Wine Talk

Snooth User: Eric Guido

Temp or Humidity

Posted by Eric Guido, Jan 26, 2009.

These last few weeks in NYC have been a roller coaster ride for my passive wine cellar. Usually the coldest it gets is about 49 degrees with an average of 51 but there were times this year with single digit mornings outside over a period of days that the cellar got down as far as 46. What's worse is that the humidity dives when the temp gets this low as well.

Greg mentioned using charcoal to regulate the humidity which I just haven't had a chance to do yet but what I'm really concerned about is the exposure of low humidity over a period of days.

At 35 - 40% humidity, how much danger is there over the course of 4 days to a week?

Also, is there really any problem with my cellar going into the upper-mid 40s on a freezing cold day outside?

Today my cellar sits comfortable at 51.7 degrees and 65% humidity, so I'm not pulling my hair out about this but I am concerned.

Thanks.

Replies

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Reply by Gregory Dal Piaz, Jan 26, 2009.

You have no worries with either temp or humidity. For these brief spells both the low temps and the low humidity are doing no damage to your wines. Over the course of months the low humidity would begin to become an issue but I wouldn't worry about.

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Reply by Eric Guido, Jan 27, 2009.

Thanks Greg, this makes me feel better. There's so much disinformation about what is and is not acceptable when it comes to storage. Gets a guy, that's just starting out with a win cellar, pretty paranoid.

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Reply by Rodolphe Boulanger, Jan 27, 2009.

To continue on what Greg is saying...

At least your temperature is spiking downwards! It would be more of a problem if it was going from the 50s into the low 60s every once in a while.

As you know, the humidity impacts the cork, not the wine. If you were aging wines with screwcaps, you wouldn't care about the humidity levels at all. A bottle with a good cork seal isn't going to mind what the humidity is unless it is really dry. The problem is that most bottles have a less than perfect cork seal and so the humidity impacts the rate of ullage and evaporation from the bottle. Those short 20% drops in humidity are not going to dry out your corks enough to make a difference.

What impact does cellar temperature have on wine? Well, the colder the wine is kept, the slower the rate of its chemical reactions (i.e. aging). The coarse rule of thumb from thermodynamics/kinetics is that reaction rates halve for every temperature decrease by 10 degrees Celsius (18 degrees Fahrenheit). So, the colder you store your wine, the slower it will age.

Of course, the many different aging reactions in wine (oxidation, reduction, esterification, etc.) take place at different rates; some are more impacted by temperature changes than others. This is one reason why, we don't age usually wines for prolonged periods at 40 or 45 degrees. At 55 degrees, conventional wisdom holds that, the "right" mix of reactions is taking place at the "right" rate to produce the desired aging effect in the wine. Another reason we don't cellar wines at cooler temperatures is that they many bottles wouldn't be ready to drink in our lifetimes!

So those few chilly days are just slowing down your cellar's aging a tad. Now what happens to your cellar during NYC's scorching July and August heat waves?

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Reply by Mark Angelillo, Jan 28, 2009.

That's incredible -- so this makes library and cellared wines even less predictable. I bet certain folks who intend to sell their aged wines would do well to guarantee that they took steps to ensure the proper conditions.

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Reply by Eric Guido, Jan 28, 2009.

RBoulanger,

The Cellar did reach 68 degrees last summer but I always rotate my aging bottles into professional storage in early May. I leave my everyday wine in the cellar throughout the Summer and I have a 59 bottle eurocave that holds a few gems so I don't have to pull to often from my storage company.

I tend to build my collection from the Fall through Spring and so each year I have a new batch of bottles that go to my storage company for safe keeping over the long haul.

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Reply by Rodolphe Boulanger, Jan 29, 2009.

@Mark - that's why the best cellars have some very scientific instrumentation measuring temperature and humidity and provide these records on request.



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