Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, but you can call me Vinny. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the fine points of etiquette to the science of winemaking. And don't worry, I'm no wine snob—you can also ask me those "dumb questions" you're too embarrased to ask your wine geek friends! I hope you find my answers educational, empowering and even amusing. And don't forget to check out my most asked questions and my full archives for all my Q&A classics.
Dear Dr. Vinny,
I know it’s best to cellar wine in a proper climate-controlled environment. But … does storing wine in Styrofoam shipping packaging for multiple years have any effect on the wine’s quality? Or is it basically the same as aging in a passive cellar?
—Diadora, via email
Styrofoam (the trademarked name for Dow Chemical's polystyrene foam) is an effective insulation in wine shippers, and it’s also safe to store your wines in. And extra insulation—polystyrene or otherwise—will help dissipate the effects of temperature fluctuations in a passive cellar without temperature control. (Check out our ABCs of Wine Storage for all the dos and don’ts.)
That said, polystyrene is not biodegradable. It takes hundreds of years to dissolve, which is why it’s not environmentally friendly. But because of that slow rate of decay, there isn’t any concern about significant polystyrene exposure somehow permeating a bottle of wine or its packaging and affecting its taste or value.
I try to recycle them when I receive polystyrene shippers in wine deliveries, and I have also stored wine in it for short periods of time without witnessing any negative impacts. Some people don’t like that it’s bulky, and few people like the squeaky sound it makes. Some polystyrene is extremely crumbly and can create a mess, and you’ll want to clearly label the shippers so you know what’s inside them. Every wine lover needs to make wine storage decisions based on what’s best for their space and budget, and polystyrene is a good fit for some.