Cellaring in the Refrigerator
Copyright 2001 by Robin Garr. All rights reserved. Originally printed July 16, 2001. For more information go to www.wineloverspage.com.
Don't store your wine in the refrigerator. This is one of the first rules that the budding wine collector learns, and the conventional wisdom is firm: Unlike cellar units explicitly designed for wine storage, the refrigerator is too cold for wine to mature properly. Worse yet, experts say, the compressor motor causes vibrations that will damage wine over the long term.
But let's look at the other side: Conventional wisdom or no, just about all of us will pop a white wine into the refrigerator to chill it before serving; and if you're like me, you don't worry much if the wine stays there for a few days, or even a few weeks, before you get around to it.
So how long is too long, and how cold is too cold?
This topic comes up from time to time, usually in midsummer; in fact, we discussed it in a Wine Advisor article just about this time last year, and again - with particular reference to the effects of freezing temperatures on wine - last winter. But it's worth revisiting this question because the refrigerator offers such a tempting alternative for wine lovers who don't care to invest in pricey wine cellars.
Unfortunately, this is one of the many wine questions that doesn't have a clear-cut answer. For long-term cellaring with the goal of bringing "collectible" wines to a peak of maturity, the ideal "cellar temperature" is about 55F (13C), which not coincidentally is the natural temperature of underground caves. But this is a tricky environment for the average household, as it's much colder than room temperature but substantially warmer than the refrigerator.
In my opinion and experience, if you have to choose, it's less harmful to keep wine a little too cold than a little too hot. I often stick white wines in the refrigerator and occasionally end up "losing" them for weeks or even months without terrible consequences. (And, in case you were wondering, nothing bad happens if you chill a wine, then let it return to room temperature before serving.)
So if you like your wine cold - or even if you're worried about your wine suffering from extreme heat during the summer time - I really wouldn't think twice about putting a few bottles in the fridge.