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Dear Dr. Vinny,
What's the best way to store Champagne and sparkling wines? I've heard that the acidity can damage the cork if you keep them on their sides too long. Is that true?
—Gerald T., Scottsdale, Az.
I always recommend storing wines sealed with corks on their side. If corks dry out, they can shrink and let air into the wine, causing premature oxidation. It’s also much more frustrating to get a crumbly cork out of a bottle. For a complete guide to storing wine, check out "How to Store Wine 101."
Think of it this way: There are two sides to the cork. The part that you see from the top of the bottle will be affected by the humidity of the room where the wine is stored. The part of the cork that is inside the bottle will be affected by the humidity inside there. While there will be some ambient humidity inside of a bottle of wine, if you place the bottle on its side so that the wine inside is touching the cork, that’s some insurance that that end stays moist, maintaining a firm seal. And while corks can and do deteriorate over time, that takes decades or longer (some wineries offer re-corking programs for their top long-aging wines), and I've never heard of a cork being eaten up by a wine's acidity.
Sometimes Champagne is considered an exception to this rule. Sparkling wine’s powerful internal pressure, caused by its carbon dioxide content, is said to keep the humidity higher. I can't confirm that—I’ve never been trapped inside a bottle of bubbly (though it sounds dreamy).
Even if it’s not considered necessary, there’s no disadvantage to also keeping your bottles of bubbly stored on their side, so that’s what I’d recommend. In fact, that’s the same advice I give for wines topped with a screwcap: It's not necessary to store them on their side, but all the other bottles in my cellar are stored that way, so it's pretty convenient.
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