Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, but you can call me Vinny. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the fine points of etiquette to the science of winemaking. And don't worry, I'm no wine snob—you can also ask me those "dumb questions" you're too embarrased to ask your wine geek friends! I hope you find my answers educational, empowering and even amusing. And don't forget to check out my most asked questions and my full archives for all my Q&A classics.
Dear Dr. Vinny,
There's a longstanding consensus that bottles should be stored on their side, to prevent the cork from drying out, but I've read that some wine professionals argue that the humidity inside the bottle is more than sufficient to keep the cork moist. What gives?
—Magnus, Oslo, Norway
For generations, the consensus has been, as you say, that wines sealed with a natural cork are best stored on their side. That way, the end of the cork that’s inside the bottle will stay wet, and hopefully help keep the cork from drying out.
But you’re correct that there’s a minority opinion that wines are just fine standing upright. There is liquid in a bottle of wine, after all. That means it's already humid in there. You may have seen folks citing a study conducted by the Australian Wine Research Institute in 2005 in which a Chardonnay and a Riesling were bottled with various closures, including natural corks, synthetics and screwcaps, and stored both on their sides and upright for five years. Among their conclusions was that there was no discernible difference in wine quality or taste based on the bottle orientation. Some people have taken that to mean that orientation doesn't matter, but I would suggest that this evidence is rather inconclusive. In the big scheme of wine storage and cork longevity, five years isn't a particularly long time; it can take decades for a cork to deteriorate to the point where damage to the wine becomes tangible. Further, the researchers only compared the quality of two corks at the end of the study, and in fact found that the cork in the upright bottle was "substantially" drier.
Remember that corks are amazing bits of bark from a tree. They vary in size, quality and moisture content. Storage conditions, from temperature to humidity to vibration, can all have an impact of their effectiveness. For most wines stored for a few years, these things don’t matter nearly as much as wines stored for 10 years or longer. At that age, corks can start to shrink and lose their elasticity.
I want to give you the best advice I can to protect your wines, so for now, that means following the long-held practice of storing wines on their side. That’s how I store them.