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What is the best humidity for storing wine? Ask Decanter

As well as temperature, what should the humidity levels be like in your wine cellar...?

Valentin Voinov, Canada, asks: I am planning to build a small cellar in my basement, where the temperature ranges between 18°C and 19°C all year round, with a humidity of 35-55%. I know the ideal for cellaring is 11-12°C, but is the range of 18-19°C still appropriate?

Sebastian Riley-Smith, founder and MD of Smith & Taylor, specialising in the storage and management of wine, replies: Your enquiry touches on two core wine storage considerations – humidity and temperature. Fashions have changed.

Fifty years ago, an underground ‘wet’ or damp cellar was deemed perfect for wine, and rightly so. Now, lifting or soiled labels are considered an impediment to the fine-wine dining experience, though commercially minded producers are applying more damp-resistant labels, taking a lead from the Champagne houses.

Though your humidity range estimate of 35-55% offers no likelihood of label loss or deterioration, low levels of humidity will, over time, damage your wine.

The best humidity for storing fine wine is 65-70%, allowing the best corks to permit only 1mg of oxygen to enter the bottle per year. This moderates the process of wine developing complexity, softening tannins, and keeps the identity and vital statistics secured to your bottles. A fluctuating temperature range of 18°-19°C is immaterial – it is the level that is not appropriate.

Tutankhamun knew how to protect wine. His tomb, discovered deep underground more than 3,000 years after his burial, contained 40 wine storage jugs. Today’s vessel – glass bottle and cork – lain on its side at 13°C does the same, but for the living.

The appropriate temperature is 12°C-13°C. Higher temperatures accelerate detrimentally the change in colour, aroma and taste – as the amount of free SO2 diminishes, the wine becomes more susceptible to oxidation. Back to cellar basics!

This was first published in the July 2021 issue of Decanter magazine.

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