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the wineanorak's guide to 
storing wine at home 

[Editors note: this is an updated version of an article originally published in Decanter magazine in February 2004]

While the unusually hot summer of 2003 was welcomed by sun worshippers, it was a nightmare for wine lovers without temperature-controlled storage for their wines. Anyone keeping their collection at home without a proper cellar or controlled storage conditions will have risked cooking their precious bottles as the temperatures soared to record levels across the UK.

If you are one of the unlucky ones whose wine was warmed in this way, how much damage, if any will have been done? It’s hard to say. Despite the importance of this subject to the wine trade, there’s an almost complete lack of proper scientific studies on the effects of different storage conditions. All we have are anectdotal observations, and educated guesswork from how heat and light affect chemical reactions in general. Consequently, it’s just not possible to say how much damage exposing a case of 1996 Lafite is going to be done by letting it sit at a temperature of 35 ºC for a week.

What we do know is that wine ages superbly in the sorts of conditions found in underground cellars, and in the absence of proper scientific studies it seems wise to replicate this environment as closely as possible for healthy wine storage (see box). 

Of course, you don’t have to keep your wine at home. There are a number of companies who will cellar it for you. Anyone buying with resale in mind would be sensible to keep their wine with a recognized wine storage company, but for wines intended for consumption, off-site storage has drawbacks. First, it requires careful planning because you can’t just pop in and retrieve the bottles you want. Then there are delivery charges each time you put wine in or take it out—coupled with the annual storage charges, these costs soon mount up. A further factor is that if you take a case of wine out and intend drinking it over an extended period, you’ll likely still require some sort of home storage facility.

As a result, where space affords, most wine lovers find it most convenient to keep some or all of their wine at home. In this feature, I’ll explore the various options for home storage of wine, looking at the choices available for a range of different budgets. 

Perfect storage?
Temperature is the most important factor. Wine ageing involves complex chemical reactions that take place faster at higher temperatures. Also, reactions take place at higher temperatures that wouldn’t take place at all in cooler surroundings. The conventional cellar temperature of 11–12 °C is ideal; wine kept at 20 °C will age faster, but will be less complex and interesting at maturity. Still higher temperatures will cook wine, completely ruining it. Exposure to temperatures above 25 °C should be avoided, and even relatively limited exposure to temperatures above 30 °C might be fatal for some wines. We can’t be sure, though, because proper studies haven’t been done. At the other end of the scale, wine freezes below about –5 °C. Not advisable. If possible, use a maximum/minimum thermometer to monitor the temperature of a potential storage space before you use it. Fluctuation in temperature is also undesirable, because it increases the risk of oxygen getting to the wine. Older wines are far more vulnerable to temperature swings because their corks are less elastic. For this reason, avoid kitchens, attics and centrally heated rooms. Gradual changes (e.g. seasonal temperature swings) are likely to be less damaging than rapid ones. Humidity is important, especially for older wines. A relative humidity of 60% or higher is desirable to keep corks from drying out. Too much humidity, though, and labels will disintegrate, although this won’t harm the wine. Vibration is thought to be bad for wine, although there is little evidence, so it is probably best avoided. Light exposure causes undesirable chemical reactions: although many wines are quite well protected in dark glass bottles, it wouldn’t be advisable to leave them in direct sunlight. 

Under £1000

When people start thinking about storing wine, their first thought is usually to buy a wine cabinet. These come in a variety of shapes, sizes and finishes and represent the simplest option for home storage. They are more than just glorified refrigerators: in addition to maintaining a steady optimal temperature, the compressors are damped or housed separately to reduce vibration, they keep high humidity, and the more expensive models may also have heating units in case the ambient temperature drops too low.  

If you are considering going the cabinet route, some things to bear in mind. Where are you going to keep it? If it’s in the garage or a utility room then the finish isn’t crucial, but in a living area you want it to look right and operate quietly. And what sort of capacity do you want? 150 bottles might sound a lot to someone new to wine, but it really doesn’t take long to accumulate double this quantity.

For under £1000, options are fairly restricted. This sort of budget will buy you a large unit from a cheaper manufacturer, or a smaller capacity cabinet from one of the more upmarket producers. 

