Storing wine on its side is nonsense, says scientist

11th June, 2018 by Patrick Schmitt

Storing wine on its side won’t prevent corks drying out, and may even accelerate their degeneration, according to Amorim’s director of R&D, Dr. Miguel Cabral.

During a discussion in Portugal last week, Cabral said that the headspace of a sealed bottle of wine was so moist that there was no need to place bottles on their side to keep the cork damp.

“The cork will never dry out with almost 100% humidity in the headspace, so it is a myth that you need to store a bottle on its side,” he said.

Continuing, he said that such humidity would ensure that the cork “won’t dry out if you store the bottle upright.”

He also said that creating moist ambient conditions during wine storage was unnecessary for bottled wine….

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27 Responses to “Storing wine on its side is nonsense, says scientist”


    I have never believed the claim that we store wine bottles on their sides in order to keep the corks moist – it simply dosen’t make sense. . As Dr Cabral says, the headspace humidity will do that perfectgly well. I assume we store them thus simply because it is, for most purpsoses, the most practical. For reasons of both space utilisation and accessibility.

  2. Michael Trotta says:

    Perhaps then, producers will end the practice of storing palletized cases in the “necks down” orientation. It’s an idea worth exploring as there could be some labor/time savings by not having to flip the case over before placing it on a pallet.

  3. Alicia says:

    Multiple cases of first growth 1966-68 wines were stored in proper conditions (55-60F) upright; all the corks dried up,shunk, idk but ended up falling into the bottles causing all the wine to be oxidized…..

  4. Michael Trotta says:

    Perhaps producers can switch from storing palletized cases in the “necks down” orientation to “necks up”? It could be a time and labor saver.

    To move the discussion down the bar menu, does this cork moisture observation also apply to spirits?

  5. Actually when you have the force of the liquid on the cork you have less air transfer in to the wine. Several research papers have shown this to be true. They actually measure the rate of transfer. over time and the effect of oxygen on the wine. Also I have stored wine for in excess of 30 years in my cellar and some were up and they lose elasticity and the wine goes bad after about 8 to 10 years. I have some where the wine cork crumbles upon opening but the wine is good. When you have 100% humidity on one side of the cork and much less humidity on the other side the moisture transfer goes out from the cork unless there is some sort of seal like wax. Any wine stored upright for a long time, not a short time like 5 years will have the wine go bad much faster as the drying effect from outside the bottle takes place. Best storage time is actually having the wine upside down in cases, so the full force of the liquid weight is on the cork and less exposure to air on the outside of the bottle as it is sitting on the cardboard base of the box. Also what ancient wines that have been found to be still drinkable have been found either in cellars that have been found virtually buried with no air flow, also buried in the dirt as an old practice in some ancient wineries or in sunken ships. The actual physics of what he is putting forth make no sense and is not the way the world and nature works. There is always transfer of situations and conditions when there is lack of balance on both sides of a medium and the flow will not likely be consistent. Similar to the the laws of thermodynamics the second one in particular. What he is proposing is impossible unless the cork is inert to moisture.

  6. Robert Metasch says:

    Having been to several port wine cellars in Vila Nova de Gaia since 1986 and even in the private cellar of the Symington’s the dominating Port shipper – I can report that every bottle was lying down. My guess is that they have generations of experience with the interaction between cork and Port.
    Personally I have experienced several Port bottles from Portuguese wineshops – that keep their bottles standing – which were dried out in the center and almost impossible to remove without cracking in several pieces.
    So I will still keep my Port on the side.

  7. As a wine producer Buy good corks first of all what is the cost for them? Minimum $35.00 per 1000 for a good quality. When installed there should be zero air pressure between the cork and wine. We Store neck down at 70 deg. F and after 10 to 15 years we see the condition of the corks to be excellent to satisfactory for a 35 cent cork. Hello Mr Trotta.

  8. Ray Krause says:

    Bonus to storing on side: Decanting is more thorough when the deposit is opposite the label and the bottle is poured allowing the bubble to disturb only the surface away from the sediment..
    Capillary action must be improved with upside down pressure on the liquid side.. Cork rate of decay also has much to do with the actual cork quality. We wax our Fait Accompli for extended cellaring.

