Wine Storage w/o climate control
I haven't made the leap to a wine fridge yet, so I have a quick storage question. I live in an apartment in an area with relatively mild and stable temperatures (Brentwood in Los Angeles, for reference), and it rarely breaks 80. I have AC (which I rarely use), and the wine is in a wine cabinet as far from the windows and heat sources as possible.
Some of the bottles have been there for pretty close to a year, and are of semi-ageable quality (e.g. a Honig cab). How long can I keep wine in this condition before it turns becomes undrinkable?
I lived in LA for several years before I bought a wine refrigerator and I don't know why I waited so long. The problem is that with variable temperatures--and it does get hot in LA-- you are just taking a gamble. If you are keeping your wines for anything like a year (really, like a week), you should really invest. I bought a 35-odd bottle refrigerator for around $400 from a wholesale place near LA and it has been perfect. Alternatively or additionally, storage can be pretty cheap there. I had a locker in your neighborhood for around $250 per year, as recently as 2005.
My advice: get a wine cooler, avail yourself of off-site storage or keep any bottle that matters to you in the fridge from early spring through late fall. 80 degrees F is already too warm for your wine, and all it takes is an afternoon or two above that to cook your bottles but good. Are you absolutely certain you're going to be home to crank up the air-conditioning every time the temperature soars? In other words, you're a sitting duck. I'm speaking from experience, by the way, having lost my first few cases to wishful thinking, to believing that if I kept them in a dark closet they'd survive any heat wave. Ha! Money down the drain. And that's here in "temperate" Montreal.
If nothing else, open one of the bottles you've kept for a year (you're storing them on their side, right?). Examine the cork. If it's stained with wine more than 1/4 inch from the bottom, get worried. If you the stain streams most or all the way up to the top, your wine is probably heat damaged. If the entire cork is stained and there's been seepage under the capsule...
Wine kept at room temperature ages far more quickly and much less gracefully than wine kept at cellar temp. Cooked wine doesn't really age much at all; the stewed prune just becomes more prominent, the tannins harsher, the acidity more glaring.