How do I store wine?

Not many modern homes are built with a wine cellar, and not many people can afford the luxury of a temperature-controlled wine cellar. However, it would be sad never to experience the delight of opening a bottle of well-matured red wine you’ve been keeping for years for a very special occasion.

When it comes to wine storage, most of us have to make do with the space we have. This may be a small cupboard under the stairs, an unused chest of drawers or a corner of the garage -- or even a space under the bed.

Ideally wine should be stored at a constant temperature of between 11 and 18 degrees C, out of bright light and in a place free from vibration.

Most of us have to settle for second best.

The most important factor of good wine storage is constant temperature, rather than low temperature. Big fluctuations in temperature cause the wine in the bottles to expand and contract, acting like a pump and eventually drawing unwanted oxygen past the cork to spoil the wine. Look for a dark spot away from an outside wall, preferably on the cool south side of your home and, if possible, insulate it by lining it with sheets of styrofoam.

The simplest storage system is just to lie a wine box, complete with its contents, on its side.

There are plenty of commercially available wine storage systems, all of which provide spaces for bottles to lie at the correct angle, with the wine keeping the cork wet so it cannot shrink and allow leakage.

Once you have decided on your wine cellar, how do you decide what to keep in it?

Most everyday white wines are consumed within a day or two of purchase, so it’s not necessary to provide special storage space for these.

Full-bodied, wooded white wines, like Chardonnays, Sauvignon Blancs and some Weisser Rieslings, however, can benefit from a year or two in storage, so set aside some spaces for these.

Red wines vary from light, fruity, easy-drinking quaffing wines to seriously complex, full-bodied reds for special occasions.

Wines that are rich in alcohol and tannins will usually benefit from several years of maturation, growing elegantly smooth and rounded with time.

These are the wines that repay you most richly for your time and space.

Vintage sparkling wines made in the traditional bottle-fermented way can also improve with age, and so can fortified wines, like ports and Muscadels.

Your selection of wines will depend, of course, on your own drinking tastes, but a good all-round cellar will probably consist of about two-thirds of reds and the balance made up of wooded white wines, sparkling wines and a few fortified wines.

So, if your cellar can accommodate only 48 bottles, consider laying down 12 bottles of a good Cabernet Sauvignon, 12 of a favourite blended red, probably Cabernet based, and about 6 full-bodied Pinotages or Shirazes. To this add six good Chardonnays, two wooded Chenin Blancs and make up the balance from Sparkling wine, port and a muscadel or two.

When laying down reds, it is an interesting exercise to buy at least half a dozen of a particular label. This enables you to open a bottle from time to time to judge how the wine is progressing.

It would be very disappointing to have only one bottle of a wine, open it and decide it would have done with another year or two before reaching perfection.

If you are able to splash out on a large, air conditioned cellar don’t make the opposite mistake and buy 10-, 20- or 30-case lots of one wine. It is far more interesting to have a cellar of 100 different cases than 100 cases of only a few distinct types.