Cellar Temperature

What is ideal, and why it's important

 


Last week I began to take a look at cellar conditions -- the good, the bad, and the misinformed. I had written that article to include all the variables, but after covering light, vibration, and humidity, plus the added content on cellar temperature and the effect it has on corks, it proved to be simply too long to include in a single email. In fact, I've even broken this follow-up article down into two pieces, which are both available online.

It's really not very surprising to find that the most important cellar variable -- climate -- deserves the lion's share of attention here. It's not only that cellar temperature is so important, but also that it has been the subject of many years of misinformation and a dogmatic approach that has given 55F/13C almost mythical standing in the world of wine. The question, though, is why cellar temperature is so misrepresented?
So is 55F/13C really the perfect temperature for your cellar? Well, yes and no. Let’s use my cellar as an example. I’ve tracked the temperatures in my cellar and they range from a long period of 55F (the ambient temperature of most cellars, since it’s the average temperature of the earth deeper than about 3 yards/meters below grade level) to a brief peak of about 67F/19C. The rate of change tends to be very slow and steady, on the order of about 1/10 of a degree per day. At this rate, and with this peak, my cellar has consistently produced great wines after 20 and even 30 years.

But can we do better?  I have no doubt that if the temperature of my cellar were maintained at a constant 55F my wines would age more slowly. 55F to a wine is almost like being in a deep freeze; the wine evolves at a glacial pace. I am thrilled when the wines I’ve purchased 20 years ago are drinking well today, so I am not sure I have the patience to store my wine at 55F and then have to wait another 10 years to get to the same state of evolution. So, we begin to see how cellar temperature considerations can be tuned to your needs.

My answer would be that in the perfect world I would have two temperature stages to my cellar, if not three. One at about 65F for the maintaining of current consumption wines. Another section that tracks the annual temperature swings of my current cellar, producing wonderful mature wines, and a last section kept at 52F so that my old, fully mature wines can be kept at peak for as long as possible.

Maintaining proper cellar temperature is the most complex, and frankly the most important aspect of storing wine. Too cool and the wines may outlive us, taking forever to mature; too warm and the wines mature too quickly, or worse. So, there is a just-about-right range. I would suggest that if you have a place that holds between 55F and 70F year round with only gentle shifts in climate, you have the temperature conditions for a wine cellar! The cooler the better to a certain extent, but my wine cellar's average year round temperature of about 60F seems to be just about perfect for me.




This article is part of a three part series on cellar temperature and conditions:

I.    What Makes a Great Cellar
II.   Cellar Temperature
III.  Cellar Temperature and Corks

Similar Topics:

Wine Refrigerator Guide
Wine Cellar Vapor Barriers

Mentioned in this article

Comments

  • Snooth User: DrJohn
    115287 8

    The temperature range in my cellar is virtually identical to the range he describes, and my experience with my wines is also very similar. Avoid excessive heat and sudden change and you will be fine.

    By the way, I live in Virginia near the coast.

    Aug 25, 2010 at 1:47 PM


  • Snooth User: madmanny
    106551 130

    I used to have a natural cellar in the basement, with three sides being below ground. Unfortunately, the underground feature went away due to a house remodel. Can anyone recommend a wine refrigerator/cooler that can handle 300+ bottles, that can keep bottles in good shape for the next 15-20 years?
    Thanks,
    Manny

    Aug 25, 2010 at 2:08 PM


  • Snooth User: moonjockey
    339877 49

    My son goes to college next year and his room in the basement will become my cellar. its in the back of the basement completly underground. Its a 11X12 feet room. I might have to make it smaller.

    Aug 25, 2010 at 2:39 PM


  • Snooth User: RK703
    351866 9

    madmanny - I would recommend Eurocave wine cellars - expensive but one of the best if you plan on long term storage w/ premium wines. Lots of on-line info if you search wine cellars.

    Aug 25, 2010 at 2:59 PM


  • Snooth User: rolifingers
    Hand of Snooth
    434970 414

    This article is very informative. I've learned something crucial here.

    Aug 25, 2010 at 3:12 PM


  • Snooth User: JonKernPA
    247991 10

    nice article(s). what can you tell us about humidity levels?

    Aug 25, 2010 at 3:18 PM


  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 207,895

    Check out part 1 for a few words on humidity levels

    I'm glad this was helpful.

    Manny, we'll be having a round-up of wine fridges in just a few weeks so stay tuned!

    Aug 25, 2010 at 3:28 PM


  • Snooth User: dkellyassc
    512971 12

    Thank you for the informative info

    Aug 25, 2010 at 3:57 PM


  • Snooth User: Don47
    68489 7

    Good article! I have my better wines stored in a German-made Liebherr cooler at 12C/55F. When i move to the states, I intend on getter a EuroCave wine storage unit (unless I have a natural storage situation in the 'new' house. EuroCave is the way to go, from what I've read and seen. A+ product and the original.

