Mailbag: How long is it safe to store wine in the refrigerator?

Monday, May 4, 2009

Question:

@JL Gray asks: "Does keeping a white wine with a screw cap in the regular refrigerator for a few months ruin it? For the 1st time ever, my wife and I took one sip and then decided to dump the rest."

Answer:

First off, thanks for the great question.

I don't think this wine was ruined by storing it in the refrigerator for a few months. According to Sub-Zero, there are 4 enemies of wine. Let's take a look at whether each of these might have conspired against this bottle of wine:

  1. Heat
    The biggest problems with heat are when temperatures go too high (say warmer than 80F for an extended period of time) -or- temperate fluctuates wildly (say more than 10 or 15 degrees F). Regular refrigerators are typically set somewhere in the high 30 degrees F range, whereas wine refrigerators are set somewhere around 55 degrees F. While the regular refrigerator may be colder than ideal for cellaring purposes, the likely effect is that maturation of the wine would be slowed down rather than speeding it up. Therefore, I doubt that temperature could have negatively impacted this bottle of wine.

  2. Light
    The kind of light we're worried about here is sunlight, not the light in the refrigerator, therefore I think light can be ruled out as a culprit.

  3. Vibration
    The difference in vibration levels between a regular refrigerator and a wine refrigerator are debatable, but one thing for certain is that keeping a bottle on the door of the regular refrigerator jostles a bottle of wine around more than if it were in a wine refrigerator. If there's a chance you'll store a bottle of wine in the refrigerator for a few months, it might be a good idea to keep it within the refrigerator rather than on the door, but in this case I doubt even if the bottle were stored on the door that it could have contributed to the wine being "off". The duration of the storage just isn't long enough for the wine to go bad in my opinion.

  4. Humidity
    Ideally between 60-70%, and the primary concern here is dried out corks (too dry) -or- mildew and mold (too humid). But this is a longer term concern (1 year plus I would say). However, in the case of the screwcap wine in question, I don't think either of these are a concern in the regular refrigerator.
All of these together make it highly unlikely that the poor quality of this wine was caused by improper storage.

I guess there's a potential for some variability in this answer depending on the white wine in question. Was it a domestic Sauvignon Blanc? Or a white Burgundy or a German Riesling? Either way, I don't think wine (especially white, especially with a screw cap) can be damaged by keeping it in the regular refrigerator for a few months.

But like all things, when taken to an extreme they can become problematic. That's where wine refrigerators come in. What is the difference between a regular fridge and a wine fridge? That's a great question. Here's a great answer from Wine Enthusiast.

Related reading:
Question of the Day:

Do you think I got the answer right? Anything you'd like to add to the discussion? I've love to hear your thoughts on this excellent practical question.

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