Wines have traditionally been stored horizontally throughout the years. There is a very practical reason behind this method of storing wine bottles. For most of wine-making history, the bottles have been sealed with corks, which need to be kept moist to limit the amount of shrinkage and leakage of oxygen. Horizontally storing wine was the only way to keep corks moist and prevent shrinkage. However, because screw top wine bottles do not have the issue of shrinking corks, there is no real reason for these bottles to be placed in a horizontal fashion. Instead, screw top wine bottles can be placed in whichever configuration one sees fit.
History of Cork
For most of history, wine bottles have been sealed with corks. Cork is made from the bark of Quercus Suber, or the cork oak, and can be easily compressed, which is why they can effectively be used to seal wine inside of a wine glass. The relatively wide availability of cork oak trees as well as the sealing properties of cork stoppers ensured they would be used for thousands of years to seal wine bottles. In addition to practicality, there are various reasons to use cork with wine bottles. These include tradition, the renewable nature of cork trees (compared to the non-renewable nature of plastic based caps), and the alleged ability to age wine using cork-sealed bottles. For these reasons, many wine enthusiasts continue to look at cork as the gold standard of wine stoppers.
Issues With Cork
However, there are a few issues with using corks in wine bottling. Firstly, corks can cause cork taint, which is a degradation in the taste of wine caused by fungi which can grow in the cork. When fungi react with compounds found within processed woods (such as those found in cork), it can produce chemicals which add an unpleasant taste to wine. Secondly, cork can occasionally break or crumble. This can cause pieces of the material to fall into the wine within the bottle. Accidentally drinking cork pieces definitely detracts from the wine tasting experience. Finally, cork can shrink when left dry, which breaks the seal of the bottle and allows air to enter. Although some wine enthusiasts believe a small amount of oxygen can help age wine, most generally agree that excessive exposure to air can cause the wine’s taste to spoil. The problem of shrinking corks, however, can easily be solved by keeping the cork moist. This is why wine bottles have traditionally been stored horizontally. When stored in this position, the wine inside the bottle keeps the cork moist, allowing it to maintain its seal. This practical concern has been the driving factor for traditional wine storage methodology.
Because of the previously mentioned downsides of corks, more and more wine manufactures have begun bottling their wine with screw-on caps. Screw top wine bottles are a relatively modern invention, dating from the mid-20th century. Because of their newer arrival to the wine bottling scene, they have often been considered a sign of “cheaper” wine, although this stigma has slowly dissipated over the years. Screw-on caps are typically made from metal with an inert plastic liner. As their name suggests, screw-on caps can be opened and closed by twisting, much like the cap on a soda bottle. These caps avoid most of the major disadvantages of cork caps. Cork taint does not occur with screw-on caps. Fungi cannot grow on the sterile atmosphere of a plastic liner, and the inert material prevents any undesirable chemical reactions from occurring. Screw-on caps also do not crumble, meaning pieces of the cap do not fall into the wine. Finally, these caps do not shrink under any circumstances, and therefore are much better at keeping a tight seal on the bottle. Some people even believe it keeps too tight of a seal, arguing this prevents the wine from aging at all. However, the airtight seal of a screw top wine bottle undoubtedly keeps wine in good condition for far longer.
How To Store
So should these screw top wines be stored horizontally, much like corked bottles? In reality, there is very little reason for these wine bottles to be stored horizontally, compared to any other orientation. Because the cap does not shrink and does not need to be kept moist, the primary reason for horizontal storage does not apply. Screw-on caps are able to maintain a proper seal, regardless of the bottle storage method.
On the contrary, there are some people who are afraid that extended exposure to the plastic on the bottom of the cap may be detrimental to the taste of the wine, and insist that screw-on cap wine SHOULD be stored vertically. However, the plastic liner used to make screw on caps is known by science to be inert, according to all measures. Although it has not been definitely been proven that contact with this plastic has no effect on the taste of wine, there is most likely no real downside to allowing the wine to come in contact with the screw on cap for extended periods of time. With that in mind, storing screw top wines vertically is probably not a necessity.
With this in mind, it’s ultimately up to the wine enthusiast how his or her screw top wine bottles are stored. There are still a few best practices in wine storage which should still be followed. For example, it is still clearly important to store wine in a cool, dark, area. However, whether to store screw top wine bottles vertically, horizontally, or at an angle is entirely up to personal choice and practicality. For those who have traditional wine racks, it makes sense to store screw top wines horizontally, along with the rest of the wine. For wine enthusiasts who already have a collection of horizontally stored cork stopped bottles, horizontally storing any screw top bottles might be an aesthetically pleasing choice to make. However, for people who are concerned with saving space or storing their wine wherever they can, it may make more sense to simply store the wine vertically.