A Beginner’s Guide to Basement Wine Cellars

Posted by Barterhouse on July 27, 2020

In E.A. Poe’s 1846 macabre thriller A Cask of Amontillado, wine connoisseur Montresor lures his friend Fortunato down into the catacombs where he stores his large collection of wines. With the carnival going on in the streets above, Montresor vengefully buries Fortunato alive. Although Montresor makes disturbing use of the catacombs that hold his wine, having a cool, dry place to store his precious casks of Amontillado was as important then as it is now. However, today’s wine lovers often turn to their own basements to store their cabernets and merlots. It’s much more ‘red wine’ than it is REDRUM.


Why Does Wine Need to be Stored Correctly?

For many wine connoisseurs, fine wines are an investment in a flavorful and profitable future. Storing wine correctly is imperative to ensuring the wine will age well, and the investment will remain intact. Although your liquor cabinet filled with vodka, bourbon and rum will last indefinitely, wine has a lower ABV (alcohol by volume) content and therefore, will go bad if not preserved correctly. Maintaining the flavor and aroma of wine is extremely important, and has to do with preserving the polyphenols. Polyphenols, which form a complicated connection of hydrogen and oxygen molecules, polymerize into long chains and smooth out the flavors as wine ages. Tannins are the most important of these, and occur naturally in grape skins. Storing wine correctly keeps the tannins intact and leads to a more flavorful, aromatic wine.


Why Can’t You Just Store Wine in the Basement?

Keeping a stable temperature is imperative for a wine’s longevity. Depending on where you live, temperatures fluctuate vastly during a typical year. Many homes, and especially basements, are not properly insulated, and this change in temperature, even small incremental changes, can wreak havoc on a delicate bottle of wine. Additionally, humidity needs to be balanced to keep a bottle of wine in top shape. In a humid space, moisture breeds mold and can also degrade the bottle labels and glue, but too little humidity can lead to the cork drying out and letting air in the bottle. Basements often have cracks in them, especially in climates with significant temperature variations throughout the year, which change the air and humidity qualities and hurt the wine. Finally, basements smell musty and damp. If that smell leeches into your old pictures and papers, imagine what it will do to a nice bottle of wine. Clearly, you cannot store great bottles in your dank basement.


What Do You Need to Do This Right?

Starting with a finished basement is the key to success. Making sure to seal the floors and walls, and adding insulation will set you on the path to proper wine storage. There are two schools of thought on temperature for wine storage: passive and active. Passive storage is not temperature controlled, and active is built like a walk-in fridge with very precise settings. Also, the wine owner has to decide if the cellar will be built for utility, showmanship, or both. Will you want to bring friends down to see a fancier setup, or is proper refrigeration sufficient?

Choosing a wine cellar cooling unit is the best way to ensure quality for the life of each wine bottle. The best wine cellars demand a constant temperature of 45-65 degrees. Even though basements can sometimes regulate this temperature, the humidity level is even more important and it is difficult to maintain. Ideally, the humidity should be between 50-70 percent. Your basement wine cellar should also be dark and vibration-free. This will help you make sure you don’t weaken the flavor of wines over time.

Finally, wine connoisseurs can enjoy choosing a wine rack. Bottles should be stored sideways to ensure the cork stays wet. Organizing your wine collection and knowing what you have will allow you to make the most of your wine, and the key to that is a great wine rack.

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