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Dear Dr. Vinny,

What is the meaning of the term “ullage”?

—Bikash B., Guwahati, India

Dear Bikash,

Ullage is the unfilled space inside the top of a bottle of wine. It’s not there by accident—ullage allows for the expansion of the wine as its temperature changes, just in case it needs it.

While “ullage” refers specifically to the empty space, the wine in the bottle is measured by what’s called a “fill level.” Both of these terms come up in conversation about older wines, because gradually, over time, the ullage will increase and the fill level will fall.

If you’re looking at a 10-year-old bottle of wine and the ullage is all the way down into the shoulder of the bottle, there’s more reason to suspect it might be compromised than if it were still in the neck of the bottle. Conversely, a 100-year-old bottle of wine might be suspicious if it didn’t have that much ullage.

—Dr. Vinny

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