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Storing Cabernet Sauvignon: Essential Tips for Collectors

Storing Cabernet Sauvignon requires consistent temperature and lighting conditions to prevent the wine from spoiling.

Storing Cabernet Sauvignon requires consistent temperature and lighting conditions to prevent the wine from spoiling.

When it comes to storing Cabernet Sauvignon, consistency is key. The finest labels of this wine can age for many decades and evolve deeper and more complex flavors. Some of the world’s greatest and longest-lived wines are made from Cabernet Sauvignon. However, these wines can only reach their full potential when they’re stored properly throughout their lifetime. In this guide to Cabernet Sauvignon storage, you’ll learn which conditions are best for this type of wine, including the ideal temperature, humidity, lighting, and other essential factors. Using these tips, you’ll be able to enjoy your Cabernet Sauvignon collection well into the future.

Why Storage Conditions Matter for Cabernet Sauvignon

Storing Cabernet Sauvignon for years involves more than picking out an empty spot on your pantry shelf. While this is a perfectly acceptable place to store Cabernet that’s not meant to be aged for long, it’s far too risky to store your fine, age-worthy wines like this. For short-term storage of wines that are meant to be drunk young, all you need is a dark, cool space to keep the bottle until you’re ready to open it. But for fine Cabernet-based wines like blue-chip Bordeaux or California cult labels, this may not be enough. If you store wine in a pantry, you don’t have control over the precise temperature, humidity, or other factors essential for storing Cabernet Sauvignon long-term. Even if a storage spot appears cool and dark, the temperature could fluctuate drastically as the seasons change and there’s usually no way to keep the humidity consistent.

Why are factors like temperature and humidity so important for storing Cabernet Sauvignon? Subpar or inconsistent storage conditions can compound small problems over time and cause the wine to spoil. Here is an in-depth look at why these specific storage factors matter:

  • Temperature (Heat): If a wine is stored in a place that’s too warm, the flavor and aromatic compounds in the wine can evolve too quickly. For example, it might normally take a wine 15 years to approach its ideal drinking window, but if it’s stored in a warm pantry or cellar, then it might reach this point sooner than expected–perhaps just five years after release. Accelerated aging not only results in wines that are not as complex as they would be if they’d been allowed to evolve more slowly, but there’s also a risk that the wine will spoil before a collector can identify the problem. Heat causes the wine to become “cooked,” and it will take on unpleasant stewed fruit flavors. If the cork is pushed out slightly from the bottle, this is a sign that the wine was stored too warm.
  • Temperature (Cold): Likewise, if a wine is stored too cold, the aromatic and flavor compounds slow or shut down entirely, meaning the wine can’t evolve to its full potential. Colder temperatures are not quite as damaging as warmer ones, but still aren’t ideal.
  • Humidity: Lack of humidity in a storage space causes corks to dry out. When this happens, the cork shrinks away from the bottle, allowing too much oxygen inside. Oxidation turns Cabernet Sauvignon a brown color and causes it to taste like vinegar (or, sometimes, like nothing at all). Oxygen is an important component in the aging process because the wine needs oxygen molecules to interact with the flavor and aromatic compounds and form new, more complex flavor compounds. However, if this process gets out of control, oxygen can ruin fine wine. The key to a healthy cork is to have enough humidity to keep it supple, but not so much humidity that the label is moisture-damaged.
  • Light: Exposure to light (specifically UV rays) causes sulfur compounds in the wine to form very quickly. Over time, this results in Cabernet that tastes of wet newspaper or cabbage. This is also why most Cabernet Sauvignon comes in dark-colored bottles–reduces light exposure during transportation and storage.

These factors are typically only an issue if you plan on storing Cabernet Sauvignon for a year or more, or you have a fine bottle of collectible wine. Proper storage is also essential for protecting the wine’s provenance. Provenance not only proves the wine is genuine but also that the wine has been stored under ideal conditions throughout its lifetime. Wines stored properly are generally more valuable than those that have been stored in unknown conditions. That’s because the more consistent the storage, the more likely the wine will have aged beautifully over time. So, whether you plan on drinking your wine yourself or reselling your collection down the road, it’s important to store the wine properly from the moment you purchase it.

