Natural wine is a natural product with minimal preservatives, and as such, needs to be treated with care to retain its flavour and quality. In this blog post, we'll share the dos and don'ts of storing natural wine, so you can avoid some of the common mistakes people make when storing natural wine.
The difference between storing natural and conventional wines
Natural wines are made without the addition of preservatives, or at least with minimal preservatives (usually in the form of sulphites). This means they are more susceptible to spoilage than conventional wines, which contain higher levels of sulphur-based preservatives.
While any advice for the storage of natural wine could also generally apply to the storage of any other wine, it is doubly important for natural wine due to its innate delicate nature. Conventional wines are hardier and more resistant to various forms of damage that might come from improper storage, but unfortunately, this advantage comes with the usual drawbacks of conventional wines being full of additives, made with chemically treated fruit, and being significantly higher in sulphites that cause reactions like headaches, asthma, and rashes in some people.
How to store your unopened bottles of natural wine
Depending on how long you're planning on storing your unopened bottles of natural wine, it can be more or less important that you do it correctly. The longer wine is improperly stored, the more likely it is to get damaged and thus be either less enjoyable or entirely undrinkable.
The three things you need to think about are humidity, temperature and light.
What temperature to store natural wine bottles
The perfect temperature range to store natural wine (or any wine) is 11-15 degrees Celsius (52-59 degrees Fahrenheit). This is what's called "cellar temperature" and is ideal for preserving the wine as well as allowing it to age, or develop, in the bottle. A cellar or wine fridge is ideal, but if you don't have either of those things, any cool room in your house will do. Just make sure the temperature is consistent, as fluctuating temperatures can damage the wine.
Storing the wine at a cooler temperature will not harm it, but it will significantly slow down the ageing process and pretty much bring it to a complete stop if the wine is cold enough. Storing wine at a bit higher temperature (15-20 degrees Celsius) is likely okay in the short term (a few weeks or months), although storing it at higher temperatures than this can easily "cook" the wine, giving it oxidative and jammy flavours more reminiscent of fortified wines.
Bear in mind that not all natural wines are built to age, and because they contain minimal sulphites as preservatives, many are best suited to being consumed within a year or two of being bottled, so do a bit of research before making the commitment to set a bottle aside for 10 years in the hope of it being amazing on the other end.
How light affects unopened natural wine bottles
Light can also damage wine, so it's important to store wine in a dark place. Again, a cellar or wine fridge is ideal. If you don't have either of those, any room in your house that doesn't get a lot of natural light will do. Just make sure to keep the bottles out of direct sunlight.
Too much light exposure, particular UV exposure, can lead to a fault called "light strike." Light-struck wines taste really flat, with their aromatic qualities notably toned down. Since the liveliness of natural wines is one of their most appealing aspects, exposing them to too much light should be avoided.
One might think the green-tinted glass wine bottles are often made out of would be enough to protect them from light, but unfortunately, this is simply not the case, with the green pigment only blocking a small portion of incoming UV rays.
What humidity should your unopened natural wine bottles be stored at?
Another important aspect of storage is humidity. Too much humidity can lead to the formation of mould on the cork, which in turn can spoil the wine. Not enough humidity will cause the cork to dry out and shrink, leading to oxygen exposure and thus wine oxidation. The ideal relative humidity level for storing wine is between 50-80%. This can again be achieved using a specialised wine cooler, or simply storing the wines in a room that doesn't get overly dried out by heating or air conditioning.
Fridges tend to be very dry places, so this is one of the reasons why storing your wines in your regular fridge isn't a great idea if you want to store your wines over years or decades to allow them time to age. Short to medium-term storage (up to a few months) is fine, however, if you're looking for long-term storage, a standard fridge isn't suitable, and investing in a wine fridge is likely a good choice for you.
If you live in a highly humid place in Australia like Brisbane or even Sydney at certain times of the year, to avoid mould spoilage or your wines from cooking with the addition of high temperatures, storing natural wines in your fridge is likely the best solution. Just make sure to drink them within a few months.
So in a nutshell, you should store your wine bottles in a cool, dark place that is neither too humid nor too dry.
Should you store your natural wine bottles upright or lying down?
This is a bit of a contentious issue, and there are pros and cons to both storing wine upright and on its side. The main argument for storing wine upright is that it reduces the surface area of the wine in contact with the air, thus slowing down oxidation. The main argument for storing wine lying down is that it keeps the cork moist, which in turn prevents it from drying out and shrinking.