Liebehrr makes an extensive range of affordable wine cabinets. They have a good reputation for quality, and the prices are attractive. The most popular unit is the WKR 4176 which has a maximum capacity of 180 Bordeaux-sized bottles and which I’ve seen for sale as cheaply as £659 on internet comparison shopping sites. Some might prefer a stainless steel finish, which comes at a premium of £200+, as opposed to the default Burgundy red. Refrigerator manufacturer Miele make a similar cabinet for around the same price.

While they offer excellent value, there are two potential drawbacks with the Liebherr and Miele units. First, because of their depth – the same as a domestic fridge – the bottles can’t overlap neatly at the neck. As a result the capacity is reduced compared with a similar size purpose built wine cabinet. A second is that the compressor is not designed for operation at an ambient temperatures lower than 8 ºC, so these cabinets can’t be used in an unheated garage or outbuilding.

Also in this price bracket are the Vintec cabinets (distributed by Vin Garde), including smaller units specially designed to fit under worktops in fitted kitchens. Although they’ve only just been launched in the UK, Vin Garde’s Roy Wilson reports that demand is very strong. Particularly elegant is a stainless steel fronted model, priced at £899. They fit some 50 bottles and also offer dual temperature zones. The Corner Fridge Company also sells a range of under the counter units, including a fully integrated model.


For this sort of budget we are still looking at cabinets, although the choice expands quite a bit. Eurocave are probably the best-known manufacturer, offering a wide, high quality range with a variety of finish options. Because these units aren’t modified refrigerators, their dimensions are such that bottles can overlap neatly at the neck, which increases capacity. You can opt for smoked glass doors for a more elegant look – this costs a little extra – or even go for a stainless steel finish, which bumps up the price considerably. Eurocave’s main competitor is Transtherm (available from Vin Garde), whose cabinets offer similar quality and finish options for round about the same price.  Other cabinets in this price bracket worth considering include models by U-line and The Corner Fridge Company.

It’s worth bearing in mind that with wine cabinets there are different combinations of shelving available, with a trade off between capacity and convenience. The most efficient use of space involves stacking bottles on top of each other in a way that makes it tricky to access those at the bottom. Careful planning is required to avoid awkward rummaging around to source that elusive bottle. One cabinet owner I know reckons that the best way to arrange the storage space is according to projected drinking windows. He arranges wines for near term consumption on one shelf, those that need another year or two on the second and so on. So if he has a number of bottles of a wine he might put one on each of the shelves so he can follow its progress as it matures.


If space and budget permit, then you might want to think about constructing your own cellar, using modified air conditioning units designed to operate at lower temperatures. There are a number of ways of doing this. If your DIY is up to it, you can build one yourself. You’d need to partition off a suitable space with stud walls, insulate it properly, add a vapour barrier and then put in a suitable conditioning unit. There are a number of these on the market, including the Fondis ‘Winemaster’ range (available from Vin Garde and The Corner Fridge Company, from £1369) and a range from Eurocave (from £1930). The classic reference work for this sort of cellar construction is Richard Gold’s How and why to build a wine cellar (ISBN: 0932 66454 7).

If this all seems a bit complicated, then there are companies that will do the whole installation for you. The Corner Fridge Company is one of these, and managing director Irwen Martin reckons that the key appeal of this approach is that it’s a cost-effective way of storing a lot of bottles. ‘If you are looking at wine storage the first thought is to get a wine cabinet’, says Martin. ‘My experience is that wine collecting is addictive, and whatever space you think you will need, you’ll have to double it’. Martin reckons that if, for example, you took off 1.5 m from the back wall of your garage, this would make room for 1000 or more bottles for a similar price per bottle as cabinet storage. For state of the art cellar construction, a company called Apex design, manufacture and install custom-built cellar racking. Although they normally supply this for existing cellars, they can also build and install cellars for customers. 

A slightly different take on the walk on cellar is made by Vinosafe. They offer kits for assembling walk-in cellars, and are distributed by both Vinosafe and Vin-Garde in the UK. These modular cellars are easy to assemble – ‘a 12 year old child could do it’ says Vin-Garde’s Wilson – and keep good temperature and humidity levels. They are 1.6 m wide and can be made to any length, holding from 680 to 4000 bottles, and prices range from £5400 to just over £13 000. 