    Aug 25, 2010 at 4:02 PM


  • Snooth User: madmanny
    106551 130

    Thanks RK and Greg. Been looking at the Eurocaves but certainly have an open (empty?) mind.
    Manny

    Aug 25, 2010 at 4:04 PM


  • Snooth User: brezza65
    117628 8

    Gregory,
    I recently built a cellar in my basement, with the right insulation and a cooling unit etc. So I can keep the temperature steady (I have it set at 57 but I'm now considering bumping it up a few degrees after reading this). The issue is that the humidity never gets above 50 unless I run a humidifier, which is a big hassle. Do you think it really matters whether my cellar is at 50% humidity or 70%?
    Thanks
    Bruce

    Aug 25, 2010 at 4:31 PM


  • Good article and makes sense, but would love to see a more scientific approach to this topic since 55 degrees is elevated to mythical standing. Take 12 wines from the same barrel / case and subject them to different conditions (different rates of change, different temperatures, etc. ) with blind tasting by experts at 10, 20 or 30 years. When could they discern a difference? Did that bottle of wine really go to pot because it experienced "rapid" temperature changes from say -- 45 degrees to 72 degrees -- within a 24 hour period several times over its 20 year life (if so, what is the nature and mechanism of harm)? Also, is there a scientific (biochemical) basis -- a opposed to traditional basis -- for 55 degrees, as opposed to 45, or 62, or whatever? Is there a wide widow at which the little grapes molecules age just fine, or just a pyramid with 55 degrees at the top with rapid falloff on either side. At what point do really bad things start to happen to the juice (too hot or too cold). I don't think we'll ever know the answer, because no one wants to spend the time or money to study it scientifically, so everyone plays it safe and keeps things stable around 55 degrees. I guess that's fine, except I think it is taken a little too seriously.

    Aug 25, 2010 at 4:39 PM


  • Snooth User: tristaral
    226566 15

    I store wine in a crawl space that I am able to stand in without crouching. The temperatures do get above 70F for a period in the summer, I have never observed it to be higher than 73-74F. The coolest I have observed is 47-48F, and that is not typical. The average during the non summer months is from 54-63F. I have used this space for 14 years and it seems to work well. My question is, how long can wine take the above 70F temps and not "cook"?

    Aug 25, 2010 at 4:55 PM


  • euro cave is great but i have 2 cave-a-vin units one stores 250 and smaller one stores 48 bottles i keep my bottles at 14 C to 15 C , had no problem what so ever , keep your wine away from windows and light and enjoy your bottles :) some of my friends keep their bottles under their beds
    ( even very famous wine maker Andrei Chalitsky ) kept his in this way in a box under his bed in the basements and in the closets in the dark cool place and it is fine as well for a small collection, and some of my other friends have huge build in cellar and they love it as well for myself I have some extra wine case and wine bottles that I keep in a dark cedar storage room in the basement where the temp is about 16 Celsius to 17 Celsius the wine is just fine and I think there are more then one way to:| skin a chicken  just like many of us have found plenty of way to keep and store and enjoy wines, it is like our personality u may need to try few different cellaring option before steeling on the one that is right for you , until then Cheers

    Aug 25, 2010 at 5:15 PM


  • I am a California home winemaker. We have a 2nd home on the central California coast and the garage and my wine area stay at pretty much a 58-62 degree temperature year round. I also have a vinotemp at our 1st home that sits at a constant 58 degrees. I have put identical wines in both places and found that the Central coast storage does mature the wines at least 6 months to a year earlier.
    Regarding Tristaral's question about cooking wine. My experience is that tends to happen above 80 degrees. Wine is regularly sits on shelves in stores and in homes at low 70s temps. Not good for long term storage but also not likely to cook a wine. Somewhere above 80 degrees you will get into trouble. 24 to 48 hours in a closed vehicle sitting in the sun and you are cooked.

    Aug 25, 2010 at 5:15 PM


  • Snooth User: civiletti
    192021 20

    Bruce,

    If your cellars air exchange is not rapid, a pail of water should introduce enough moisture to increase relative humidity significantly. If the air gets too wet, decrease the water surface area open to evaporation.

