The fill level of a wine bottle is of utmost importance, especially when dealing with investment grade stock. The fill level, also referred to as ‘ullage’ can determine a great deal about the condition of a bottle and its contents, and therefore plays a significant role in the valuation of a bottle of fine wine.
Fill Levels and Ullage
The technical term for decreased volume of content in a bottle, barrel or tank is ‘ullage’. Ullage is derived from the French term ‘ouillage’ and has several meanings depending on the context. In most cases it refers to the space between the wine and the top of the container it is in, however, the term can also be used to describe the evaporation process itself. Moreover, when a bottle or barrel has been subjected to the aforementioned evaporation process, it is said to be ‘ullaged’.
Why Do Fill Levels Change
The ullage, or fill level of a wine bottle will almost certainly change over time. Wine tends to ‘breathe’ naturally through the cork as it matures. The air in the headspace between the contents and the container is usually a mixture of alcohol, water vapors and carbon dioxide (a product of the fermentation process). Thus, over a longer period of time, some of the liquid will evaporate and cause a slightly lower fill level than when initially bottled.
Additionally, factors like leaky corks, non-airtight sealing, faulty bottles, unfavorable storage conditions (extreme heat or extreme cold, for example) or even transport conditions can affect the ullage of a wine bottle.
While a slight alteration of a wine bottles fill level is to be expected over the course of time, an irregular fill level can be a good indication about the condition of the wine; lower levels usually signify an accelerated ageing process, or faulty stock.
Please note: Bordeaux wine bottles and Burgundy wine bottles have different standards when evaluating fill levels, due to the shape of the bottle; the following terms only apply to Bordeaux wine bottles.
Terminology for Wine Fill Levels – Ullage
- HF – HIGH FILL
The standard level for young wines, or older bottles recorked at the Chateau.
- IN – INTO NECK
Perfectly good level for a wine of any age. Indicates exceptional storage conditions. Outstanding level for a wine 10 years of age or older.
- BN – BASE OF NECK
Good level for a wine of any age. Standard ullage for recent or older wines. For wines 10 years of age or older, indicates perfect storage conditions.
- VTS – VERY TOP SHOULDER
Acceptable for any wine over 15 years old.
- TS – TOP SHOULDER
Acceptable level for red Bordeaux wines around 20 years old.
- HS – HIGH SHOULDER
Acceptable for wine over 25 years old. Good for wine over 40 years old. Minor natural loss through the cork and/or evaporation through cork and capsule.
- MS – MID SHOULDER
Not unusual for wines over 40 years old. May indicate early signs of cork failure. Small risk.
- LMS – LOW-MID-SHOULDER
Bad level for investment wines. Usually indicates deterioration of the cork. Increased risk.
- LS – LOW SHOULDER
Unacceptable level for investment wine. High risk. May indicate poor storage conditions and/or an undrinkable wine.
The Importance of Fill Levels for Investment Wines
As mentioned, fill levels will invariably evolve over time. However, there is a certain norm which, if exceeded, can significantly decrease the investment value of any wine bottle, regardless of all other factors. Therefore, it is crucial to always verify the fill levels of procured stock, to ensure the bottles are in top-notch condition.
At Bordeaux Traders we only deal with perfect wine bottles and cases of verified provenance, and once procured, all stock is professionally transported, and stored in bonded warehouses to retain its high investment value. As experts in the field of wine investment, we only offer the very best quality – in stock and in service.