Cork up, cork down?
Prompted by a reader's curious question, let's spend a moment today examining a bit of wine information that's not quite as trivial as it seems: In shipping and storing wine, which side should go up?
Anyone who's mastered Wine 101 will likely shout, "On its side, of course!" And this is certainly the conventional wisdom for cellaring wine or holding it on standard wine racks: Stashing your wine bottles horizontally keeps the cork in contact with wine so it stays moist and tight; keeping the label side up makes it easy to identify the wine, and not coincidentally, ensures that any sediment will fall along the bottom side of the bottle, well out of harm's way.
But look around a wine shop and you'll see something funny: Many commercial wines are shipped - and often stored in the merchant's back room - in cardboard cases of 12 bottles turned upside down with the cork on the bottom.
So, reader "Rick" asked, "Will storing wine upside down (cork facing the floor) harm the wine?"
The short answer: "No, not really. It's OK."
This curious practice deserves a little more discussion, though. To reinforce my own thoughts, I ran it by the gurus on our Wine Lovers' Discussion Group for their opinions, and came up with these observations:
The upside-down position is commonplace - especially in the U.S. - for wines in shipment and short-term storage by distributors and merchants. This appears to be a "lesser of several evils" choice, as standard cardboard wine boxes with simple, lightweight cardboard dividers wouldn't be stable if stacked several cases high for shipping or warehousing; and boxing them with the corks up flies in the face of the conventional wisdom about keeping the corks wet ... although in reality, a few weeks or even months upright wouldn't hurt most wines. (It should also be noted that some high-end wines are shipped in special boxes with styrofoam or formed cardboard dividers that hold bottles securely in the horizontal position. But these pricey boxes apparently aren't practical for "everyday" wines.)
Most people don't store their wine in upside-down boxes at home, though, for a couple of reasons. First, if any deposit of sediment builds up over time, it will land on the cork in an upside-down bottle, making it difficult to keep out of the wine at serving time. Second, an unlikely but potentially serious concern, in the rare occasion of a leaky or failed cork, you stand a greater chance of losing the entire bottle if the cork is pointed down.
Since there is no particularly strong reason in favor of storing wines cork-side-down at home, why do it? Whether your storage plans are short-term or long, I recommend keeping your wines in the traditional way, on their sides in wine racks or shelving, not cork-side-down.
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Friday, July 30, 2004