Wine Culture Tasting

We believe that the enjoyment of wine is enhanced by the understanding of wine, how to analyze it, care for it, evaluate its condition, and understanding some of the basic principles about it. In this Wine culture section, we will continue to update and extend our thoughts about wine tasting and its related subjects.

Wine Analysis and Appreciation

How We Approach Wine Tasting
We believe that proper cellarage and management of wine is essential to its value, enjoyment and appreciation. Whether it is a young Pinot Noir meant for early consumption or a fine Burgundy destined for years of slow maturation, maintaining the quality and integrity of wine is paramount to the mission. The characteristics of wine reveal the wonderfully intricate details involved in both the viticultural and vinification processes, as well as bottle maturation. These details come through in the appearancearoma and taste of each wine...

The body and color of wine can reveal several of the wine’s traits, including varietal, alcohol and sugar content, weather conditions at harvest, and the maceration and filtration processes. As the wine is swirled around the bowl of the glass and brought to rest, the film of the wine, or its tears, slide down the side of the glass, announcing both the wine’s sugar and alcohol content. A thicker film implies a higher alcoholic content. A sweet wine will leave a heavy film. The skins of the grape determine the color of the wine. The intensity of the hue is dependant upon the length of time the skins are in contact with the juice. A longer soak means a darker wine. Smaller grapes have a higher skin-juice ratio and produce darker wines. Color is also influenced by weather, as warmer, drier climates tend to produce grapes that are riper, with a higher ratio of skin to juice, producing more intense coloring. The fermentation process can also play a role in the coloring of wine. If there is a cloudiness in the wine or small deposit of residue is left in your bottle, you will know that the winemaker chose not to filter these extra particles, believing that they offer extra flavor and complexity to the wine. Aging also affects the color of the wine. Younger wines are generally darker and become lighter and brick-hued as they mature.

Swirl the wine around the bowl of your glass. Inhale in three short sniffs. This will keep your olfactory senses from becoming fatigued. The wine’s aroma, or bouquet, tells the story of the grape varietal and how it was handled in the vineyard, in the cellar, in the barrel, and in the bottle. Each grape varietal yields its own perfume. Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir should smell remarkably different. The fermentation process can also affect aroma. A cooler fermentation will often produce a fruitier wine, whereas a warmer one will yield more earthy aromas. Both stainless steel tanks and wood barrels have significant impact on the aroma of wine. Stainless steel tanks allow the fruit to play the pivotal role without influence from the vessel. Oak barrels, however, can shape the aroma of the wine by adding scents of smoke, vanilla and toast. Wine’s maturation within the bottle accentuates these characteristics; as more evolved wines boast a complex bouquet of scents, such as cedar and spice.

As you slowly sip the wine, you will encounter the product of strenuous field work, the winemaking practices and, quite possibly, years of storage. The taste of wine, like appearance and aroma, is influenced by the quality of the fruit, the region, the climate and the weather during the growing season. The levels of alcohol, acidity and tannin all shape the flavors and textures of the wine and reveal how it was produced. A higher alcohol content, noted by a lush palate of sweet fruit, means that the wine was produced from very ripe grapes. Acidity is determined by grape varietal, climate, and malolactic fermentation, which is the winemaking process that converts and softens the harsh malic acids. Balanced tannins provide the texture and feel to wines, and assist in the aging process, adding structure and backbone to ensure a wine’s long life.

A consistently cool, dark space allows all of these complex components to marry together, yielding a harmonious, thoroughly enjoyable drink. Proper cellarage and management of your collection can greatly enhance these qualities and ensure your wine’s appreciation, both in terms of value and enjoyment.


History of Ownership and Care 
Provenance refers to the background and history of an item. In the case of wine, it is important to understand where the bottle has been kept and how it has been stored. Proper cellarage is essential to maintain a wine’s quality, value, and to ensure proper maturation.

Ideally, wine should be stored at 55°F. At this temperature, wines can mature slowly over a long period of time. Conversely, wines stored at higher temperatures mature more rapidly, thus peaking too early and deteriorating quickly. As long as the wine is stored below 65°F, fine wines will evolve gradually enough to maintain and develop quality and flavor. Fluctuations in temperature can alter the maturation process of wine and also shift the pressure inside the bottle, moving the cork and allowing air to enter the bottle and oxidize the wine.

Humidity level is also important, as it can affect the quality of the wine. A humidity level of 50% is sufficient, while 70% to 75% is ideal. Levels exceeding 75% will cause the labels to become moldy and deteriorate, while levels below 40% will cause the cork to dry out. A dry cork induces evaporation by permitting air to enter the bottle. Evaporation leads to a greater head space, or ullage, in the bottle. Too much exposure to air will cause the wine to oxidize.

