A: If you love wine and want to collect and age it, then a wine cellar or conditioned wine cabinet is a necessity. Wine is alive and it responds to its environment. In fact, a wine's surroundings will determine its ideal maturity date and will also impact its character when it is consumed.
There are four key elements that need to be controlled to protect your wine for extended periods of time. These elements are temperature, humidity, light and vibration.
1) Temperature: An important long-term storage factor. Temperature levels in a wine cellar must be cool and constant. The generally accepted proper wine storage temperature for storing wine is approximately 55° F or 13° Celsius, although a range of 50° to 60°F is considered acceptable. White wines prefer it as cool as 45 degrees. It is also important that there is little or no variation in this temperature over time. In general, higher temperatures make wines age faster, while cooler temperatures slow the aging process. Higher temperatures may also cause alcohol separation. When temperatures become too low, however, deposits or other suspensions may develop in the wine.
Sudden or wide fluctuations in a wine's temperature will interrupt the proper aging process. Temperature variations not only shrink and swell the cork, but they may also directly affect the organic components in the wine. Gradual fluctuations of up to 10°F between seasons will not likely damage your wine, however, more frequent fluctuations of this magnitude will negatively affect the proper aging process.
2) Humidity: For long-term wine storage, a relative humidity of about 65% at approximately 55°F is ideal, however, a range between 60% and 80% is acceptable. Wine is stored on its side so that the wine is in contact with the cork at all times, keeping the cork wet. Humidity levels in a wine cellar are not a factor for bottles that are hermetically sealed with mechanisms like a screw top.
With corked bottles, low humidity levels will dry the air-side of the cork, allowing for air leakage or capillary pull action of the wine toward the dry side of the cork. This allows oxygen to come in contact with the wine, promoting aging. High humidity levels will not harm the wine. In fact, to a true oenophile, moldy wine bottles may be an indication that the wine has been stored properly for long periods of time. Cardboard boxes will not survive in cellars with high humidity levels, and should therefore be removed from the cellar. These boxes will become soggy and structurally unsound, thus putting your wine at risk.
3) Light: Ultraviolet light causes premature aging of wines. Ultraviolet light breaks down some of the complex components in wine and may even produce unpleasant aromas. Sparkling wines are the most sensitive to light and should be stored in the darkest part of your cellar. Cellars should only be lit during periods of use and fluorescent light sources should be substituted by either low ambient incandescent or LED sources. Infrequent light exposure won't have a negative impact on your wine collection.
4) Vibration: While generally not a problem in residential wine cellars, excessive vibration can disturb a wine's sediment balance. Sediments are meant to fall out of wine and vibration could reintroduce them back into liquid form. Wine should be organized and stored away from cooling system vibrations.
Additional considerations: Wine should always be stored away from strong smelling compounds and foods. Aromatic woods such as cedar should never be used in storage racking or boxes. Strong odors can penetrate a weakened cork and can eventually change a wine's flavor.