  9. Monique says:

    I believe that our ancestors knew what they were doing when they stored wine. Their experiences led to the best practice. When I read this article I scoffed @ 5 years as data reliable. Sounds like the pharmaceutical companies studies of 20 to 100 people….Give me longitudinal studies! And corks 🙂

  10. Sagi Cooper says:

    Apparently AWRI do not read their papers, as well, because on THEIR website, you will find the following:

    “After my wine was bottled with natural cork closures the bottles were left upright instead of inverted, is this standard practice?

    Upright storage for 24 hours post-bottling is standard practice. This allows the corks to expand after being compressed for insertion, ensuring they provide the seal they are designed to achieve. If you do not invert or lay the bottles down after 24 hours, and keep the wines stored in an upright position for an extended period of time, this can allow the corks to dry out, making them much more susceptible to oxygen permeation. The worst case scenario is that the corks dry out, oxygen enters the bottles, acetic acid bacteria proliferate at the surface, and the wine loses its sulfur dioxide and becomes volatile. The helpdesk’s recommendation is always to store wine under cork closures lying down or inverted after the initial 24 hours standing upright.

  11. Paulo Caiola says:

    So why does the wine oxide easily stand up ?

  12. Donn Rutkoff says:

    Did the study actually involve only 2 bottles????? Is that what I read?

  13. Monique says:

    This spin makes me ashamed of my Portuguese heritage….Perhaps Dr ? Cabral should work for The Donald, or was this report tweeted by him, subject to change 2 a moments notice…

    • Debra says:

      I love it! From the overzealous defense he put on and his use of less than genuine conditions for an actual reliable study.. I’d say he could very well work for “The Donald”. If not, he most certainly could have been his replacement for Director of the CDC.

  14. While there is plenty of headspace moisture on one side of the cork, the other side is subject to whatever ambient moisture exists. Those bottles stored in environments devoid of enough ambient moisture are doomed to poor storage. I was recently made aware of just how important environmental moisture is to lomg-term-storage when a cache of my 27 year old wine was discovered in an environment so moist that the labels wad deteriorated due to microbial action, the cardboard packaging had lost its structural integrity, and the capsules had become discolored and ugly. Unlike similar wines subjected tom my storage conditions, which universally exhibited crumbled corks and oxidized wine, though the bottles lacked ullage, many of these bottles had plump corks with structural integrity, and qiality wine inside, though still exhibiting the flavor profile that would be expected from a quality 1990 vintage red. The wines are good enough to be currently sold. Clearly, headspace moisure does not translate by itself into intact corks. What is the best ambient humidity in storage that will optimize both cork integrity and packaging integrity?

  15. Tom Archer says:

    Having attended literally hundreds of wine auctions, and examined many thousands of bottles, I can categorically state that this theory does not withstand practical scrutiny.

    When old bottles come to auction I look at the dust deposits to ascertain whether they have been stored upright or horizontally. Over a limited period, ten years perhaps, it’s no big deal which way they have been stored, but over greater periods, upright storage is really bad news. The corks of such bottles start to shrink or become crumbly – they often fall into the wine and they are also much more vulnerable to attack from furniture beetle.

    Humidity alone is not enough to keep a cork adequately hydrated.

  16. Aaron Kapp says:

    While I completely understand the reasoning behind most of the comments disputing this study, I believe among the many missing-links, perhaps the most significant is the quality and size of the cork relative to the opening in the neck of the bottle. I have stored wines (with great quality corks) upright for decades in a temperature controlled environment (however with ranging humidity levels) and every single bottle that I have opened has a perfectly preserved cork. Furthermore, you can easily see the moisture from the head-space of the bottle permeating the cork and maintaining the integrity of the cork from end to end. Of course, I’m not disputing anyone else’s observations, I’m just suggesting that there are a multitude of variables and that if a great quality cork, of the right size/fit (diameter and length) is used, and temperature properly controlled, that indeed such bottles may be stored upright for DECADES and the integrity of the wine inside (as well as the cork), perfectly maintained.

  17. Tom Doherty says:

    I was in Porto last month and have pictures of bottles of port in Graham’s cellar, the oldest dating back to 1868, every single bottle… you guessed it, laying on it’s side. We were told they replace the corks every 30 years.

