Last weekend, I made a startling discovery as I opened the door to my wine fridge to make space for a couple bottles that I’d just brought home: A thick layer of ice coating the entire back inside wall of the unit. The bases of some of the bottles were even awkwardly frosted into place, like Ötzi the Iceman.
The good news: The contents of the bottles were not frozen, and no corks appeared to be pushed out. And, contrary to popular belief, modern winemaking technology and skill are such that wine can take one heck of a temperature-swing beating before bad things start to happen to it. The question, though, was what to do next in order to keep the wine cool yet remove the ice.
First, I removed the bottom six or seven bottles from the unit (it holds about 35 bottles total), and put them in my other, tiny wine fridge that holds about 16 bottles. In lieu of a second wine fridge, the regular refrigerator would have been sufficient, just dialed up a setting or two.
Next, I folded a bath towel and placed it in the bottom of the fridge, turned it off, and left the door open by about half an inch, overnight. In the morning, all the ice had thawed and the moisture had been absorbed by the towel – and the bottles were still reasonably cool to the touch. I removed the towel, replaced the bottles, and turned the wine fridge back on – to a warmer setting than it had been on previously. I noticed a day later that a very thin layer of ice had started to form again at the back of the fridge, but nothing like the glacier that had built up there before. I’ll just keep an eye on it from now on, and make sure the ice doesn’t accumulate again.
The bigger question, though, is how to store your wines if you don’t want to invest in or maintain a wine fridge. Here are a few tips:
1. Keep the wine in the most consistently cool part of your house.
That could be a closet or a basement – it doesn’t matter. Wherever the temperature stays below 70, that’s just fine for anything you plan to drink over the next several years. A little cooler would be better (optimal temperature is about 56-60 degrees), so the wines might age at a slightly accelerated rate as you approach 70 degrees, but we’re not talking days or weeks by any means. If the wine was made to last for years, it will do so as long as the temperature is consistently below 70.
2. Bite the bullet and get a wine fridge… on Craigslist.
That 35-bottle unit I mentioned above sells for $400 online. I paid $115 for it on Craigslist, from a guy a few blocks from my apartment who decided to move to Malta. And, with some creative stacking, I have 40 bottles crammed into the fridge. My mini wine fridge that holds 16 bottles has an extra four or five stacked in there, but it also cost more than $200 at Home Depot. Lesson learned: Go with Craigslist first.
3. If you have a second, regular fridge in your garage or basement, use it for wine.
Put the fridge on the warmest setting, and stock it with wine. The warmest setting on a regular refrigerator is usually about the same as the coldest on a wine fridge. Take out the racks and stack the bottles on their sides – they’ll be just fine. So what if the door is opaque? You needn’t show off all your wines, all the time (in fact, limiting exposure to direct sunlight is a good thing).
4. Your regular fridge is ok, too, if it has enough space.
Just turn the dial up a bit, since a refrigerator’s coldest setting is just above freezing. Make it just a little warmer, and load in your wine. A couple degrees higher won’t affect your food one bit. The entire bottom shelf of my refrigerator at home is jammed full of beer, Champagne and white wines ready to be opened. All my food is perfectly cold.
5. Don’t worry.
Even if your house or apartment tends to get very warm, it’s usually only for short periods. Most wines made today can handle a little temperature fluctuation and still taste great – just think about the fact that all the imported wine you drink had to sit on a container, on the ocean for several weeks, before it landed here in the U.S. You only need worry about extended periods of extreme heat or cold, and if you see the corks distended or leaking. Other than that, a relatively warm room won’t hurt your wines much at all, especially if you plan to drink them over the next year or so.
Have a question about what to do with your wines? Post it in the comments section below.