The general rule that most of us follow when it comes to drinking wine is that white and rose wines should be served chilled and red wines should be served at room temperature. To get those white and rose wines chilled, many of us put them in our regular refrigerators and let them chill for hours, days or even longer. But is that a good idea?
I asked Tina Morey, a certified sommelier who runs the #winestudio education program, a few questions to help get a handle on the best way to use the refrigerator for wine.
Kitchen refrigerator vs. wine refrigerator
The guidelines here are for a standard kitchen refrigerator, not a wine refrigerator. Wine refrigerators are specifically designed to create an optimal environment for wine, including having a beneficial temperature and the right humidity (about 57 percent) to keep a wine cork moist. A standard kitchen refrigerator is the antithesis of that. It is colder than a wine refrigerator and is designed to have zero humidity. As a cork dries out, it begins to shrink and more air will seep into the wine.
"As a general rule of thumb, you should never keep wines in the fridge for more than a month because they are not designed for a bottle of wine," Morey says.
Still, if a kitchen refrigerator is the only one you have (it is the only one that I have), putting wine in it is fine, if you follow some guidelines.
When to put sparkling wine in the refrigerator
You'll often hear the advice, "You should always have a bottle of bubbly in the refrigerator in case an unexpected reason to celebrate happens." While that's not a bad sentiment, almost all sparkling wines — including Champagne, prosecco and cava — will have the same lack of moisture problem.
"Sparkling wines have natural corks," Morey says. "They should only be in the fridge for two or three weeks."
So how do you always have a cold bottle of bubbly on hand for an unexpected celebration? My advice is to celebrate something at least once a month. You don't even have to wait for a celebration to pop open a bottle of Champagne or other sparkling wine. It's very food-friendly so if you have a bottle that's been in the refrigerator for about three weeks, drink it with dinner. Then put another bottle in the fridge, just in case.
When to put white or rose wine in the refrigerator
White and rose wines can go in the refrigerator, but shouldn't be in there too long — a month at most.
"The wine is going to oxidize a bit over a month," says Morey. Any wine with a cork is always oxidizing at an incredibly slow rate, but as a cork dries out in the refrigerator because of lack of moisture, it will oxidize more quickly than if it was stored outside of a standard kitchen fridge.
If you want to keep a bottle of white or rose wine in the refrigerator long term, just in case the need arises when a wine-loving friend pops by unexpectedly, make it a screw cap or one that you know has a synthetic cork. Those closures aren't as reliant on the moisture level to keep the wine from oxidizing more quickly than desired.
When to put red wine in the refrigerator
Very few red wines need to be completely chilled before drinking with the exception of sparkling wines like Lambrusco. But reds can benefit from being in the refrigerator after they've been opened.
"Once you open a bottle of red and are done drinking it, keep it in the fridge. Everything goes into an arrested state in the colder temperatures. The wine is still aging but it's oxidizing slower than if it was on the kitchen counter," says Morey.
When you're ready to drink the wine, take it out of the refrigerator about a half hour before serving to bring the temperature back up.
Morey advises putting reds that have a high alcohol level in them —14 percent or higher — into the refrigerator for a short while before opening in order to temper the alcohol in them.
Other tips for keeping wine in the refrigerator
- Always keep unopened wine with a natural cork lying down in the refrigerator. "The number one thing with storing wine is you always want the wine to be in contact with the cork," says Morey.
- Keep unopened wine away from where the motor is in the refrigerator where the most vibrations happens. Wine does not like vibrations.
- When closing a bottle of open wine before putting it in the refrigerator (or even keeping it on the counter), seal it as tightly as possible by putting the cork back in or using a wine stopper that fits really well. Morey even recommends a wine condom, which is exactly what it sounds like — a plastic cover that looks like a condom and rolls over the top of a wine bottle to form a tight, virtually spill-free seal.
To learn more about wine from Morey, you can hop on Twitter most Tuesday nights at 9 p.m. ET for her #winestudio Twitter chats (@winestudioTINA). She and other wine professionals, including me (@rshreeves), participate in an hour of interactive wine education. Questions and comments are always welcome and encouraged during the chat.