In our Ask the Sommelier series, we put your wine-related questions to top sommeliers. In this instalment, head sommelier at London’s Leroy Bradley Tomlinson explains the essentials of wine storage and where to begin when establishing a wine collection and cellaring a wine at home… minus the cellar.
‘I’ve been lucky enough to get my hands on a couple of bottles of premier cru wine and I’m thinking of starting a wine collection at home. How do I store these great vintage wines – and others – without jeopardising the quality in years to come?’
Luca from New York, USA
Sommelier Bradley Tomlinson responds:
‘Keep your wine in the darkest, coldest place you’ve got in your house. The enemy of wine is oxygen first and temperature second – so a consistently cool and dark place is your best bet.
‘The problem with the everyday drinker is that they often keep the white wines too cold and the reds too warm, not just at the table but also in storage. As most people don’t have a basement or cellar, the best thing they can do is keep as much of the wine as possible in the fridge – all your reds, your whites, and your sparkling wines. But of course, there needs to be room for your broccoli, steaks, and hummus, so it might not be possible to keep your whole collection in the fridge.
‘While getting a separate wine fridge is a great idea, not all of us have the room or the means for that. If you’re able to, then get yourself a little 12-bottle fridge. If not, the second-best option is a cool cupboard. To get a consistent temperature, you’re going to need to keep your bottles in a cupboard that’s not too close to the kitchen (or near any other place in the home where the temperature varies greatly). Definitely keep it away from the oven. They’re the hottest part of your house and in my opinion, nothing should go next to your oven, not even your cooking oil – it just ruins the flavour.
Think of your bottles like tiny vampires
‘While temperature is key, it’s important to consider humidity and light too. You want the environment to be humid and dark. Think of your bottles like tiny vampires – they’ll only come out in candlelight under ideal conditions. But don’t worry, you don’t need any specific equipment to achieve ideal humidity, unless you live somewhere very hot and dry. If the conditions aren’t humid enough, then the cork will dry out and let oxygen into the wine, causing it to prematurely age. If it’s too humid, mould will develop on the labels and glue – but this shouldn’t be an issue for most countries, especially in the UK where I live. A dark environment is specifically important for white wines – you’ll want to keep those in a very dark place because light can affect the colour of the wine greatly.
‘In terms of bottle position, it’s all about your cork. You want to protect the cork as much as possible because that’s what’s guarding the quality of your wine. You should be angling bottles so that you have part-oxygen and part-liquid touching the cork, so that the cork doesn’t dry out. If there’s liquid hitting one side of it, the cork itself ages and dries out at a much slower rate, meaning your wine keeps its quality for longer. That’s why you store the bottle either flat or at a partial angle. It’s important to do so, especially for top-quality wines, because once the cork is damaged, then in goes oxygen and that damages the wine.
If you think it might be delicious, put it in the cupboard
‘Once you’ve thought about all the admin of storing your wine, it’s time to think about what kind of bottles you want to collect. My main collection advice is this: If you think it might be delicious, put it in the cupboard. A little bit of reading is helpful too – it’s good to know that your Bordeaux wines need a few years in storage and your Burgundy wines need a little bit less time to age. Do enough reading to know why you wouldn’t hold on to a 2018 Claret, and why, if you’ve got a lovely bottle of Beaujolais, it’s probably ready to drink right away. Basically, be sure to do enough reading to understand why you’re storing the wine at all.’
Interview by Louella Berryman