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Storing wines on their side -
is it necessary?

by Nick Alabaster

Nick Alabaster I  t was on a whim five years ago that I decided to store two different wines, both horizontally and vertically, in order to determine if laying wine on it's side is an essential part of wine storage.

    The two sets of wines chosen were Vieux-Telegraphe '95, a respected red Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Tim Adams Riesling '96. I had both in halves, and plenty of bottles, so I felt I had little very little to lose in trying this experiment.

    My conclusion after 3 years with the two halves of Tim Adams Riesling, was that 3 years storing it vertically had no discernable effect - in the glass you couldn't tell them apart in look, smell and taste. In fact, the bottle level was in fact slightly lower in the horizontally stored wine through some seepage.

    So now five years after having one bottle standing upright, in two different homes, at least four different locations around them, well short of ideal storage conditions: low humidity, temperature variation from 14-27 degree Celsius, time had come to spring these on Jamie Goode in identical glasses for him to tell apart.

    The fill levels were identical, although the cork on the upright bottle looked the most porous, slightly more stained along it's length (the wine of course had spent a couple of journeys on it's side), easier to get out, and unlike the horizontally stored bottle, you could read the 1995 stamped on the bottom still!

    However, initially in the glass there was nothing different to go on. If you thought one seemed more open one minute, the next it was the other way round. Both were lovely wines, drinking on the youthful side, black fruity, beef blood, touch of leather, still quite firm.

    Only after the wines had been in the glasses half an hour or more, did one wine seem a little softer than the other, and at the same time seemed a little more high-toned. However, while it was the upright stored bottle, it was in fact the better wine to be drunk today, the other just a little too firm to be drunk on it's own without food.

    Maybe even the perceived greater porosity of cork in the vertically stored wine could have equally explained the differences we where experiencing.

    So, limited samples agreed, but providing good corks initially (something which I have to say is not something I totally rely on), lying a wine on it's side is only something that could possibly be of great benefit if you truly are going to store wines for a considerable amount of time (over 5 years), or the wines themselves have limited ageability.

    I suspect in many cases, a less than perfect cork, or a wine which isn't as structured at the Vieux-Telegraphe, then the benefit of lying bottles on their side might be observed earlier than 5 years; but rest assured - I no longer lose any sleep over having any of my wines standing up for months at a time!

Nick Alabaster is a fine wine lover living in England. I frequently meet him at informal tastings and am always impressed by his incisive tasting and vinous knowledge.

© Copyright Nick Alabaster 2002.

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1 June 2002