Tips for Storing Cabernet Sauvignon

Storing Cabernet Sauvignon is simple as long as you have a home cellar that is well-sealed and has environmental controls. Some cellars happen to be roughly cool and dark enough, and with just the right humidity to store bottles long-term, however, this is rare. Most modern home cellars require some legwork to keep the conditions perfect.

The best conditions for storing Cabernet Sauvignon are:

  • Temperature: 55 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperature can dip a little lower on occasion (a few degrees of difference isn’t the end of the world), however, this is the sweet spot.
  • Humidity: 70-percent humidity is ideal. Again, a fluctuation of just a few percentage points isn’t disastrous, but consistency is always the goal.
  • Light: The darker the cellar, the better. A bit of low lighting (just enough to see the labels) is fine, as is storing the wine in a light-protective case.
  • Bottle position: Bottles should always be stored on their sides, so the wine maintains contact with the cork. This, coupled with the humidity, prevents the cork from drying out.
  • Vibration and movement: While this isn’t as important a factor as the others above, it’s still best to avoid moving bottles around so the flavor compounds can evolve slowly, undisturbed. Too much bottle movement or vibration (for example, from a nearby air conditioning system) could upset the sediment in the wine and accelerate aging.

While not all Cabernet Sauvignon has to be stored under these exact conditions (mass-produced, easy-drinking styles often do just fine in a pantry), this is the gold standard for storing valuable Cabernet Sauvignon. Specifically, the following Cabernet Sauvignon styles thrive when they’re stored under these conditions:

Blue-Chip Bordeaux from the Left Bank 

Cabernet Sauvignon makes up a large percentage of the blend in these wines, and when properly stored they can age for 20 years or more. For example, the wine labels below should always be stored under perfect conditions:

California Cult Cabernet Sauvignon

Most cult wines from California are made from Cabernet Sauvignon, and because these wines are incredibly complex, they often age for 15 to 20 years or more under the right storage conditions. If you own any top labels from the cult wine producers below, proper storage should be a top priority:

When in doubt, store all of your wine under these ideal conditions. These storage rules apply well to all styles of wine (including white wines), and it never hurts to be on the cautious side with your collection. However, maintaining these precise conditions can be a challenge, especially if you don’t already have a well-managed home cellar. Thankfully, there are alternative options for protecting your wine collection.

How to Protect Your Wine Collection

There are generally three options for storing Cabernet Sauvignon under precise environmental conditions: home cellars, self-service storage facilities, and professional storage warehouses.

With home cellars, the process can be quite complicated. You must hire a contractor to build your cellar, if you don’t have one already, and you’re responsible for maintaining the environmental conditions. It can be a costly and time-consuming process, especially if you’ve never managed a cellar before. You’ll also have to take care of insuring your wine. If you’d like to maintain your own cellar or you already have a cellar, one option is to hire a storage expert to bar code your bottles for organizational purposes and check that your environmental controls are ideal for the wine in your collection.

The second option, self-service storage, involves purchasing space in a storage locker. Typically, the storage locker company manages the environmental controls, but you’re responsible for keeping your wine organized and transporting it to and from the locker. It can be time-consuming, especially if the locker is located far from your home (which many are).

The final option, full-service professional storage, is the best choice for collectors who don’t yet have a home cellar or who find they no longer have the time or resources to maintain their current cellars. With this option, everything is handled for you, including bottle transport, inspection, organization, and storage. Using a professional storage warehouse can also increase the value of your Cabernet collection, as you’ll have documentation proving the wine was stored appropriately throughout its lifetime. This is also a benefit if you buy wine ex-château. Since the wine moves directly from the winery’s cellar to a professional warehouse, the provenance is unbroken and proven. And, if you decide to drink the wine yourself, it’s reassuring knowing that the wine has been stored under perfect conditions and has the best chance of aging gracefully over the decades.

When you collect the finest Cabernet Sauvignon, it’s worth making the extra effort to ensure the bottles can age to their full potential. Few wines in the world are as complex as high-quality Cabernet, and when you make proper storage a priority, you give these wines space to blossom.

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