Personally, we think that the argument for storing wine lying down is more compelling, but ultimately it's up to you. If you're going to store wine upright, just make sure to check on the corks every now and then to make sure they're still moist.
How to store your natural wine once it's been opened
Once a bottle of natural wine has been opened, either by pulling a cork or cracking a screw top, its days are numbered. As a rule, all wine (with rare exceptions) starts deteriorating within a few hours of being opened, morphing from a complex, balanced, delicious drink into something bitter and unpleasant. There are a few things that you can do to slow this decline, namely restricting its access to oxygen and reducing the speed of the chemical reactions taking place in the wine itself.
If you do everything right, you can extend the life of your wine from mere hours to several days and even up to a week. Here's how.
The best temperature to store opened bottles of natural wine
Whether your opened bottle of natural wine is white, red, sparkling, or anything in between, once it's opened, store it in the fridge. This requires a bit of foresight on your part, since you probably don't want to drink a red wine at 5 degrees Celsius straight out of the fridge (unless that's your thing!). The best thing to do here is to take the bottle out of the fridge around half an hour to an hour before you want to drink it, enjoy however much you want, then put the remains of the bottle back in the fridge. Better yet, pour yourself a glass and let that glass come to temperature while keeping the bottle in the fridge.
Keeping the wine cold in the fridge at 4 or 5 degrees dramatically slows down the chemical reactions occurring in the wine that causes it to oxidise over time. You can't stop this process for an opened bottle of wine, but you can slow it down by keeping the wine cold in the hours and days when you're not drinking it.
How oxygen is a factor in storing opened bottles of natural wine
The oxygen in the air is one of the main factors that cause natural wine to go bad once it's been opened. The more oxygen the wine is exposed to, the faster it will oxidise and spoil. The first and most important thing to do is to keep your wine bottle closed. Leaving the lid off will cause your wine to oxidise in just a few hours.
Another useful tool is a VacuVin Wine Saver pump. This nifty little tool consists of a rubber stopper for your bottle and a little pump that sucks the air out of the bottle, creating a vacuum inside. With less oxygen inside the bottle for the wine to react with, it will oxidise slower. Just make sure you don't store the wine on its side if you're using these stoppers, as clogging them with wine will damage them and render them useless.
Storing the opened bottle of wine upright in the fridge with a vacuum wine stopper will greatly improve its lifespan. Just make sure to pump the wine every time you return it to the fridge.
Can I freeze my opened bottle of natural wine to keep it fresh?
You should never freeze wine, for two main reasons. First, if the bottle is full, or close to being full, the wine will expand and break the glass bottle containing it, causing a mess in your freezer and even potentially being dangerous. The second reason is that the freezing process will negatively alter the texture and structure of the wine, which we would very much like to avoid!
Is there a way to store opened bottles of natural wine long term?
There actually is a way to store an opened bottle of wine for weeks, and even months without it spoiling, but it does require some specialist equipment. Namely, the Coravin, a wine preservation gadget that extracts wine out of a bottle without opening it. It does this by inserting a needle through the wine bottle's cork and pumping inert argon gas into the bottle. The pressure inside the bottle now causes wine to flow up the needle and out of the Coravin's spout. The missing wine inside the bottle has been replaced with argon instead of air, with which the wine can't react with. Once the needle is retracted, the elastic nature of the cork causes it to seal up the hole the needle made, sealing the wine as though nothing had ever happened.
The system isn't perfect, however, and poking holes in the cork does cause some oxygen to get into the bottle, so over the course of weeks or months, the wine will oxidise. This process can be further slowed by storing the "opened" bottle on its side and sealing the top of the cork with a bit of wax from a candle. If you do this, the wine will last many months, if not indefinitely without oxidising. A Coravin is an investment money-wise, however, if you generally drink your bottles within a few days of opening, using a VacuVin Wine Saver pump will do the trick.
The bottom line on storing natural wine
The best way to store bottles of natural wine before opening is in a cool, dark place, ideally 11-15 degrees, that's neither too humid nor too dry. If you live in a humid, hot environment, or experience warmer, more humid months, store your wine in a fridge, or invest in a wine fridge if you don't have a cool dark room to store them in.
An opened bottle of natural wine will last several days to a week depending on if it's stored in a fridge or not. If you want to extend the lifespan of an opened bottle, you can use a vacuum stopper or Coravin system, but the latter comes at a significant cost. Ultimately, natural wine is meant to be enjoyed fresh, typically within a year or two of bottling, so drink it while it's still at its best!