An ingenious option for wine storage is the spiral cellar. It’s a solid concrete cylinder, sunk into the ground and with access through a trapdoor. 2 m wide, the cellar comes in depths of 2, 2.25, 2.5 and 3 m depths, taking up to 1600 bottles. They are commonly fitted in garages and conservatories. There are two big advantages to this option. First, they don’t take up any living space. Second, they are passive cellars, relying on the fact that the temperature just below the ground in the UK hovers around 10 ºC and with several tons of concrete surrounding the wines, fluctuations are kept to a minimum. This means that there are no moving parts to go wrong, nor any electricity bills. According to Spiral Cellar’s Deryn Hemment, the most popular installation is a 2m ´ 2m cellar holding 1000 bottles for £7299. It takes 4 days to fit.

One factor to consider if you’re thinking of constructing a walk-in or spiral cellar is that you can’t take them with you when you move. Therefore it’s worth considering whether they will add to the value of your home, if you are likely to be selling in the short or medium term. This will depend on the area and also the size of your house. If you live in a suitably upmarket location then potential buyers might consider a cellar to be an asset. But if you live in a small suburban 1930s terrace and you’ve hived off part of the kitchen area for wine storage, then you might put buyers off.

Whatever you decide to do, after last summer’s temperatures one thing is clear. If you are buying decent wine, it’s a terrible gamble to risk exposing your precious bottles to the vagaries of increasingly unpredictable climatic conditions, and for storing top wines temperature-controlled conditions are virtually a must.


Supplier details

Around Wine (Eurocave cabinets and conditioning units) 57 Chiltern Street, London, W1U 6NDPhone: 020 7935 4679 Fax: 020 7935 0479
E-mail: eurocave@aroundwine.co.uk
Website: www.aroundwine.co.uk

Wineware (Wine racks and accessories, together with an extensive range of fridges and cellar)
Website: www.wineware.co.uk

Spiral Cellars Ltd, Court House, 23 Woodfield Lane, Ashtead, Surrey KT21 2BQ
Phone: 01372 279166 Fax: 01372 273482
E-mail: info@spiralcellars.com Website: www.spiralcellars.com

Liebherr, Express Way, Whitwood, Nr. Wakefield, West Yorkshire, WF10 5QJ
Tel:  01977 665665 Fax: 01977 665669
E-mail: sales@coolectric.co.uk Website: www.liebherr.com 

The Corner Fridge Company, Unit 6, Harworth Enterprise Park, Brunnel Industrial Estate, Harworth, South Yorkshire DN11 8SG
Phone: 01302 759308 Fax: 01302 751233
E-mail: info@cornerfridge.com Website: www.cornerfridge.com  

Apex  Higher Dairy House, Allowenshay, Hinton St George, Somerset TA17 8TB
Website: www.apexeurope.com  E-mail: chrisb@groupapex.com 

U-line (wine cabinets)
The American Appliance Centre Ltd., 5, The Dencora Centre, Dundee Way, Enfield, Middlesex EN3 7SX
Phone: 020 8506 6600 Fax: 020 8505 8700
E-mail: sales@american-appliance.co.uk
Website: www.u-line.co.uk

Miele Company Ltd, Fairacres, Marcham Road, Abingdon OX14 1TW
Phone: 01235 554455 Fax: 01235 554477
E-mail: info@miele.co.uk
Website: www.miele.co.uk

Tanglewood Wine Accessories (supply Liebherr wine cabinets and Coolmaster air conditioning units), Tanglewood House, Mayfield Avenue, New Haw, Surrey KT15 3AG
Phone: 01932 348720
E-mail: john@tanglewoodwine.co.uk  Website: www.tanglewoodwine.co.uk

Norcool Appliances Ltd, Unit 8 London Road Business Park, Retford, Notts DN22 6BR
Phone: 01777 709900 Fax: 01777 719909
E-mail: info@norcool.co.uk

Wechillit.com (supplies Liebherr wine fridges at discounted prices), Unit 3a/3b, Leighton Centre, Welshpool, Powys SY21 8HJ
Phone: 01938 556688 Fax: 01938 556699
E-mail: info@wechillit.com  Website: www.wechillit.com

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