What does it mean to “lay down” a bottle of wine, and what does it do for the wine?

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

What does it mean to “lay down” a bottle of wine, and what does it do for the wine?

—Joseph, San Antonio, Texas

Dear Joseph,

“Laying down” is wine lingo for aging or storing wine to drink later. It’s a reference to laying bottles down on their sides in a wine cellar, which is widely agreed upon as the best way to store wine for long-term aging (orienting the bottles on their sides helps prevent the cork from prematurely drying out by keeping it in contact with the wine). But the term can refer to wines that are still in barrel as well.

Sometimes wines are held in barrel or bottle in the winery before being released—a few months or years of aging can help integrate flavors, encourage more appealing textures or develop a slightly more mature profile.

Wine collectors will often buy wine to “lay down” for a decade or more in their cellar. I think you can really see the effects of aging on wines that are about 10 years from their vintage date or older. What’s happening? Phenolic compounds link together and become sediment, colors will start to fade and turn brownish. Fresh fruit flavors will diminish and secondary notes of earth, spice and flowers will become more prominent. The perception of acidity and tannins might evolve and the wine can become more mellow.

—Dr. Vinny

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