Do Red and White Wines Need To Be Stored Differently?

by Kelvin Teo | Last Updated: August 27, 2020

Wine is a wonderful thing. Yes, it’s boozy, but it’s also a window to foreign lands. Every bottle, every glass and every drop offer a new experience. In a way, drinking wine is like traveling without moving.

Wine is a cornerstone of our society, too. Getting together to taste wine, or ordering a bottle to enjoy with dinner, is the source of great times with friends and family.

If you want to make the most out of wine, there’s a catch. You must store it adequately. The proper wine storage guarantees that a bottle of wine shows its best.

Here are the optimal wine storage conditions, from the wine storage humidity to storage temperature. Most importantly, here’s the answer to one of the most common wine-related questions: Do red and white wines need to be stored differently?

What’s The Real Difference Between Red and White Wine?

Wine is just fermented grape juice, let’s start right there. Winemakers pick, crush grapes and ferment them using yeast that turns sugar into alcohol, that’s about it.

The difference between red and white wines in this straightforward process is subtle but vital.

Wineries make white wine with white-skinned grapes. They pick the fruit, crush it and discard the skins. The remaining juice becomes the thirst-quenching white wine we all love.

Producers make red wine with red-skinned grapes, (although the pulp is actually as clear as the one in white grapes.) To get all those berry aromas, texture and that lovely ruby color, winemakers must macerate and ferment the grape juice with the skins.

This small, but significant difference gives red and white wines their personalities, and for wine storage, this is important. Red wine is more resistant than white, so we store more of it for longer periods.

What’s The Risk of Not Storing Wine Correctly, Anyway?

Wine has three nemeses. Mortal enemies that can ruin it to the point of becoming undrinkable. Meet the gang:

Direct sunlight might be invisible, but it’s powerful. It can peel the paint right out of your car’s hood. If you expose wine to sunlight, even for a few hours, the UV rays will break the molecules we perceive as flavors and aromas, degrading your beloved wine beyond repair.

Green bottles repel some of the sun’s harmful rays, but you’re better off storing your wine, both white and red, in a dark place.

Heat and light are not the same, but they’re equally harmful to wine. Leave your Cabernet collection in the trunk of your car for a whole summer day. Chances are every single bottle will be ‘cooked’ and damaged beyond recognition.

Although humidity will not damage your wine directly, too much of it will mess with the bottle’s labels. More importantly, humidity can damage the cork that keeps your precious wine in the bottle.

Too little humidity can also be dangerous. It can dry the corks, allowing wine’s fourth mortal enemy to make a move — oxygen.

Perhaps you already know this, but the small space between the wine and the cork inside a bottle is filled with inert gas and not air. If oxygen gets in contact with the liquid, it will oxidize it; the wine will brown and lose most of its fresh aroma.

The tiniest amounts of oxygen molecules that find their way through the cork, though, are beneficial. They age the wine slowly and steadily, allowing it to evolve.

Storing Red Wine Properly

Red wine is not all created equal. Everyday drinking reds, young wines meant for you to quaff during their first three to five years, need less attention than contemplative wines designed to be collected and enjoyed over a few decades.

Either way, you should keep your bottles of red wine safe from its enemies. Lay your bottles sideways, in a dark environment at a temperature between 45° F (7ºC) and 65° F (18ºC); with the sweet spot at 55ºF (13ºC).

By the way, the fridge is not ideal for storing wine as its temperature is often below 45° F (7ºC). Instead, you should invest in a proper wine cellar.

7 Best Freestanding Wine Cellars

Looking for a good wine cellar to preserve the shelf-life of your precious wines? Here are our top picks!

As for wine storage humidity, anywhere between 50 and 80 percent humidity is widely considered safe. You’ll prevent the corks from drying out while keeping mold at bay. These are the optimal wine storage conditions.

Storing White Wine Properly

The question arises, should white wines be stored at different temperatures?

Let’s start by saying than over 90% of the white wines are nicer when young, during the bottle’s first three years. For most white wine, the younger, the better.

Yes, there are contemplative white wines made to withstand the test of time, from white Burgundy to Napa Chardonnays, from German Rieslings to Champagne and all kinds of dessert wines. You should store these in proper wine storages and at the correct storage temperature, too.

It would help if you store these wines at the same temperature and humidity as red wine, between 45° F (7ºC) and 65° F (18ºC), and humidity levels between 50 and 80 percent.

There’s no significant difference in red and white wine’s evolution, so you shouldn’t treat them differently — unless you’re ready to pour them.

The Best Wine Service Temperature

The real difference between red and wine storage conditions comes when it’s time to pop open those corks.

Light-bodied red wines, like Gamay, Grenache, Saint Laurent or Pinot Noir should be served between 50ºF (10ºC) and 60ºF (16ºC). Full-bodied red wines, like Cabernet, Syrah or Malbec are more enjoyable at a temperature between 60ºF (16ºC) and 64ºF (18ºC). As you see, these temperatures are well within our ideal storage conditions.

You must serve white wines colder than that. Between 40ºF (4ºC) and 50ºF (10ºF) depending on the wine’s body, which is why some people prefer to store their white wine bottles in separate, cooler wine storage units. They’re always ready to pour wine at the right serving temperature.

For example, restaurants, who need to keep their wine safe while maintaining it at proper serving temperatures, will need to store their red and white bottles at different storage temperatures. You, on the other hand, are probably OK with a single compartment for your wine collection. You can always chill your white wine bottles in an ice bucket 30 minutes before serving.

There you have it…

Red and white wines are different, yes, and they’re most enjoyable at precise serving temperatures. Still, there’s no significant distinction when it comes to keeping your bottles safe from light, heat, humidity, and oxygen.

Enjoy your newfound wine storage knowledge with friends and family, and let’s have a toast for wine well kept.

Kelvin Teo founded Filled With Wine™ because one summer night, he noticed that his glass of wine tasted funny. It was only after he discovered that he stored his bottle wrongly that he realised the importance of proper wine storage. Since then, he has taken the art of wine drinking seriously and is now on a quest to help fellow wine lovers achieve the best drinking experience possible.