Why should I worry about the humidity in my wine cellar?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

Wine Spectator recommends a 55-degree constant temperature and 70 percent humidity for long-term wine storage. Is the humidity tied to the presence of natural cork? Or do plastic, metal, glass and other closures benefit from the humidity as well? I know many people who live in desert areas where maintaining the level of humidity is difficult, if not impossible.

—Philip C., Germantown, Md.

Dear Philip,

You’re correct that the humidity recommendation for long-term wine storage is tied directly to corks; if the corks dry out, it can compromise the seal and prematurely age the wine. Even if the seal remains intact, opening a bottle with a crumbly cork (I’ve had them disintegrate into sawdust in my hands) involves lots of swearing, and sometimes cork crumbles into your wine. Plastic, metal, glass and other closures don’t benefit from a humid climate, but they don’t suffer from those conditions, either. As long as the vast majority of ageworthy wines are bottled under cork, my recommendation to keep a humid cellar remains. But I believe a constant temperature, as close to the target of 55 degrees F as you can get, is still the most important cellar condition.

If you have proper storage, though—a climate-controlled cabinet or enclosed cellar area—humidity may be the easiest cellar condition to maintain. Want to add more humidity? Place a pan of water on the floor, or mist the cellar walls and racks (hopefully they’re wood) with a water bottle now and again. For a $40 investment, you can find a hygrometer that will measure humidity, and the smallest desktop humidifiers start at about $50.

—Dr. Vinny

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