There are a lot of ways to store wine, from simple racks in a cool room and little glass-door refrigerators in the kitchen, to purpose-built room-sized storage areas, including variations on the traditional wine cellar. You don't need to dig a cellar or move into a cave.
Ted and Barbara Frohling are fans of good wine, and they had Tucson architect Leo Katz include an attached, slightly below-grade wine-storage room when he designed their burnt-adobe home in the 1990s. It's roughly 10 feet square and connected to the home's great room and will hold about 1,200 bottles, but is too small to use for anything other than storage.
"It's not a cellar cellar," says Ted. "I'd say it's a small room that's attached to the house by our great room. There's a door to enter it and it goes down 4 feet below the grade of the great room floor, so it's a little bit sub (subterranean). The house is stabilized adobe, 16 inches thick at bottom, tapering to 12 inches up around the parapet. There is some thermal benefit."
Frohling said they also later added some foam above the ceiling of the wine room for further insulation against solar heat gain.
And while the floor of the room is about 4 feet below ground level, it doesn't get as much of a cave effect as might be experienced in more northerly areas.
"After it was constructed we thought that we wouldn't need to cool it. I think the second summer we realized it wasn't going to stay cool enough just from being in the ground, and we actually had to put in a Vinotemp air conditioner in the wall. We keep it around 60-ish instead of (the recommended ideal) 55 (degrees), but it seems to be fine," Frohling said.
On the other hand, he said the humidity stays within the recommended range (around 50 percent) without any outside help. Humidity around 50 percent is desirable to keep corks from shrinking and leaking. It probably helps that the home already had the temperature stability that comes with its thick adobe walls; air conditioning dehumidifies.
"I thought I'd have to deal with that," Ted said. "I had garbage cans with water, but it was staying around 50 percent."
They have, he estimates, between 600 and 800 bottles in storage, some of it high-quality wine, but nothing valued much over $100 a bottle - and probably far less when they bought it. Frohling said they belong to a handful of wine clubs that send out selections at regular intervals, and they also sometimes buy by the case when traveling in California.
The storage space is coming in handy and filling up, he says. "We're not drinking it as fast as we used to," Frohling said.
When considering wine storage, the impact on their home's clean, open style was as important as proper temperatures and humidity for Stephen Buckmore and Nancy Turman. Their midtown home does not have a basement or separate area easily converted for wine storage.
Buckmore is a representative for a local wine distributor and said he could easily be overwhelmed trying to store all the products he's asked to sample. But he said they've chosen to keep a modest inventory, a few dozen bottles, mostly for short-term storage just until use rather than for investment.
Even so, finding a place without dedicating too much space or cluttering up their home was a challenge.
They started with a side-by-side pair of Marvel 24-bottle, temperature-controlled, glass-door, cabinet-height units built into a nook in their living room, right around the corner from the kitchen.
Buckmore got a friend to make a stainless-steel countertop that matches the stainless doors of the Marvel units. And he installed a cabinet with three frosted-glass doors above, where they store wine and other bar glasses. The cabinet's narrow, exposed frame is made of wood that matches the uprights on the face of the wine-storage units.
The Marvel units use glass that blocks UV light, which can damage wine even when in temperature-controlled storage.
A simple wooden rack system in a hall closet in a cool part of the house handles the rest of their collection.
Storage tips and guidelines:
• Most experts say wines won't be damaged by slightly fluctuating temperatures and humidity in the short term. Some sources say wine can even survive short periods near 100 degrees. But long term - multiyear or even decades-long - storage should be done within the recommended temperature and humidity parameters.
• If you find a wine that you hope to keep and drink much later, from many months to years or decades later, experts say it should be kept at a steady temperature and humidity and be protected from light as much as possible. The constant, cool temperature steadies and slows the aging process. Experts vary, but most say a temperature in the 50s is preferred for long-term storage. But merely refrigerating it to that temperature may not be enough, as refrigeration also lowers humidity and can dry out corks. Adequate humidity, ideally between 55 and 75 percent (not so high as to damage the label, which could lower the bottle's value) keeps the cork from drying out and leaking - which lets air in, causing oxidation, and can let bacteria in that will damage the contents. Light, over long periods, can damage wine by causing an unwanted chemical reaction.
• Wine bottles should be stored horizontally, so that the cork is in contact with the liquid and won't dry out.
• Just as most art and auto collectors will tell you not to buy a painting you don't like to look at or a car you wouldn't want to drive, wine experts say not to count too heavily on the growing value of most wines. You may have to settle for the pleasure of drinking it.
• If you're storing wine in the open, even if only for a few days, keep it out of the light. Heat from light coming in windows can dramatically raise the temperature in a bottle, damaging wine. And light itself is damaging to wine, particularly whites.