A while back a reader asked for some information on storing wine for the casual drinker. I take this to mean storing wine for around a year or less. After that we get into cellaring wine which is a topic for another day. Thanks for the idea.
There are three things to consider when storing wine, temperature, humidity and odors. The last one is easy. Don’t store your wine around strong odors. The odors can be absorbed by the wine, particularly wines that are closed with a cork. This can be a problem if you store your wines in a basement or utility room and have oil heat. Another problem can be storage around cleaning products.
Your temperature ideally should be between 50°F and 60°F. That is ideal but for shorter storage times, I would say you are OK if you don’t get hotter than around 72°F or cooler than 45°F. Within this you are better to be on the lower end than the upper. Higher temperatures can cause white wines to oxidize and red wines to get an unpleasant cooked fruit taste (kind of like bad grape jam).
Lower temperatures, short of freezing, are unlikely to do damage. If you are cellaring your wines though, they can be a problem as they slow down maturation. Colder storage can precipitate crystals of tartaric acid (cream of tartar) in white wines. It is harmless and frequently will re-dissolve in the wine when it warms up. If not, you can decant the wine or just be careful when pouring.
Equally important are temperature fluctuations. I would rather store wine at a steady 72°F than in a place that changes from 50°F to 60°F and back every few days.
Humidity is trickier. It can never be too humid for the wellbeing of the wine. The problem is that at higher humidity levels the labels can get moldy or come loose and you can get mold on the cork. This doesn’t bother me, I just wipe off the bottle before and after I uncork it. Some people object though. If you are storing your bottles in cardboard boxes they can fall apart from the humidity. So check them before you pick them up.
A much bigger problem is too low humidity. When humidity is too low corks dry out. This causes two problems, one big and one small. The small problem is more of the wine will evaporate from the bottle. If you are storing for a long time, that is a problem. For around a year or less, it is unlikely to be a major issue. The bigger problem with corks drying out is that air gets in. This will make your wine prone to oxidation. White wines and roses are more susceptible than reds but it happens to reds too. Oxidized whites and roses get an unpleasant paint thinner like taste. (See “Why Not White?” http://thewinepopulist.com/?p=43 ) Oxidized red wines can turn a brownish color. The taste of oxidation in red wines is a bit hard to describe. They can smell or taste like nuts, moldy mushrooms and mud.
So what is suggested? Ideally you humidity will be higher than 60% and 80% or lower if you are concerned about mold. Practically, 50% is still good and you should be able to get away with as low as 40%. Be aware that the humidity inside most refrigerators is too low to store wines for more than a few weeks.
A final note: If the wines you are storing are corked, it is best to keep them on their sides. This helps keep the cork moist. That helps the cork keep a good seal.