This is how the vast majority of Americans age wine: We buy it at the store, we drive it home, we open it, we drink it. In Sacramento, sometimes we buy wine in the foothills and take it to dinner the next weekend. That might be extended aging.
Which is why it sounds like advice from Mars when wine critics say "Hold a wine until 2027." First off, they're just guessing. More to the point, who keeps wine that long? Or remembers the exact time?
Some people do have deep, pristine cellars, but most of them will forget that bottle by 2027. (If you're someone with an actual cellar, or a vast wine fridge, you know. You've pulled long-held bottles, looked at the vintage, and thought, "Oops!"
For most people, storing wine is short-term— a week or two, a couple months, maybe a few years—and sometimes longer storage is an accident, like that bottle you were saving for a special occasion and just kept saving.
Still, when holding wine, even for a few weeks, there are a couple things to know.
First—and most basic: Store the bottle on its side. That keeps the cork moist so it won't shrink and air won't get into the bottle. Exposure to our friend oxygen changes everything: Think of a sliced apple on the counter—10 minutes and it's brown. Oxygen turns wine to vinegar. Consider it a reverse miracle.
If you've got a bottle for a couple weeks, don't worry about it. Any longer? Place it on its side, please. Nose down works, too. Cardboard wine carriers or case boxes are handy for that. Lots of stores and wineries will be happy to give you a box.
As for the conditions, think about temperature, light and vibration.
Temperature - The ideal temp for storing wine is 58° ... or 55°. There's some disagreement in the wine world. It's a long story. Anywhere near that range is fine, and if you're storing wine a couple months or less, just keep it under 70°.
If you're holding wine for longer, the most efficient way to regulate the temperature is to splurge on a wine refrigerator, which can run a couple hundred to a couple thousand dollars, depending on your demands. But a cool, dark, quiet closet is just fine because a consistent temperature is almost as important as the actual number. Wine sitting at a steady 64° will be happy.
Light - Dark is good. Sunlight, even filtered, or fluorescent light will dull wines, especially whites with lighter-colored bottles. A British group of wine pros and technology experts called Wotwine examined 6,000 bottles in supermarkets over two years and found that light had dulled the flavors in 35% of them. Fluorescent light can damage wine within just hours.
The takeaway: Don't grab the bottle out in a store display, get one on the shelf and not the first in line. And the expensive stuff in supermarkets on the top shelf getting blasted by the lighting? Buy the darker bottles.
Vibration - Don't let the wine get much vibration— and that includes your refrigerator. (Wine fridges are designed to remain still.) Wine in any fridge for a week or so is no problem, but that's probably about it. Think of your wine like a sauce: too much action and it will break. Wines like calm.
All of this means wine racks anywhere in the kitchen are probably doing everything wrong: They're warm, bright and active. In fact, any decorative wine rack might not be great for more than a few days of storage, unless it's in a closet— remember, that good ol' closet is a fine place to store wine.
Probably 90° of wines in America are ready to drink when they're released— winemaking has improved vastly since most wines needed years to soften and coalesce. Some big reds can use a few years, like some Cabernet Sauvignons or Barolos, but none of them are cheaper, everyday drinking wines.
And the thing is, when wines age, they change. They get softer, but often lose some (or all) of the fruit and develop more gentle flavors of earth or wood or leather. Which means, if you're buying wine to age, buy it to eventually get these flavors.
So do you need a cellar or a wine fridge? Maybe. It depends on your wine buying habits and the volume you buy. A wine fridge can make life simpler and free up closet space, but it's easy to fill that fridge quickly. Then you're back where we started: Buying wine, driving home and drinking it. Like most of us.