Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, or "Vinny" for short. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the technical aspects of winemaking to the fine points of etiquette. I hope you find my answers educational and even amusing. Looking for a particular answer? Check my archive and my FAQs. You can also follow me on Twitter: @AskDrVinny.
Dear Dr. Vinny,
I recently had dinner with some friends who opened a bottle of 1961 Château Pétrus that seemed to be less than full at the time of opening. It wasn't spoiled, and the cork didn't appear to be damaged. Had they taken a drink of it to taste it and recorked it?
Probably not. That space between the cork and the bottle is known as "ullage," and it varies according to the bottle's age. Over a long period of time, the powerful seal of a cork can deteriorate enough to allow the passage of molecules from the bottle. The truant molecules are water, which is 70 percent to 80 percent of the composition of any given wine. However, oxygen and alcohol molecules are each about twice the size of water molecules, preventing them from easily escaping through the aging cork or seeping in.
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