How to Stock Your Wine Fridge
You've come to the correct place if your wine fridge is full of possibilities (but no actual bottles). What's the best way to go about stocking up? Before you begin, what questions should you ask yourself? What wines are ideal to have on hand and what wines are good to save for the future? In this guide, we'll go through everything.
Wine Storage Primer
What is the purpose of a wine cooler? Because you want your wine to be enjoyable to drink. Warm temperatures (even a little above 75 degrees Fahrenheit) tend to flatten a wine's flavor and aroma; in extreme cases, the wine can taste stewed and raisin-y. If you observe a cork emerging from the bottle's top lip or liquid oozing around the cork, it's a sign that your wine has cooked. This is why you shouldn't keep your wine in the trunk of your car (even if it's just for a brief errand!) or on a lovely rack next to your stove.
Even if your wine isn't burnt, higher temps might accelerate the aging process unevenly. Christian Butzke, an enology professor, says:
"Wine aging reactions varied significantly, which explains why "speed-aging" by raising the temperature alone would not produce a wine that is equivalent to one aged at a standard cellar temperature of roughly 13°C (55°F). Temperature increases of 3.8°C for oxygen uptake, 7.8°C for browning, 16°C for ethyl carbamate synthesis, and 30°C for sulfur dioxide fall in white wines are some instances of temperature increases that would quadruple the aging response rate."
So make sure your wine isn't too hot. It shouldn't be too cold, though, or it won't age well and acquire a more complex flavor and scent. Wine will keep in your kitchen fridge for a while, but it will not improve.
It shouldn't be too hot or too cold. Do you understand now? The majority of reports suggest a temperature of roughly 12°C.
A few extra points: it's preferable if temperature variations aren't dramatic. Temperature variations can cause the cork of the bottle to expand and shrink, allowing oxygen to enter the bottle. A moderate level of humidity is also ideal, as a dried-out cork can allow oxygen to enter. Vibration can also be harmful to the wine in the long run. Some wine coolers try to avoid this by carefully situating the compressor or using specific racks, but it's one of the reasons why many people who want to age their wines for a long time choose a cool basement or offshore storage locker. In extreme temperatures, ice packs can be added, but generally, that old fridge maintains a fairly constant cool temperature without consuming any energy.)
How Much Storage Do You Need?
There's probably a lot more than you realize. Drinking and collecting wine, like many pastimes, can become an obsession, and many people who start with a 20-bottle fridge end up needing a 40-bottle one, while others who start with a 100-bottle cabinet wind up wanting to hire a storage locker somewhere offshore. I like to have both: a small fridge for what I'm going to consume in the next month or so, and an offsite temperature-controlled locker where I can store goods safely for the long term and replace the home fridge once a month or so.
Of course, how much you drink determines your storage requirements. On weeknights, do you drink wine? When you have dinner parties, do you serve wine? Do you save special occasions for opening bottles? I think having a month's supply of wine on hand without having to go to the store is convenient, but if you plan to preserve bottles for years to allow them to develop, that room is unnecessary, at least until you have a line of aged wines ready to enjoy.
The proper size fridge for you also depends on the size of your home and the room where you'll be installing it, the cost of power, and what you want to do with the storage. Even'silent' units create some noise, so you might want to reconsider placing your wine fridge close to your bed.
So you've purchased a Wine Fridge...
Perhaps you already own a wine cooler (thanks, wedding guests!) or plan to purchase one soon. It's time to think about your wine-drinking habits before you go on a wild shopping sweep to fill it up.
The wine you want to consume should be kept in your wine fridge. Taste as much as you can and buy the wine you enjoy, not because some magazine or the points on some shelf-talker advised you to. Otherwise, you're squandering your hard-earned cash on something that could let you down.
The wine you buy will fit into a few different categories:
- Weeknight wine: bottles you'd drink even if you weren't doing anything special, and even if you weren't entertaining.
- Dinner party wine: These are the bottles you'll bring over to a friend's house or serve when you're cooking for a small seated group.
- Cocktail/dance party wine: This is what you'll keep on hand for larger, more wild occasions.
- Wine for special occasions: Bottles that you'd open for a special occasion, such as an anniversary, birthday, or promotion celebration.
- Wine to age: This is the wine you'll keep for a longer period of time.
It's time to consider each of these categories and what might meet your specific requirements in each.
Opening a bottle of wine is a special moment in and of itself, but most people wouldn't spend a lot of money on a wine they're sipping on a dreary Tuesday. Even if a small amount of wine fits into your nighttime budget, it's a good idea to plan ahead so you'll have something delicious on hand when the urge arises.
Set a budget for these bottles and then go to tastings at your local wine shop to find wines that fit the bill. Alternatively, have a party and ask everyone to bring a bottle from a local shop that is within your price range. Then you'll be able to sample a wide range without having to pay for each bottle individually. Keep track of your favorites in a notebook or with an app like Delectable, which lets you bypass the 'writing down the name' step by taking a picture of the bottle with your phone.
Consider the following questions: How often do you open a bottle of wine on a weeknight? Do you like white wine, red wine, or rosé? On weeknights, what kinds of meals do you usually eat? With those meals, what kinds of wines do you prefer?
