of us don’t have the luxury of a proper cellar—which holds bottles at a steady 55 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit in a dark, humid space—and giant EuroCaves both take up a large amount of space and eat up a costly amount of electricity. I’ve seen all manners of MacGyver’ed storage solutions, the most common of which being the converted closet.
If you already have a wine fridge, it seems like you’re doing a great job of taking care of your bottles intended for the long term. Intention is the key concept here. For bottles you’re stocking for immediate consumption, I wouldn’t worry as much. Try to keep them from extreme temperature fluctuations, which can cause their corks to expand and contract, putting them at risk for oxidation. But a few days or weeks in less-than-ideal conditions won’t do much to affect their aromatic and flavor profiles, so you should feel confident pulling the corks on recent purchases. A notable exception to this rule? Natural wine. If it abides by a low-to-no-sulfur regimen, it will be more susceptible to spoilage from heat exposure. I’d go ahead and store those in the regular fridge, pulling them out an hour or so before serving to bring up to temperature.
Find the coolest spot in your home and make it the place for your stash. Treat the bottles like full-shade plants, keeping them away from any windows or direct sunlight. I have a dark, back room office space (the .5 in a 1.5 bedroom), where I set up a large-ish rack that holds our “drinkables.” It rarely hits 80 degrees in there, and if I have any concerns with specific wines, I try to free up space for them in my wine fridge or move them to the regular fridge and remind myself to drink them in the next month or so. (Really long-term storage in the fridge is said to have a negative effect due to the constant, albeit low, vibration. I’ve never noticed signs of advanced evolution in wines I’ve kept there for up to a year, and if you live in a city with a subway system, avoiding vibration just isn’t going to happen anyway.)
One thing thing I can’t stress enough: Don’t keep wine on top of the fridge. It might seem like a good idea since it’s out of the way, and wine belongs in the kitchen, right? Wrong. We keep a gap between the refrigerator and the wall for a reason, and the heat from those coils rises, making the fridge-top effectively the hottest possible place to store bottles. If you’re keeping them there, you’re basically cooking them over-medium. Don’t do it in the summer—don’t do it ever.
Have a wine situation? Send your questions to Food & Wine's Decantress at firstname.lastname@example.org