How to Make the Most Out of Your Wine Fridge

The more time and money you spend on wine, the more important it is to take care of it.

Whether you want to age a few carefully selected bottles, or simply like to keep an array of wines on hand to serve at parties, a dedicated wine refrigerator can benefit all sorts of wine drinkers, not just big spenders or long-term collectors. There are all kinds of wine fridges out there, too, with different capacities and capabilities.

Jessica Hayden, the retail manager at Leon and Son Wine in Brooklyn and an avid collector of natural wines, recommends wine fridges for enthusiasts of minimal intervention wines, which have less sulfites and preservatives than traditional wine and can be vulnerable to the elements.

“Low-intervention or ‘natural’ wines are much more sensitive to storage conditions than conventional wine,” she says. “That $15 bottle of Cabernet you bought at the corner liquor store that you’ll drink next week doesn’t need to be put in a fridge unless you like your wine served cellar temp [around 55°F]. However, if you’re stocking up on [ageworthy, cult natural producers like] Gut Oggau and Matassa you plan to drink a year from now, investing in a wine fridge is probably a wise idea.”

Let’s say you took the plunge and purchased one. Now what? Should certain wines be kept at different temperatures? How do you organize your bottles so you can find the ones you want without disturbing those in it for the long haul? Read on to learn how to get the most out of your wine fridge, no matter its size or contents.

wine fridge
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The best temperatures to store wine

Wine and temperature have an important relationship, explains James Sligh, a Brooklyn-based sommelier who teaches online wine classes called the Children’s Atlas of Wine.

“When you’re serving [wine], temperature is a knob you can fiddle with to change how the wine shows up for you,” he says. “The colder a wine is, the more you’ll notice and bitterness. It’ll feel lighter in body and sharper, and aromatics will be tamped down. As it warms up, it will put on weight, smooth out, and blossom aromatically. Too warm, and it can get a little gloopy and alcoholic.”

If your wine refrigerator has only one temperature zone, opt for a low cellar temperature, around 55°F. Hayden and Sligh prefer to keep their wine fridges at that range because they find it works well for serving and storing wines in one unit.

Whites and reds are best served at different temps. Most wine professionals suggest storing whites around 55°F and reds a little warmer, from 55-60°F. (Though some light-bodied reds, like Beaujolais, can be enjoyable served with a light chill.) Sparkling wines and very light-bodied whites can be served even colder, 43-48°F.

These aren’t hard and fast rules, keep in mind. It’s always flexible—go with your gut about what conditions taste best for the specific wine you’re drinking.

Consistency is key

In addition to temperature, wine fridges keep conditions like humidity consistent, which is key for successful aging. If your refrigerator has front and rear shelves, keep wines you plan to drink within the next few months closer to the door.

“When you’re storing it for the long term, keeping a bottle below 65° or so simply helps protect it from microbial spoilage and heat damage,” says Sligh. “The colder your storage temperature is after that, the more slowly the complex chemical reactions that take place inside a bottle as it ages will occur; a bottle in a 50° cellar will age more slowly than one at 60°.”

How to organize your wine

Hayden and Sligh organize their wines in a loose chronological order, with bottles they plan to pop imminently closer to the top, and those they’re saving on the bottom or lower shelves.

Sligh said a trick of one of his roommates was to stick a red sticker on wines he intended to save, “so that when he was raiding his own fridge in the middle of a party he’d at least pause.”

Those with larger collections might want to organize wines by country or region of origin, keeping all their bottles from Burgundy together, for example. Others sort loosely by taste, grouping reds together, whites together, orange wines together, sparkling wine together, and so on.

In making a purchasing decision and calculating how much space you would need to organize your wines, go larger than you think. Your wine collection just might grow faster than planned.

Even if you’re not ready to invest in a new appliance, your wine can still benefit from careful storage, Sligh says.

“Even if a dedicated wine fridge is not yet within your budget, there are still a lot of ways to store wine that might not be perfect, but are a lot better than putting the bottle on the counter with the salt and cooking oil next to the stove,” he says. Instead, consider “the one room in your apartment that you turn on the air conditioner for; the crisper drawer of your refrigerator; the hall closet.”

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Alex Erdekian is a writer living in Brooklyn. Her food and travel journalism has been published in Thrillist, Condé Nast Traveler, and other publications. To read more from her, visit alexerdekian.com.