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.

Read more

COMPOUNDS CALLED CORKLINS FOUND IN CORK-STOPPERED WINES

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

  1. MICHAEL SCHUSTER says:

    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…

  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: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arden_Buck_equation
    Reference re moisture in cork: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/235767577_Cork_Hygroscopic_equilibrium_moisture_content

    • 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!)

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