wine information

bottling formats

Forget what you’ve been told – size matters!

Given identical storage conditions, larger bottles mature more slowly than smaller bottles, promising greater longevity and investment potential. For this reason, many collectors prefer the large format, and these bottles consequently attract a premium over their regular-sized counterparts.

But buying big isn’t always an investment decision. Large formats are de rigueur at special celebrations, where bottle size is dictated by the number of freeloaders guests, and limited only by your ability to carry it.

One aside to offset the fiscal pinch of your large-format purchase: opened Madeira and Sherry will keep indefinitely (apart from Sherry made under flor, Madeira and Sherry are already oxidised, after all) and Vintage Port will keep for a fortnight or so (thanks to its fortification with neutral Brandy spirit) – so don’t be daunted when it comes to these sipping wines – time is on your side…

their names

Piccolo 187.5ml (Champagne only)
Quarter 200ml
Chopine 250ml (Bordeaux)
Fillette 375ml (Loire)
Half (or Demi, Split) 375ml
Jennie 500ml (usually sweet wines including Sauternes, Sherry & Tokaji)
Pint 600ml
Clavelin 620ml (Vin Jaune)
Bottle 700ml (usually spirits, some Port)
Bottle (or Standard) 750ml
Magnum 1,500ml
Marie Jeanne 2,250ml (Bordeaux)
Tappit Hen 2,250ml (Bordeaux, Port)
Tregnum 2,250ml (Port)
Double Magnum 3,000ml (Bordeaux)
Jéroboam 3,000ml (Champagne & Burgundy)
4,500ml (Bordeaux)
5,000ml (Bordeaux)
Rehoboam 4,500ml (Champagne & Burgundy)
Impériale 6,000ml (Bordeaux)
Methuselah 6,000ml (Champagne & Burgundy)
Mordechai 9,000ml (Champagne & Burgundy)
Salmanazar 9,000ml
Balthazar 12,000ml
Nebuchadnezzar 15,000ml
Melchior 18,000ml
Solomon 20,000ml (Champagne only)
Sovereign 25,000ml (Champagne only)
Primat 27,000ml (Champagne only)
Melchizedek 30,000ml (Champagne only)

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the bottle itself

The Case

For all wines, buying a wine in its original (wooden) case adds value.

The Bottle

It should be intact!

The Label

A cellar-damaged label may mean nothing more than an inadvertent scrape. It does indicate that the wine has been moved from its case, and probably cellared privately. A cellar-stained label suggests exposure to excessive moisture at some point, or a nearby inadvertent breakage. Neither of these conditions will affect the quality of the wine per se, but they do bring the quality of cellaring into question, thereby decreasing the wine’s value somewhat. Visible wine streaks on the label suggest exposure to intense heat and excessive ullage, probably resulting in madeirisation and oxidation.

The Cork and Capsule

A cellar-damaged capsule has the same implications as a cellar-damaged label. Where visible, wine track lines along the length of the cork, and a weeping cork, suggest exposure to intense heat, as does an elevated capsule due to the cork also being pushed up with internal thermal expansion. All of these clues strongly suggest that the wine has likely been madeirised. Where heat has not played a role, a weeping cork indicates a fragile and failing closure, with an inherently high risk of oxidation, particularly where the level of the wine indicates excessive ullage for its age.

The Screw-cap

Interestingly, screw-cap closures effectively hide the clues that indicate a heat-damaged bottle…

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ullage

Ullage, which refers to the amount of liquid lost from a wine bottle, is an important consideration when purchasing expensive and older bottles of wine – here we explain what fill levels to look for in two typical bottle types.

Bordeaux

Bordeaux bottles are (with the exception of Haut-Brion) long and uniformly cylindrical with quite square shoulders.

1. High fill:

 

Typical level of wine after bottling and should remain this way for up to 10 years.

2. Into neck:

 

Typical level of wines less than 10 years old. Exceptionally good for wines over 10 years old.

3. Base of neck:

 

Perfectly good for any age of wine. Exceptionally good for wines over 20 years old.

4. Top shoulder:

 

Normal level of wines over 15 years old. Rarely a problem.

5. Upper shoulder:

 

Normal level of wines over 20 years old. Usually no risk of oxidation.

6. Mid shoulder:

 

Normal level of wines over 30 years old. Some risk of oxidation.

7. Mid-low shoulder:

 

Considerable risk of oxidation.

8. Low shoulder:

 

High risk of oxidation.

Burgundy

Burgundy bottles are shorter and have a slender, sloping neck and shoulders, making the fill level more difficult to define. Moreover, the condition and drinkability of Burgundy is less affected by ullage than Bordeaux of the same age.

1. High fill:

 

Typical level of wine after bottling.

2. 3cm:

 

Typical level of wines less than 10 years old. Exceptionally good for wines over 20 years old.

3. 5cm:

 

Perfectly good for any age of wine. Typical level of wines less than 20 years old.

4. 7cm:

 

Exceptionally good for wines over 30 years old.

5. Over 7cm:

 

Normal level of wines over 30 years old. Rarely a problem. Increasing risk of oxidation.

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storage

To ensure it reaches and maintains its potential, wine must be stored correctly. An ideal cellaring environment requires total darkness and stillness, a constant temperature of between 13 – 16˚C and ambient humidity of 60 – 80%. Where a bottle is sealed under cork, the wine must remain in contact with the cork to ensure that the cork does not desiccate.

Unless the bottle shows evidence of profound heat exposure (such as an elevated cork), there is no way of interpreting a wine’s cellaring history, until of course it’s time to drink it. Simply put, without knowing the provenance of the wine, there’s no way of gauging its integrity, making buying from many retailers and auction houses something of a lucky dip. This is of particular concern in Australia, where our harsh climate and geographical distance from old-world regions necessitates nothing less than dedicated cellar storage – something some importers, wine collectors and resellers sadly still consider a luxury.

