03/09/2012 11:33 am ET Updated Aug 31, 2012

Why You Shouldn't Keep A Wine Cellar

It's a misconception to think that all wines should be aged in a cellar. Keeping a wine cellar may look prestigious for the well-to-do, but it's not practical for most people, especially if you don't have the means to regulate the needs of storing and aging wine for years to come. Certain wines should not be aged -- actually, most wines should not be aged. And many people make the mistake of keeping wines for too long and/or keeping them in a location that ages them prematurely (see our list of don'ts below).

Around 98 percent of wines sold today are meant to be consumed right away, not aged, according to wine authority Tyler Colman: "Producers know that we don't live in castles with cellars, so the vast majority of wines are ready to drink right away." And if you think about it, by the time a wine gets to the wine store, it's already sat for an average of two years at the winery where it was made (some wines like Beaujolais Nouveau wouldn't fit that criteria). Add to that the time the wine sits at the store or at the warehouse of the online wine retailer. That wine is not going to get any better if you age it at home -- the longer you keep it the more likely you'll be drinking spoiled wine when you open it at that special occasion you were saving it for. Only buy wine when you need it and drink it soon.

However, if you have the means to start collecting wines and build a wine cellar, there are some things Colman says you should do first if you're new to collecting. Try a mature wine from a specialty retailer and decide whether you like the flavor or not -- it will be vastly different than young wines most people are used to drinking. If you decide you like mature wines, he suggests buying wines for your cellar that have high acidity or tannins, which will keep the wines feeling fresh over the long years of aging.

If you've kept or are keeping a makeshift cellar in your basement, you're making a big mistake. The average basement is not good enough for keeping wine, because the temperature and humidity cannot be regulated. To store wine correctly there must be no light, no heat and no moisture. Some humidity is permitted but too dry an environment will shrink a cork, evaporate the wine and lead to an oxidized taste. The best temperature to store wine is between 50 and 60 degrees in a cool, dark environment. The bottles of should be stored on their sides and shouldn't be moved or jostled in any way -- vibration is not a good thing. So if you live near train tracks, don't keep a wine cellar.

The Biggest Mistakes To Avoid When Keeping Wine

  • Keeping wine over or near the refrigerator, range or microwave
  • Keeping wine over or near a heater
  • Keeping wine standing upright
  • Keeping wine in an area with lots of sunlight
  • Keeping wine in an area with lots of incandescent light
  • Keeping wine in an area with temperature fluctuations

Have you ever kept wine for far too long? Leave us a comment below.

Photo courtesy of Jeff Kubina, Flickr.