  18. The report starts with the quotation “The cork will never dry out with almost 100% humidity in the headspace…”. This is unsupported by evidence here, and is wrong. The phrase ‘almost 100%’ appeals to the emotions, implying a sort of Turkish bath, but a bit of science shows its weakness. Relative humidity above the wine at 15C is about 1.5%, so the air is actually very dry. Boiled cork has about 8% moisture content so the airspace is drier than the cork, and will not keep the cork moist. A damp cellar might then help if the bottles are stored upright (though the capsule may prevent this). Sideways storage is definitely correct.
    Reference re relative humidity calculation:
    Reference re moisture in cork:

    • Tom Archer says:

      The percentile moisture content of the cork will not relate exactly to the percentile moisture content of the air – much depends on the extent to which the cork is hygroscopic.
      A typical wine bottle cork weighs about 3g including (when young) about 0.25g of moisture. When laid on its side, a young wine bottle with a sound cork loses around 0.05g to 0.1g of weight through fluid evaporation through the cork each year. Without full contact with the wine, that weight loss gradually dehydrates the cork and provokes aerobic decay, as humidity alone from within is not enough to replenish it.
      References: My own observations and measurements (yes – I weigh and re-weigh bottles!)

  19. May I point out that quality cork is impervious to liquids and gases.
    A good natural cork will not ‘breath’ when intact. The surface between a cork and the bottle is the ‘leak’, especially when the cork starts to ‘shrink’ or lose its elasticity.
    Continuous wetting over a long period of time, however, causes eventually a decrease of the material’s permeability to liquid and gases.
    Hence, long term horizontal or level storage (with the wine wetting and deteriorating the structure of the cork) is likely worse than upright storage.
    I refer to findings by Pereira, H. (2015) The rationale behind cork properties: a review of structure and chemistry.

  20. David says:

    Most of the wine I buy has screw tops. Now wait for the wine snobs to chime in about how awful screw tops are.

  21. I think the reason they lay the bottles on the side is because as the wine/port ages, it drops residue to the bottom.

    If you come to pour your wine/port and let’s say your bottle was stud upright for 10 years, while you pour your alcoholic beverage you’ll be dragging the residue with it causing a potential off flavour to the wine/port.

    If you pour your wine/port from a bottle what was layed on its side it’ll reduce the residue going into your glass while you poured giving you a more pleasant drink.

    I believe it’s that simple.

  22. Rupert Ziegfreid says:

    I can’t argue either point.
    Any whine I buy is consumed before I need to worry about stupid like how to store a bottle for 25 years.
    Think you will all live forever?
    Better start drinking them bottles up.

  23. Mark Dickens says:

    Clearly the scientist doesn’t drink much wine that has been kept of 15-15 years and has never heard of ullage. The humidity in the cellar is to prevent the out face end of the cork drying which in terms takes moisture from further inside the bottle via capillary action. The result is to reduce the liquid content over time as a gradual capillary evaporation. This causes chemical changes in the wine and can affect flavour characteristics and maturation times. Laying bottles down reduces this effect as the cork moisture is directly from the wine and not the humidity in the headspace, making the cork wetter and ensuring a better chance of a sustainable seal. Standing up bottles increases the ‘risk’ of seal breaking which will encourage oxidation and will then promote more accelerated cork drying unit the air ingress is sufficient to oxidise the wine past the point of acceptability. I’m not a scientist but we have been specialists in designing and building wine cellars for over 39 years – so we probably know a thing of two and have seen many times the effects of storing upright cork stoppered wine for long periods.

  24. Brooks Barnes says:

    Mark Dickens and others are right. I’m sadly looking at my bottle of 1970 Warre’s Port which has such extreme ullage that I’ve lost 25% of the port, while the bottle was left (mistakenly) standing upright for just 3 years. The liquid is 2 inches past the shoulder. I’ve also seen a glorious ’67 Pouilly-Fuissé turn to vinegar because the cork was practically dust after being stored upright. Perhaps Dr. Cabral is referring to modern, post 1990 wines with corks wrapped in plastic. If so, he may have a point, but my own experiences completely REFUTE his assertions. Store wine on its side.

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