R5 How to Properly Store and Serve Red and White Wines

Many years ago, I was on assignment interviewing the owner of an import firm, when I happened to mention I had become engaged. The dapper fellow leapt to his feet and disappeared into a closet, returning with a dark, dusty bottle. “My gift to you,” he declared as he dramatically handed it over. “It’s the wine the gods drink whenever they make love.”

How I wish I knew then what I know now about wine storage.

Proper wine storage, I’ve learned, begins with a wine refrigerator. That’s because factors like light, heat, temperature swings, motion, and upright positioning can make wine taste vinegary, burnt, or otherwise “off.” Wine refrigerators hold bottles horizontally in a UV-protected, stationary environment, and can be set to a consistent 55°F, the optimal temperature for wine storage, according to Marshall Tilden III, sales manager with Wine Enthusiast Companies, a Mount Kisco-based retailer of wine products.

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But what type of unit is best? If you tend to buy moderately priced wines that you drink within a few months, you can opt for a thermoelectric wine refrigerator, which relies on an electric current to provide cooling. Most thermoelectric units are relatively inexpensive, costing between $100 and $600. Some are not especially long-lasting, however, and because thermoelectric cooling is not particularly powerful, units are generally built to hold no more than 48 bottles.

If your collection is large or you like to age wines over a period of years, you’re better off with a compressor style. Compressor units have motors, just like your kitchen refrigerator, which means they are built to last and can house anywhere from a few bottles to hundreds. They also tend to be better constructed than thermoelectrics, with wood shelves, higher-quality glass doors, sophisticated digital controls, and pleasing lighting.

Many compressor units can be built into your kitchen or bar area. Bruce Karel, store manager of Leiberts Royal Green Appliance Center in White Plains, notes that some built-in types coordinate with appliance lines, and many have wood shelves and exterior frames you can stain to match your cabinets.

When cocktail hour rolls around, keep in mind that storage and serving temperatures differ. To allow flavor and complexity to come through, Tilden of Wine Enthusiast recommends that whites be served at between 45° and 60°F, with lighter wines like Pinot Grigio on the cooler side and more complex wines like Chardonnay on the warmer side. Reds should be between 58° and 65°F, with fruity types, like Beaujolais, on the cooler side and full-bodied types, like Cabernet Sauvignon, on the warmer. Rosé wines should be between 48°F and 54°F, he says.

An easy, if inexact, way to bring your wine to the correct serving temperature is to remove it from storage and place it in your regular refrigerator (for most whites) or on the countertop (for most reds) for 15 minutes or so. For those who want to minimize the time needed for this step, a good option is a dual-zone wine refrigerator, which lets you separate your reds and whites, setting slightly different storage temperatures for each.

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Alas, my knowledge about wine refrigerators came too late for my poor engagement present, which for years withstood fluctuating temperatures, sunlight, and multiple trips in moving vans. As I’m reluctant to taste the vinegary mess it has surely become, I leave it sealed in my two-year-old wine refrigerator, next to my inexpensive whites and reds—which are tasting great, I might add.

I wonder what the gods would make of that.

Barbara Josselsohn is a freelance magazine writer specializing in home and family topics, and a fan of Pinot Grigio chilled to a crisp 45°F.


Thermoelectric or compressor? Here’s the information you’ll need to make the best wine-storage decision. 

Type Thermoelectric Compressor
Price $100 to $600; larger dual-zone units run to the higher end. $300 to more than $6,000; bigger units with wood accents, better glass doors, and sophisticated digital controls occupy the higher price points.
Avanti, Haier, Danby, Wine Enthusiast U-Line, Vinotemp, GE Monogram, Marvel, Liebherr, Sub-Zero, Eurocave
First Sip Inexpensive and convenient Heavy-duty construction, nice aesthetics
Complexities Not as powerful or well built as compressor-style models Expensive and may be more than you need if you’re not a major wine connoisseur
Nuances Thermoelectrics come in many shapes and sizes, from wide rectangles to thin towers, so look around for the one that best fits your available space. If you are renovating your kitchen, it may pay to choose the same manufacturer for your wine refrigerator and other appliances, since manufacturers often give discounts for multiple-product purchases.
The Finish A good choice if you don’t need to store more than 48 bottles at a time and you tend to drink wine within a few months after you buy it. If you buy good wines and age them at home, you’ll want to opt for a compressor style. 


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Mike Novak of Cross River Wines suggests the following for summer imbibing:

Croix de Basson Rose 2012 
This delicious, salmon-colored blend
of Grenache and Cinsault is from Correns,
the first and only certified organic village in France. $14.99
San Giuseppe Prosecco Superiore
2011 DOCG  

A great summer party starter, brunch
bubbly, or for toasting grads or newlyweds. $14.99
Whitehall Lane Sauvignon Blanc 2011
This crisp, refreshing Napa, California,
patio pounder has a bright, clean, citrusy finish. $15.99
Tiefenbrunner Pinot Grigio 2012 
This 100% Pinot Grigio is crisp, lively,
and topped with a screw cap, making it a
great picnic or beach wine. $13.99


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