Positioning and Placement
Other variables affect wine’s quality. The positioning of the bottle while in storage is also important. A bottle should be lying on its side, allowing the wine to moisten the cork, as a dry cork can lead to oxidation. Exposure to sunlight should also be avoided, as ultraviolet light causes free radicals to develop in wine, resulting in oxidation.

Like fine art, provenance is significant as it can alter the value of wine. As some merchants, wholesalers, importers and distributors remain indifferent to the way in which wine is transported and stored, it is highly advisable to use caution when purchasing older wines. Auction houses account for the ullage in bottles and adjust their prices accordingly. We all should be so vigilant in our purchases and storage.


Derived from the French word ouillage, ullage refers to the head space that exists between the cork and the fill level of the wine.
Ullage also refers to the evaporation or leakage of wine from the bottle. Evaporation is a natural process that occurs with aging. Older wines will tend to have a larger gap between the cork and the fill level of wine. Evaporation transpires as the cork ages and dries out, allowing a small exchange of wine and oxygen. Ullage is also caused by the following occurrences: the cork absorbing wine, a faulty cork, evaporation from wine trapped between the bottleneck and the cork during bottling, and wine stored at extremely high temperatures. Bottlers tend to minimize the head space in each bottle by filling the wine as close as possible to the cork, leaving only 1 mm or 0.04 in. Lower fill levels, or larger head spaces, could lead to oxidation, the chemical reaction between oxygen and another agent. Oxidation, the same process that browns an apple, can be harmful to wine as it flattens the flavors and neutralizes the aromas. More oxygen trapped in the head space can hasten the ageing process of a tannic wine, therefore, it is usually wise to consume the bottle of wine with a lower fill level earlier, as it will most often be the most evolved bottle in the case. Proper cellarage of wine insures against excessive ullage as the wine matures over time.

Bordeaux, Cabernet Style Bottle

Into Neck
Disparities between fill levels within the neck can be attributed to variations in the bottling process. Fill levels that reach into the neck are considered normal for young wines and show excellent condition for older ones.

Base of Neck
Suggests either a slightly low fill level at the time of bottling and/or reduction due to an easing of cork and evaporation through cork and capsule. Normal for wines over 20 years old.

Very Top Shoulder
Acceptable for wines over 15 years old and good for wines over 35 years old.

Top Shoulder
Some evaporation, acceptable for wines over 40 years old.

Mid Shoulder
Suggests ullage due to the easing of the cork and/or inconsistent storage conditions. May be acceptable for wines over 50 years old, but can still be questionable to drink.

Low Shoulder
Poor fill level for any wine. Only recommended if part of a very rare collection.

Bottom Shoulder or Below

Burgundy, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir Style Bottle

Without shoulders, the ullage of Burgundy style bottles must be measured in a different way. Instead, fill levels are described by means of centimeters below the cork, as follows:

Two Centimeters or Less
An excellent fill level for wines of any age.

Three Centimeters or Less
A proper fill level for wines aged 12 years or more, and an excellent fill level for wines 25 years or older.

Five Centimeters or Less
A relatively normal fill level for much older wines - 30 years or more. Consideration should be given to the clarity and color of the wine, and the condition of the cork to accurately assess the quality.

Six Centimeters or Less

Container Designations

Bottle Sizes and Equivalents

375 ML (half bottle)
A small bottle that holds one-half as much as a standard bottle of wine.

750 ML (standard bottle)
A standard size bottle that holds 4/5-quart. This size bottle, regardless of whether it has a straight or sloping neck, is used for red, white, rose and sparkling wines. Sparkling wine bottles appear to be larger than standard because they are made of thicker glass to withstand the pressures of carbonation, but they, too, contain 750 milliliters of wine.

The equivalent of two 750ml bottles, it holds 1.5 liters of wine. Sparkling wines are sometimes fermented in magnums because this method is believed to lengthen the wine’s life.

A bottle that holds the equivalent of four 750ml bottles, or 3 liters of wine.

A jeroboam of sparkling wine is the equivalent of a double magnum or four 750ml bottles. A jeroboam of still wine is the equivalent of six 750ml bottles or 4.5 liters.

A bottle that holds the equivalent of six 750ml bottles, or approximately 4.5 liters of wine.

A bottle that holds the equivalent of eight 750ml bottles, or 6 liters of wine, but of a different shape than the imperial.

A bottle that holds the equivalent of eight 750ml bottles, or 6 liters of wine.

A bottle that holds the equivalent of sixteen 750ml bottles, or 12 liters of wine.

An oversized bottle that holds the equivalent of seventeen to twenty 750ml bottles or 13 to 15 liters of wine.