Lying down or standing up? How to store screw cap wines

Screw cap wines have reached record numbers recently. Even luxury wines up to $100 are using screw caps, with the Aussies leading the way. Meanwhile the use of naturally corked bottles continues to decline. The French seem the biggest holdouts, along with Portugal, home of the cork trees.

I’ve certainly noticed far fewer corked wines, with that telltale nasty wet cardboard taint, in recent months as I plow through hundreds of wines in tasting rooms and on judging panels.

But readers continue to ask me for advice on how to store screw cap bottles. And I must confess I am feeling my way along with you, as it is all so new.

Traditional cork-closed bottles are best stored on their sides to keep the cork moist. If stored upright, ultimately the cork shrinks enough to let air into the bottle and spoil the wine. Even laid down, the cork does very slowly “breathe,” changing the wine and mellowing the tannins inside the bottle.

Screw cap wines, in contrast, do not let any air into the bottle. The upside is both white and red wines are kept far fresher, almost the same as when first bottled by the winemaker.

After years of trial and error, winemakers have learned how to adjust the wine to this new screw cap universe, including tweaking the sulphur for whites and the oak-aging time for reds.

I personally store my screw cap wines standing up. It sure takes less space in the cellar! The other reason I prefer not to lay screw cap wines down is I still don’t trust extended exposure of wine to the synthetic cap liner. Yes, this is irrational, the liner is supposed to be inert, but that’s what I do. It has worked so far, the screw cap wines have aged wonderfully, albeit without the changes a cork would allow.