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Ullage | The Wine Virgin
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Ullage

March 13, 2008

I was wanting to know if the ullage of a wine can be used to indicate quality? - Gwen in Waterville, ME

When you are looking at a bottle and deciding if it is something that you are wanting to invest in. The ullage of a bottle will tell you about the condition of the contents. As a rule the larger the ullage, the more space for oxygen within the bottle which can hasten the aging process. This term refers to the unfilled air space at the top of a bottle of wine, which in this case is essential to allow for the expansion of the wine as the temperature changes.

During the wine fermentation process, the wine breathes through the cork and this adds complexity to the aromas and flavor of the wine. But if the fill levels are lower than what is normally expected for the wine’s age, it can lead to the decrease in the value of the bottle. Now, for a wine up to 20 years of age, it’s ullage level should be in the neck. As for wines 20 to 40 years old, anything below top shoulder should be viewed in caution.

Here is a quick reference guide when you are checking out a bottle of your favorite wine.

Mid neck: A mid neck fill tells if a wine that has been kept well.

Base neck: A lot of bottles are filled to the base neck level. For older wines this level indicates exceptional storage conditions.

Top shoulder: A wine which is over 10 years old with a top shoulder fill should be considered acceptable. Older wines will only have a top shoulder fill if they have been stored well.

Mid shoulder: A mid shoulder fill is not unusual for wines over 50 years old, but it may suggest that the wine has not been stored in the best of conditions.

Low shoulder: A low shoulder fill level suggests that the wine has been held in poor storage conditions and is usually not considered to be drinkable.

Below shoulder: This is not seen very often and can indicate that the ullage has dropped below the shoulder into the main section of the bottle with a very high chance that the wine is not drinkable.

Gwen, you are now armed with the right knowledge to judge whether or not you should pick up that curious bottle of wine and take it home with you. Cheers!!

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