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Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, or "Vinny" for short. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the technical aspects of winemaking to the fine points of etiquette. I hope you find my answers educational and even amusing. Looking for a particular answer? Check my archive and my FAQs. You can also follow me on Twitter: @AskDrVinny.
Dear Dr. Vinny,
In the past few years I have purchased several bottles which either need to be laid down for several years before drinking, or will continue to evolve for more than a decade. Currently these bottle are not stored in the most ideal conditions (I’m a poor grad student), in cardboard boxes in my closet at about 68 to 72 degrees F. Although these bottles should last 10 to 20 years, given the conditions, how long would you anticipate them lasting?
—Alex E., South Carolina
Whether or not the bottles you’ve purchased need to be cellared or “laid down” depends on the wine drinker as much as on the wine itself. Please don’t cellar the wines just because you think that’s what you’re supposed to do. Cellar the wines because you like the way that older, more mature wines taste. Older wines really aren’t for everyone.
It sounds like you’re doing your best to keep the bottles away from light, extreme heat, temperature fluctuation and vibration. A lot of wine lovers are just like you, and a corner of the closet will have to do. It’s OK to keep wines in cardboard boxes, but it would help if you put the boxes on their sides or upside down, so that the wine stays in contact with the corks, which will help keep them from drying out.
You’re right that these are not ideal storage conditions. The next step might be to invest in a small wine cooler before you build the cellar of your dreams. If you can afford temperature and humidity control, keep the temperature a steady 55-ish degrees F and 70 percent humidity.
How long will your wines last in your closet? Without controlling all the variables of heat and humidity, you certainly run the risk of premature aging. I recommend finding an excuse to crack open some of your stored bottles over the next couple of years and see how they’re doing. If they seem to be evolving quickly and show premature aging, or if the bottles are leaky and the corks turn to sawdust because they’ve dried out, then you’d have reason to open the rest of the bottles sooner rather than later. But I imagine they’ll be fine, if not for the next 20 years, then maybe for the next 5 or 10.
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