Why Is Wine Stored On Its Side?
A lot of people wonder why wine is often stored on its side, in a rack. The corollary question is, can wine be stored upright for a long period of time without negatively affecting the quality of the wine? In other words, can the bottles in a case of wine be left in the box for months or even years?
There is some debate about whether to store wine on its side or upright. There are even a few proponents of storing wine bottles upside down.
To frame some of what we’ve discovered, let’s divide duration of wine storage into three categories:
Short term - under 6 months
Mid term - 6 months to 5 years
Long term - Over 5 years
Storing wine on its side
Those in favor of storing wine on its side say that having the liquid in contact with the cork will help prevent the cork from drying out if the wine is stored for the long term.
In addition, the force of the wine pushing against the cork will cause less outside air to get into the wine over time--thereby preventing excessive oxidation.
Storing wine upright
Proponents of upright storage argue that horizontal storage will not prevent a cork from drying out. Some claim that a cork that is in constant contact with liquid may deteriorate more quickly.
These proponents point out that the headspace, which is the air between the top of the liquid and the bottom of the cork is high humidity air. The humidity is enough to keep the cork moist when the bottle is upright.
Even opponents of upright storage may say that short and mid term upright storage will likely not harm the cork or the wine. But the same people will tell you wine that was stored on its side for the long term has been observed to have less cork damage than wine that was stored upright for the long term.
How about wine bottles with screw caps?
For a wine bottle with a screw cap, almost everyone agrees that there’s no wine quality benefit to be gained by storing the bottle on its side.
Reasons for storing a screw cap wine bottles on their side include:
Wine in racks makes for a nice room display
There’s somewhat of a ritual around the action of the host pulling a bottle out of a rack
Of course, these are the same reasons that many people store wine bottles with corks on their side—they're not necessarily thinking about the science behind wine storage. If you decide to keep a few cases of wine that have corks stored upright for a couple of years, you're probably not creating much risk to the quality of your wine.