Consider inviting a few pals over for an evening of takeout and wine exploration if you have a favorite Chinese restaurant and enjoy drinking wine with your moo shu pork or ma po tofu. Pair your meal with German Riesling, Prosecco, a bottle of Chenin Blanc, and possibly some Beaujolais. Keep track of your favorite wines and make sure to include a couple of them in your next mixed case.
Do you make roast chicken on a regular basis? It pairs well with Chablis and Chenin Blanc, as well as Syrah, Gamay, and Nebbiolo. On Fridays, do you order pizza? Chianti and Barbera, Zinfandel, effervescent Prosecco and cremant, fine rosé, and even Muscadet are some of the reds and whites (and pinks!) that mix well with it. Your own favorites can serve as ideal jumping-off places for future investigation.
Are there some things that you simply do not prepare at home? Before you go out and buy wine, think about these things. If you don't like red meat, you might want to steer clear of large, tannic wines that pair well with lamb chops, for example. (Don't worry, vegetarians: if you like big reds, there are vegetarian recipes you can pair them with; but, if you primarily eat fish, it might not make sense to buy Cabernet.)
If you enjoy wine on a weeknight but can't seem to complete a bottle, you might want to look for boxed wines in this category. These wines will keep for weeks if you pour them out one glass at a time (we're talking about the boxes with plastic bags inside, not Tetra-paks). While not all boxed wines are great, there are a few that are. Wines from Wineberry and From the Tank are frequently recommended. These boxes should be kept in the refrigerator rather than on the counter near the oven.
You may not need to set aside space in your regular food refrigerator for weeknight bottles if you have room in your usual food refrigerator. Though we don't recommend aging wine in a chilly, vibrating refrigerator for years, keeping a few bottles in there for short-term consumption is fine—and certainly preferable to putting them on a rack on top of the fridge.
Dinner Party Wine:
If knowing yourself (and your normal dining companions) is important for evening wine, knowing your friends and the type of food you prefer to serve at dinner parties is even more important. You can go out and get a bottle of wine for whatever meal you're preparing, but it's far more convenient to have everything you need on hand so you don't have to make a separate trip.
If you and your pals are serious about wine, you might find up paying a little more here than on evening bottles and designating room in your small wine fridge. It might not be worth it to splurge if your buddies couldn't care less.
Having a variety of wines on hand that are versatile and meal compatible can make your life a lot easier. Sparkling wine, for example, is a great way to start the evening and goes well with a variety of meals. But don't buy it if you don't like it. Having a variety of options on hand can be beneficial:
- Fruity white wines, such as Riesling and Vouvray, pair well with poultry and fish, and can even stand up to hot meals and sweet desserts.
- Whites that go well with vegetables, such as Gruner Veltliner or Sauvignon Blanc.
- For everything from charcuterie to curries, rosé (if you like it).
- Pinot Noir is versatile and goes well with grilled fish or pork chops, burgers, and mushroom lasagna.
- Are you a fan of lamb or duck? The Loire Cabernet Franc is a terrific value and a great match, and you'll be rewarded for branching out into the enormous universe of Italian reds.
- Do you have a tendency to overindulge during your dinner parties? Then think about richer wines to pair with heartier fare, such as creamy Chardonnay or white Rhone blends, or robust reds to pair with butter-basted meat.
- If you eat quite clean, you might find that refreshing whites like Muscadet (typically a good value) and acidic Txakoli or Vinho Verde are more appealing, especially in the summer.
If you frequently visit friends' homes, having a few reds and whites on hand can help you avoid showing up empty-handed; find out what they're cooking before selecting a bottle from your cellar, and the meal will be that much more delectable.
Cocktail party wine:
If you're throwing a party and all of your friends are wine connoisseurs, ask everyone to bring a bottle to share. You can even make a suggestion for a theme! Otherwise, throwing a big wine-filled bash may get pricey, and the truth is that you won't recall every sip you take at a full-fledged party, so now isn't the time to spend a lot of money on rare and unusual wine for everyone.
However, for most people, a party is more about hanging out than consuming expensive drinks, so this is the best time to look for discounts on your favorite items. The same wines you'd buy on a weeknight could be cheaper by the case and perfect for parties, especially if they're light. When you're getting ready for a party, make sure you have both whies and reds on hand.
The amount you should buy ahead of time is determined by your storage situation: don't buy 12 bottles and then keep them near your radiator.
Special Occasion Wine:
While you could definitely buy Champagne on your anniversary at your neighborhood bodega, where the wine is kept in the shop window, could you please do me a favor? Please do not do so. When it comes to purchasing more expensive special-occasion wines, planning ahead can help you get a better deal.
Special bottles are an excellent use of wine-cooler space. In the coming year, there's a good chance you'll have a reason to toast with something wonderful: a special steak meal to honor a promotion, a cheese fondue night for Valentine's Day. If you're in a store and have the opportunity to sample some fantastic Champagne, buy your favorite bottle for the next occasion so you won't have to scramble to find anything at the last minute. Burgundy is on sale at your favorite store? If you can, try a few and pick one for a birthday feast using wild mushrooms. Choose your favorite bottles from a winery and set them aside for a year's worth of celebrations.