Avoiding the trap of rampant poor storage means buying only from a supplier who can guarantee provenance. At Vincurable, we know the history of our wine, and it’s not a very eventful one. After cold storage at its origin, it is imported under refrigeration and immediately cellared in perfect conditions in Australia while it awaits its final journey to you.

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shipping

The invention of Madeira was a rare happy accident involving the trans-equatorial journey of a Portuguese wine, but even the most avant-garde of modern winemakers doesn’t want to see this happen to theirs. Yet surprisingly, a great deal of the world’s wine is still shipped in unrefrigerated sea containers, simply to increase the merchant’s profitability.

At Vincurable, our respect for the product and the people who make it means we only transport by refrigerated sea container or air freight. In this way, we both know that the bottle you open will be an expression of the winemaker’s intention, not of climatic extremes.

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good things

Crust / Sediment

Commonly found in red wines, particularly unfined or unfiltered wines and Vintage Port, this results from the aggregation of suspended grape solids and polymerisation of phenolic compounds, such as tannins, causing these molecules to come out of solution. It takes years to evolve, and is a natural part of the wine’s maturation. Although harmless, sediment can be very bitter and texturally unpleasant, and is the principal reason for older red wines being decanted.

Wine Diamonds

Wine diamonds aren’t the marrying kind – they’re potassium bitartrate – natural, very pretty and entirely harmless. They are commonly seen in older wines from Alsace, Germany and Sauternes, but also in red wines. Otherwise known as tartaric acid crystals, they’re not for drinking, so these, like sediment, should be removed by decanting.

Pétillance

Also known as spritz, this refers to the inclusion of a small amount of carbon dioxide in the finished wine, and is typically perceived in young white wines as a subtle fizz or prickle on the tongue. It’s fine if the secondary (in-bottle) refermentation creating this gas is the winemaker’s intention, but where it’s not, it’s an ominous sign that bacteria have taken hold post-bottling.

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bad things

Bottle Shock

If you’ve ever been jet-lagged, you know the feeling, and the rigours of transport affect wine in the same way, rendering a perfectly healthy wine
dull, disjointed or muted. Fortunately, it’s a temporary ailment cured by a fortnight’s rest (and the patient resolve of its owner).

Brett (Brettanomyces or Dekkera)

This yeast is a common and stubborn inhabitant of the vineyard that lives on grape skins, in the winery, and in wine. Small amounts of the compounds it produces may actually enhance a wine’s complexity, but where excessive, the wine will be spoiled, and in such instances is commonly confused with cork taint. Excessive Brett characteristically imparts barnyard, band-aid and metallic tastes and aromas.

Cork Taint / Trichloroanisole (TCA)

A wretched problem caused by fungi sometimes present in natural cork, TCA was the original reason for screw-cap enclosures being adopted en masse. The fungi produce trichloroanisole and affect between 1 – 10% (let’s say 5%) of bottles under this type of closure and – contrary to popular belief – are not limited to cheap cork, or cheap bottles. Unlike Brett, this compound is detectable in miniscule quantities of only 3 – 4 nanograms per litre, making it highly intrusive. It imparts a mouldy hay, damp hessian or wet dog character, marring the wine to a variable degree – perceptible as a faint background vestige in its most benign manifestation, to an all-pervading omnipresence rendering the wine undrinkable.

Ladybird Taint

Perhaps the only animal as cute as a clown fish, but when present in plague proportions and crushed along with the grapes, ladybirds are no laughing matter. This insect will seriously mess with the character of the wine, infecting it with pyrazines that impart rancid, bitter, herbaceous and cat’s pee notes.

Lightstrike

Excessive exposure to ultraviolet light is detrimental to wine, which commonly loses its freshness and takes on wet cardboard and wet wool characters as a result. It is another consequence of poor storage, and a legitimate cause for concern where bottles are left on display in retail outlets for prolonged periods. Most affected are delicate wines such as Champagne.

Heat Damage (Madeirisation)

Madeira is purposefully exposed to heat during its making, but this is the only wine that should ever undergo such treatment during its lifetime. Simply put, wine exposed to excessive heat, during storage or shipping, will suffer. At best, the wine will be baked, resulting in a wine ageing prematurely, losing its freshness and fruit – a cooked wine. At worst, in addition to all of the above, the cork may be pushed up, resulting in premature ullage and oxidation. Either way, the bottle will be a dud. This is the most common problem encountered with wines imported to, and cellared in, Australia.

Oxidation

Wines purposefully exposed to oxygen, such as Madeira and most Sherries, can be exquisite, but for other wines, exposure to air is devastating. While corks allow exposure to a miniscule amount of air, which in concert with normal ullage, may contribute to maturation, any serious breach of the integrity of the seal will lead to a loss of colour, flavour and aroma, also referred to as flattening (phenolic oxidation), and the creation of chemical by-products including acetaldehyde and acetic acid (ethanolic oxidation), which combine to define a spoiled wine. Acetaldehyde contributes the Sherry-like nuttiness and acetic acid the zing commonly associated with volatile acidity.

Rarely, random premature oxidation can occur for no obvious reason, a problem observed quite commonly in some recent vintages of white Burgundies.

Sulphitic Wine

Sulphur dioxide is a superb antioxidant and preservative (number 220 on
the label), used almost universally in winemaking. The key to optimising
its advantage lies in its judicious use: the right amount will ensure that your wine is in pristine condition and bacteria-free; in excess, it will impart an unpleasant and pervasive burnt-matchstick or rubber character – the
hallmark of a sulphitic wine.

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