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Storing wine on its side is nonsense, says scientist

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 (although for barrel cellars it is important to reduce evaporation).

“The humidity of the environment around the bottle won’t have any influence, because the cork is influenced by the humidity inside the bottle,” he said, adding, “So the idea that you need to store wine in a damp cellar is another myth.”

He then stated, “The myths are falling down one by one now the cork industry has started doing studies.”

When asked later by the drinks business why wet corks in older wines are sometimes shrunken, he said that having the stopper permanently soaked by wine might actually accelerate the weakening of the cork’s cell structure.

In other words, not only is it unnecessary to keep the cork wet, it may actually be bad for the stopper.

Summing up, he said that such knowledge was nothing new in the scientific community.

“The AWRI published a paper on this back in 2005, but the problem is that people don’t read research papers, they just want the news,” he commented.

Finally, making his views clear, he stated, “The idea that storing a wine on its side to stop the cork drying out is bullsh•t.”

Previously, he recorded that 95-98% humidity in the headspace was high enough to ensure the passage of phenolics as well as taints from the cork into the wine – which would explain the presence of cork-derived TCA in a wine that had been stored upright.

As for factors that accelerate the evolution of wine in the bottle, aside from the failure of the seal – whatever the closure type – it is temperature that has the greatest affect, as higher temperatures speed up chemical reactions.

The study referenced by Cabral was published in 2005 by Skouroumounis et al from the Australian Wine Research Institute and it is entitled, ‘The impact of closure type and storage conditions on the composition, colour and flavour properties of a Riesling and a wooded Chardonnay wine during five years’ storage.

In the abstract it states “The bottle orientation during storage under the conditions of this study had little effect on the composition and sensory properties of the wines examined.”

Towards the end of the study it is noted that “temperature can have a direct effect on colour development through accelerating chemical reactions even without significant oxygen ingress.”

As for the condition of the corks used in the study, it records, “The two corks examined here differed substantially in their estimated wetness but appeared to perform similarly overall.”

Cabral also told db that the interaction of wine and phenolics from cork stoppers produces a newly-identified set of compounds called Corklins that affect a wine’s colour and bitterness.

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