A lot happens to a bottle of red wine as it ages. Red wine is a complex and evolving solution of chemicals and organic compounds: water, ethanol, glycerol, tannins, phenolics, organic acids, anthocyanins, and flavanols. As it ages, its color deepens, its taste mellows, and its bouquet expands. This delicate chemistry is governed by several different factors, such as light, vibration, and humidity, but the most important factor by far is temperature. Storing wine at the wrong temperature can ruin it in a few hours. Storing it at the right temperature can preserve it for years.
Effects of Heat on Red Wine
The pace of chemical reactions is driven by the amount of energy in the system they’re in. As energy levels rise, the rate of reaction increases. Changes that may have taken place over several years at low temperatures might happen in as little as a few hours at high temperatures.
Not every chemical reaction has the same heat threshold, however. Some require small amounts of heat while others require more. In wine, which contain over 1,000 different chemicals, adding heat destroys the internal chemistry responsible for its flavor. Tannins, for example, tannins polymerize at low temperatures while sugars ferment at high temperatures. Adding heat also accelerates the formation of acetic acid, one of the main components of vinegar, and disturbs the formation of esters, one of the main flavor components of wine.
Effects of Heat Fluctuation on Red Wine
The only thing worse than storing your wine at the wrong temperature is storing it at an unstable temperature. Temperature fluctuations cause wine to expand and contract, which puts a lot of pressure on the cork. It loosens and recedes, allowing wine to seep out and oxygen to seep in. Oxygen not only encourages bacterial growth, but it also harms the wine’s phenolic compounds and gives it a stale, astringent taste.
Ideal Red Wine Storage Temperature
The ideal temperature for red wine is 55°F. At this temperature, the chemical processes in the wine proceed roughly in tandem and any lingering bacteria are held in check. Temperature fluctuations should never exceed 5°F in either directions, so storing it in a wine coolers or wine cellar, away from major heat sources, is essential.
Under these conditions, most red wines can last for years without spoiling. Modern wines, at least the majority of them, are sold ready-to-drink. They won’t benefit from additional aging, so the purpose of most wine coolers isn’t to improve your wines, but to protect them from the environment, preserving them precisely until you’re ready to drink them.
Got your own wine storage tips? Tell us about them down in the comments section, or visit our learning center to learn more about red wine’s ideal storage temperature.