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Dear Dr. Vinny,
For longer-term cellaring, can you tell me what bottles of wine should be stored in an upright position? I have listened to many conflicting perspectives over the years, but most often hear that older vintage Madeira and Champagne should be kept upright to prevent cork deterioration and loss of elasticity.
—Eugene, New York
Any time a wine is topped with a cork, it should be stored on its side. A cork is used as a topper because it expands in the neck of the bottle to protect a wine from oxygen. But if the cork starts to dry out, it will start to let air inside, causing premature oxidation. If you store a wine on its side, you can make certain that that cork remains moist (and expanded) at least on that side. Storing your wine in a humid area will help the rest of the cork.
I can understand why Champagne and Madeira are sometimes listed as exceptions to the rules. Sparkling wines—which have about 70 to 90 pounds of pressure per square inch in a sealed bottle because of all that carbon dioxide—are naturally more humid inside. Madeira is a long-lived fortified wine that’s basically oxidized already, so there is less concern about it getting further oxidized. But there is no particular advantage to keeping a bottle stored right side up, so most producers (and most wine advice columnists) recommending storing all bottles—even ones with glass, plastic or metal toppers—on their side.
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