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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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