You’ve probably just read that opening question and thought…
“Huh? What do you mean ‘tilt Italian wine bottles?’ I don’t do that. I either pop them in the fridge, leave them standing, or store them horizontally!”
If that’s the case, you’re probably like most Italian wine lovers.
Storage is one of those tricky wine concepts that we know is important but we often don’t know all that much about. But if you enter a traditional wine cellar, you may see that the owner doesn’t store their wines in the way that most do. Pay closer attention and you will see that cellars tend to store their bottles at a slight tilt.
This is considered the proper way to store Italian wine.
But most people don’t do it!
So, we come to a few questions.
Why will traditionalists tell you that tilting is so important? Why are most wine cellars designed to allow the bottles to be tilted? And if you’re not tilting, will you end up damaging your wines in storage before you ever have the chance to drink them?
Let’s answer those questions in this article.
So, Why Tilt?
The answer is all about the cork.
Of course, we know that many producers use traditional corks to seal their wine bottles. This is a practice that dates back centuries and is still used today, even though we live in an era where screw caps exist. While some Italian wine producers will happily use screw caps, many traditionalists believe the cork is still the best way to seal a bottle of wine.
However, the cork also presents a problem.
Over time, cork dries out. This drying process doesn’t affect the wine directly. However, it does lead to the cork contracting slightly. This contraction means that the cork doesn’t form as strong a seal as it needs to for the bottle of wine, allowing air to get inside the bottle. Over time, this small amount of air seeping in can affect the wine, leading to the same type of effect you get if you leave an opened bottle of wine out for a couple of days.
The wine goes bad.
The good news is that the opposite occurs when the cork is moist. Moisture leads to the cork expanding, allowing it to create an even tighter seal for the bottle. Of course, we don’t want to soak our corks in water, as this will seep through the cork and affect the wine.
So, we tilt.
Tilting the bottle forward allows the wine to make contact with the cork, thus keeping it in a perpetual state of moistness. This ensures the cork retains its integrity as a seal until it’s finally popped open.
How Far Should You Lean?
This is an interesting question as leaning is something of a science in the world of Italian wine.
It seems like it should be simple.
Lean the bottle of wine forward and keep the cork moist.
The problem is that many wines have natural sediment that builds up at the bottom of the bottle. This is a result of the wine-making process, with some producers choosing the leave the sediment in place to make their wines as natural as possible. The problem arises when you lean the bottle too far forward. This can lead to the sediment slowly travelling from the bottom of the bottle to the top, resulting in it gathering around the cork.
The result is that the sediment may then enter the wine glass when you pour from the bottle.
Nobody wants a mouthful of sediment when they were expecting a tasty sip of Italian wine. So, we want to make sure we lean our bottles forward while also ensuring we don’t lean them so far forward that we ruin the experience.
This is where a little bit of science comes in.
Years of experimentation have led to the conclusion that 10 degrees is the perfect leaning angle for a bottle of Italian wine. Any further and the sediment may start to travel. Any less than 10 degrees and you may not achieve complete saturation of the cork, leading to the possibility of air entering the bottle.
Do You Really Need to Lean?
So, we can see that leaning isn’t just something that people do for show. It serves a practical purpose that makes it important.
The question now is just how important is leaning.
After all, you will see that most supermarkets don’t lean their wines. They generally either store them horizontally or vertically. And when you get the wine home, it’s likely that you will do the same.
And you’ve also likely noticed that there seem to be few ill effects for the wine when you do this.
That will be the case in most instances.
Leaning only really becomes important if you intend to age your wine for a large amount of time. It’s at this point that air seeping into the bottle can become a problem. A dry cork only allows a tiny fraction of air into a bottle. But if you’re ageing a bottle for a decade or more, those tiny portions keep building up until the wine ends up ruined!
So, if you intend to invest in and age your wines, it’s wise to purchase a wine rack that allows for appropriate leaning.
But if you’re buying an Italian wine so that you can enjoy it soon after buying, leaning likely isn’t going to be a big concern for you. The bottle will be open long before a dry cork could possibly have an effect on the wine.
Finally, let’s assume that you are looking to store your wine for a long period of time.
Leaning is only one of the things you need to do to keep the wine in good condition. It’s also important to rotate the wine bottle every few months to ensure the wine keeps touching the cork. Of course, you also need to ensure the wine is stored in the appropriate conditions, with as little contact with natural light as possible and at a good temperature.
But ultimately, leaning is only a concern when long-term storage is your goal. If you’re looking to crack open the bottle of wine you buy quickly, don’t worry too much about leaning.