One thing to keep in mind is that wide Burgundy and Champagne bottles may not fit comfortably in your wine cooler. If you don't have a secure place to store these wines, don't bother cellaring them. If you remove shelves from your wine cooler, fat Burgundy and Champagne bottles may fit, but the overall storage capacity of the fridge will be reduced.
Wine to Age:
The size of your storage space has a role here. Your wine cooler can keep weekday wines, dinner party wines, and special occasion wines safe, but tasting wines as they age is part of the fun of having a wine collection in the first place. This is a category that requires some commitment, but if you enjoy the flavor of ripe wine, it will pay off.
If you've gathered all of the wines you'll need for weeknight and dinner parties but still have six spots in your wine fridge, you might want to consider creating a queue of mature wines to drink on special occasions. If you buy wines now that will likely taste even better in three, eight, or more years, and you have the space and don't mind paying the energy bill to keep that cooler running, the wines you have on deck aging can be your celebration wines in the future. Many people keep their wine in their home wine cooler for short-term storage and rent a storage container for longer-term storage. One significant advantage is that you will not accidentally access something you intended to save while inebriated. Another benefit is that you don't have to buy a pricy fridge or pay for electricity because these devices provide a constant temperature, no vibration, and adequate humidity. Offsite storage for approximately ten cases turned out to be far less expensive than the 100-bottle refrigerator I desired.
Taste for Yourself
Next up: taste and buy!
Attend some tastings, whether they're held in a local wine shop or in a classroom, or you host them at your house with friends. Free wine shop tastings are certainly the most cost-effective, and frequently include a small number of wines to sample as well as the opportunity to speak with someone knowledgeable about them.
If you see something you enjoy in a shop, a class, or at a friend's house, pull out your phone and snap a photo, perhaps with notes about what it might go well with ('excellent with sushi...try with Thai') if you have the time. As you explore, practice these effective wine buying methods—finding a place where you can trust the curation and have nice interactions with the shopkeepers is crucial to finding wine you like.
Buy by the (Mixed) Case
If you're lucky, the fantastic shops you've discovered along the route will give you a discount if you buy a case, even if it's made up of a variety of bottles. If you have space to safely store twelve bottles of wine and have sampled a variety of wines, take advantage of this offer.
Twelve bottles may seem like a lot of money to spend all at once, but it might be the start of something bigger, so take advantage of the bargain! Before putting your wine away carefully, label each bottle so you remember whether it's for a dance party or a romantic occasion.
Assume you have a 24-bottle wine refrigerator. What is the best way to distribute the available space?
Here's one example:
- If you drink wine on weeknights (say, two or three times a week), you'll need 8 to 12 bottles of weeknight wines for the month. Assume you keep half of these in your kitchen food fridge (maybe the whites) and the other five in your wine cooler.
- Do you have a habit of throwing little dinner parties every two weeks or so? For each night, you'll need 2 or 3 bottles that go with the dish you're currently cooking. This equates to 4 to 6 bottles.
- You'll also want to keep a couple more food-friendly bottles on hand for when you're invited to a dinner party.
- What's on the radar for the next few months? Is it your birthday? Is it time for an anniversary? Is it time for a surprise celebration? Look for a few unique bottles to keep on hand.
- Are you throwing a party? At the very least, you'll need a couple of reds, whites (and possibly rosé or sparkling) on hand. You'll need roughly 8-10 bottles of wine for a group of 20 people who stopover for 2 hours (though friends can bring some to help out.) Are you unable to host? Include a bottle for each party you intend to bring wine to—perhaps one every weekend? Every other weekend, perhaps? These bottles will fill the rest of your wine fridge for the month if you're a large party organiser or party-goer.
Another strategy is as follows:
- Do you open a bottle of wine once a week or so to accompany dinner? That's four wines for a weeknight.
- Twice a month, do you have larger wine-soaked dinner parties? Each night, set aside 4 or 5 bottles.
- Keep two bottles on hand if you go to a friend's place for dinner twice a month.
- Make room in your calendar for Valentine's Day, your birthday, and a surprise celebration.
- You're not much of a party animal? Keep a spare bottle on hand in case of an unexpected invitation.
Goals and a Few More Points to Consider
Slow down. Don't buy any more wine than you can store. Don't go out and buy a bunch of wine you haven't tried. Spending your whole wine budget on wines you don't enjoy accomplishes nothing, and there's no need to stock up on wine for the rest of your life. To begin with, the process of discovering something amazing—the adventure of tasting wine—is a lot of joy. Allow time for those discoveries to happen, and don't rush them.
Decide what you want to concentrate on. Comparing similar wines—even if it's just one bottle of California Chardonnay on Tuesday and another on Thursday—can help you figure out your preferences. You can't judge a location or a grape based on the efforts of just one producer—try a few different Rieslings from Germany, Austria, and Oregon, and see which styles you prefer. Choose your favorite and expand your horizons by sampling wines from various producers and growing locations in the area. With more focus, you'll notice that you have a better understanding of the similarities and contrasts between wines, as well as a better understanding of what wine may be.
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