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Dear Dr. Vinny,
I've been a happy consumer of wine for over 40 years (and a subscriber to Wine Spectator since the days when it was a six-sheet newspaper). But I have yet to hear from any wine expert who has satisfactorily answered this question: A bottle of wine laying on its side completely submerges the cork—the humidity inside the bottle is 100 percent—so just what does high humidity inside the storage facility itself accomplish?
I have been successfully storing wine in cellars for 25 years and never ever worried about the humidity of the air space. Dr. Vinny states the age-old truism, "The most important principles of wine storage are temperature and humidity.” Heck, he even suggests a humidifier! I understand the issues of proper cellar temperature, but would appreciate some fact-based explanation as to how low cellar humidity has any measurable effect on wine inside a properly stored bottle.
Thanks for being such a terrific reader! Actually, I believe that the most important thing about wine storage is consistent temperature, around 55° F, though I think it’s a good idea to take into account the variables of light, vibration and humidity.
You’re correct that if a bottle is lying on its side, the part of the cork that is inside the bottle of wine will be in contact with the liquid inside, and that will help it for keeping the cork from drying out. The reason relative humidity of a storage area can be of concern is that there’s the other side of the cork to consider—the part that isn’t in contact with the wine. For friends of mine that live in more arid conditions, this can be a real problem.
If a cork dries out, it can compromise the seal and prematurely age the wine. Even if the seal remains intact, a cork can crumble, making it difficult to extract (and sprinkling your wine with even harder to extract cork particles).
If you’ve ever stored a bottle of wine in a refrigerator for a couple of months or more, you might have experienced what low humidity can do to a cork. Refrigerators are known for being quite dry, so as to delay food spoilage. But that low humidity causes corks to shrivel up and become difficult to extract. Some cooling systems also tend to remove humidity from the air.
It doesn’t hurt my feelings if you don’t care about humidity—I think that for the vast majority of people, for the vast majority of wines, it’s not something to worry about. But if you live in a desert, or find yourself investing a lot of money into wine (and its storage) and plan on aging your wine for decades or longer, you might want to consider the humidity of your storage. It certainly can’t hurt.
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