    Aug 25, 2010 at 5:28 PM


  • Sometimes avoid buying wine that has been sitting or laying on a shelf’s under bright light in the stores , especially in big discounts stores huge chains , they just sit under very bright light on the shelf these light do damage the wine especially if bottles has been unsold for quite a while!!! , I do agree that in a hot car it will cook or bake your wine even after a few hours so do your wine shopping in the evenings just before dinner time. and sometimes at wine show made for outdoor festivals on a very hot humid days it get so hot that some bottles ( especially white wine ) heat up and wines inside get damaged

    Aug 25, 2010 at 5:37 PM


  • My 10' x 15' 1000-bottle "cellar" is a freestanding above-ground farm outbuilding I insulated with foam board and cool with an El Cheapo window air conditioner set at its lowest (unmodified) setting. That keeps the room under 65 in any heat (we're in a semi-coastal area of Marin County, CA) and above 58 or so in winter. I know air conditioners can be modified to cool below the factory-designed minimum, but I've found that unnecessary. For me, a wine cellar serves three functions: easy-access shelving for the $10 stuff we'll drink in the next few months; intermediate-term maturing for the $20-to-50 bottles that need 6 months to 6 years (70% of my collection); and mummification of rarities that really age slowly or otherwise need keeping more than 10 years. I figure 58 to 65 is my best compromise, and it was cheap. A fourth function, bringing whites (and beer) to serving temp. is handled by a pair of mini-fridges sitting near the door.

    Aug 25, 2010 at 5:48 PM


  • Snooth User: Chopine304
    329740 103

    Please hurry on the article regarding coolers for the cellar. I have just framed mine out with 7" walls and am getting ready to do one wall in stone and blow in the foam insulation. I need to pick out a unit soon so that I can frame around the unit.

    Aug 25, 2010 at 7:19 PM


  • I am a little confused on the question of temperature range for wine. With few exceptions, most of the wine stores I visit have their wine on open shelves at ambient temperature? Plus the wine has been shipped to the stores at what I can only assume to be a wide range of temperatures? Why isn't the wine spoiled by the time you buy it?

    Aug 25, 2010 at 7:24 PM


  • Congrats on another fine article. The whole temperature discussion is very timely. I've just suffered a terrible accident in that department. Let me explain.

    I built a "cold room" in my basement a few years ago. The room measures 6 x 10. I have wine racks on one side. It's partially underground (about 4 feet down). I put two 3" vent holes (one high, one low) to have some air circulation. Winter temperatures vary between 11 and 14 Celsius, and it gradually goes up to about 19 degrees during the for the summer. Soooo....
    I had a great idea. I purchased a portable A/C unit and hooked up the heat evacuation pipe to the vent holes. That brings my temp down to 13 - 15 Celsius. Humidity stays in the 60 - 70% range. Pretty good.....

    The problem happened on the second day where sometime during the evening or night the heat evacuation hose detached (no one to blame but myself) and by next morning the temp in the room had shot up to 35 Celsius (this is the part where I start to cry). Everything cooked including a couple of bottles of old vintage port. A few of the bottles leaked a few drops from the corks.

    Please, please, please tell me that all is not lost........

    In reality I've only started stocking wines in the last year or so, so I'm talking about 14 "good" bottles in addition to the everyday stuff.

    Still, please give me a glimmer of hope.....

    Aug 25, 2010 at 9:16 PM


  • one of my cellars is five degrees colder and the wine matures more slowly at
    55 degrees. but the humidity is best for very good wines at 65-80..and i rate temperature very much with humidty

    the cellars in burgundy can be at 40 degrees. and it is hedonistic to drink
    (rareley) a 47 or a 49. and naturaley they are much fresher than here

    in our n.y. burgundy chapter here,we do enjoy them

    jacksonfrish@aol.com

    Aug 25, 2010 at 9:36 PM


  • Snooth User: phagar
    341038 147

    As the lucky LUCKY winner of the Snooth survey grand prize earlier this year, I now own the Transtherm Ermitage wine cellar, which I love. And I'd been wondering what the best temp to set it for might be. All of the 145 bottles inside are reds, and I've been keeping it at 60. I've never been at all good on holding onto wines for very long - when they taste so good right now, why wait? But I'd like to hold onto some of them to see how they age. I'd been thinking about lowering it to 57 or so, but it sounds like 60 is just the right temperature for me.

    Again, Snooth folks, thank you SO MUCH for the best prize I've ever won - and I found out about it on my birthday!

