What is the ideal storage conditions for fine wine? The factors one needs to consider are: temperature, humidity, light, environment.
First, let's talk about temperature. Different people disagree on what is the ideal temperature to store wine. In the US, a mythical standard seems to have been set at 55° Fahrenheit. In France, the professional wine trade (château, negociant, bonded warehouse, shipper) usually operate with a targeted temperature of 15°Celsius, plus or minus 2° (which translates into 55° to 63° Fahrenheit). Without a doubt, 55°F, despite it being marketed as the ideal temperature for wine storage, is actually considered the lower end of the ideal temperature for red Bordeaux. Even Robert Parker Jr., in discussing the ideal temperature to keep wine, acknowledged: "At 55°F - the ideal temperature - the wines actually evolve so slowly that your grandchildren will probably benefit more from the wines than you do." You may be storing wine for your grandchildren to enjoy, like some chateau owners in Bordeaux have chosen to do in recent years by withholding a large portion of the production. For mere mortals like us, we have decided to follow the practice at one of our favorite château - Château Margaux - by setting our warehouse cellar temperature at 60° F. Just think of the environmental impact a 5° differential has on how much less energy we will consume, and how much greener our wine will be. Not just to be environmentally friendly, our real aim is to let the wine age so we drink the wine we collect in our lifetime, and leave just a few for the grandchildren.
Once the temperature is set, wine should be kept in an odor free environment. The living and breathing wine in a bottle can, through the porous cork, absorb any persistent odor in the surrounding environment. Needless to say, this greatly affects the bouquet and taste of the wine. The environment should also be vibration free. Wine undergoes a slow chemical process while resting in a bottle, any vibration inevitably disturbs the chemical process, preventing the wine from aging at its own pace to reach its optimal potential.
As far as humidity is concerned, the ideal range of relative humidity is 50-80%. The benefit of maintaining the humidity in the cellar is to prevent the corks from drying up. A dried cork lets air, albeit a small amount, into the bottle. It shortens the life of the wine.
If an interior designer has sold you the idea of creative lighting in your cellar so everything glitters, think again. The wine is best kept in a dark place. The various light source cause unspeakable harm to the wine. That is why wine bottles for red Bordeaux are all made of dark colored glass, with the purpose to block out as much light as possible.
Upon purchase, we store our wine in their original wooden case (OWC), in bonded warehouse. Bonded warehouse is a kind of specialty warehouse approved by the customs authorities in its domicile and is subject to strict monitoring and auditing rules. This results in the creation of an audit trail for every case stored in bond, which provides a reliable method for tracing the wine's provenance. Wine stored in the original wooden case (OWC) is most desirable to the market and garners the best price should the collectors ever wish to sell it. This is a standard practice for holding investment grade wine.
London has served as a trading hub for fine wine for centuries. As a result, in the UK, bonded warehouses have built up a trusted reputation over centuries. In our search for wine storage solutions, we have evaluated two leading UK bonded warehouses: London City Bond, and Octavian Vaults. Counting their predecessor companies, both have been in business for over 100 years. While we don't currently hold any stock in these warehouses, they would be our first choices should circumstances arise for us to make some purchases in London fine wine market.
Since all our purchases are made in Bordeaux, we are able to request our wine be shipped directly to bonded warehouse from the cellars at the château or the cellars at the negociant. The bonded warehouse we have chosen to work with is Bordeaux City Bond, a facility majority-owned by the Bordeaux Chamber of Commerce and Vinexpo (the main organizer of Bordeaux's annual wine trade show around the world). Leading negociants in Bordeaux also hold minority ownership interest in this newly established bonded warehouse. Their establishment reflects City of Bordeaux's desire to play a larger role in the trading and storage of their leading export product. Their professional experience is second to none. For our customers, our choice to work with Bordeaux City Bond is another testimony of our determination to safeguard the provenance of the wine we sell.
(Photo credit: the interior look of the warehouse of one of our Bordeaux negociants.)