    Aug 25, 2010 at 10:17 PM


  • Snooth User: debare
    235813 21

    Scottywine writes
    I am a little confused on the question of temperature range for wine. With few exceptions, most of the wine stores I visit have their wine on open shelves at ambient temperature? Plus the wine has been shipped to the stores at what I can only assume to be a wide range of temperatures? Why isn't the wine spoiled by the time you buy it?
    * * * * * * *
    This is exactly my question. At some point, in the journey from the winery to your house (unless you bought it directly from the vintner) the wine is going to be subject to less than ideal travel and storage conditions (especially coming from overseas). And as a result, I'm sure I've had wines that were highly rated by Robert Parker and Wine Spectator that fell far short of expectations. How can you tell if a wine has been spoiled by its previous handling, especially when you are picking up older vintages that are already 8-10 years past bottling? I've picked up some Rockford 2002 Basket Press Shiraz recently and am now a little concerned that I'm going to get less than I paid for in terms of quality. Moreover, is it possible to 'redeem' a wine by storing it in more ideal conditions for a period of time or once it's spoiled by temperature or humidity is it too late for 'salvation?' Thanks.

    Aug 26, 2010 at 7:25 AM


  • My cellar stays precisely at 55 degrees. Like some of the other folks who commented, I have trouble keeping the humidity level above 50 percent. (Okay, it doesn't help that I live at 8,000-feet above sea level in Evergreen, CO and the average humidity is 11%.) I have solved this problem by filling containers with silica sand and keeping that sand covered in water. The humidity level is now as high as 65% when conditions are perfect.

    My other major comment is that trying to get the wine to "open up" is very difficult because of the lack of oxygen at that altitude. I have partially solved this by creating a massive collection of decanters.

    Aug 26, 2010 at 7:57 AM


  • Snooth User: homestar
    512161 83

    http://www.wineperspective.com/STORAGE%20TEMPERATURE%20&%20AGING.htm

    Aug 26, 2010 at 8:02 AM


  • Years ago I ask Robert Parker if my 55 degree cave was too cold for my then young 1982 Bordeaux, his answer was yes, raise the temperature if you want to drink them in your lifetime. I cranked the conditioner up to about 62 degrees and thanks to M. Parker, I'm enjoying my classic "82's. A votre sante, Andy

    Aug 26, 2010 at 10:56 AM


  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 207,895

    Lots of question here. I'll take the time to go through them soon and answer what I can here but it looks like there are a few that are worthy of more detailed explanations!

    Thanks for all the feedback.

    Aug 26, 2010 at 3:29 PM


  • Time is the essence. If you drink your wine within two years of vintage, don't even bother to cellar it, provided it's not stored in the clothes dryer. Good wine will live and develop into something precious at temperatures between 15 deg and 22 deg, as long as the temperature doesn't fluctuate much. Change is the problem. Screw-capped bottles still change and develop, only more gracefully.

    The Basset.

    Aug 26, 2010 at 7:16 PM


  • Good so far, but some info on the relative risks of temps 33-50F would be useful. Also what about the risks of a few weeks at 70F in summer. I have stored wines in my basement since the late 1990s and have not discovered bad effects of this range. Recently I have taken to putting my age-worthy wine in the fridge when the basement reachs 65. I dont do controled experiments, but my wines taste just fine. With all the interest and $$$ in wine why has someone not done controlled experiments? If so where are they? Time for some serious wine science. Let's hear it from Davis and Ithaca!!!

    Aug 27, 2010 at 5:21 PM


  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 207,895

    The main risk of 35-50F is mummification. Nothing really happens to the wine, it just sits there. I have been fortunate enough to try two bottles from the Glamis castle cellar. Both at around 100 years of age. Phenomenal wines, but at that rate I'm buying wine for my grand children. I want to drink this stuff, every last bottle (well almost).

    Ambient air temperature is very different than what your fluid temps might be particularly for those bottles close to the ground. I wouldn't worry about it for wine store 20 or so years.

    Yes they will develop more quickly but the flip side is they will be ready sooner.

    Frankly I don't know of anyone who has actually done controlled experiment on this. I've read over and over about the theoretical effects, but anecdotaly it just doesn't seem to be born out.

    Aug 27, 2010 at 7:03 PM


  • Being a new collector of age able wines,my question at this stage,
    Would be;If you only have one of a kind samples--When to drink
    The precious investment? As every cellar age differently,
    One tip was;When you can see through it.I must have been way
    To eager to drink,and not age wines.I have seriously never been
    Able to see through any of the syrah or cabs,that I fell in love with

    Sep 01, 2010 at 12:01 AM


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    569010 0

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    Sep 01, 2010 at 3:36 AM


  • Snooth User: luca chevalier
    Hand of Snooth
    533661 2,535

    ......and so the french call the two cellars CAVE de YOUR and CAVE the NUIT...
    the first is the one you use for the wine you think to drink in a short period (16°C so wen you put the wine in the glass that is 20° - 22°C you have the perfect temperature for reds 18°C)....the second is for long term ageing (and for withe wine...10° - 13°....)....

    Sep 11, 2010 at 3:31 AM


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