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At Wickman's we inspect each bottle (except for unopened cartons) and attempt to describe them accurately for the auction listing.

You can infer a lot about the treatment of a bottle of wine from its description and you should always exercise caution when purchasing wine of unknown provenance.

Label Condition

The condition of the front label can affect the price of a bottle and can also give clues as to the environment the bottle was exposed too. Most of the time, if you are interested in the contents of the bottle and not its cosmetic condition, it should not affect your decision to buy unless there are contra-indicators (weeping, low level etc.) that may point to poor storage conditions.

Note: Back labels are rarely described.

Soiled Label

Often describes a label that may have been stored in an underground passive cellar that has been soiled over time by dust, mould or dirt.

Stained Label

Describes a label that has been stained by liquid. Often damp, passive cellars can create these stains as well as wine stains caused, as sometimes occurs, by a spillage of wine. Usually cosmetic and ultimately innocent when observed without any signs of weeping.

Cellar Scuffed or Worn Label

Often these bottles show some signs of wear after they have been repeatedly removed from racks in a cellar or wine fridge.

Capsule and Seal Condition

The capsule is the protective sleeve covering the neck of the bottle and can be made of foil, plastic, tin, aluminium and in some older bottles lead.

Cracked wax

Sealing wax is sometimes used to cover the capsules. This is not ordinary wax by the way, dont try to seal your bottle at home. In large format bottles such as magnums and imperials, the volume of the bottle and movement can often crack the wax. This does not indicate any fault or problem with storage and can often happen when the bottle is moved.

Ullage or Level

Ullage is a term that refers to the fill level in a bottle, the space between the bottom of the cork and the wine when the bottle is standing upright. It is normal for some loss to occur from the bottle over time but it can also indicate a degree of risk with drinking the wine due to easing of the cork or exposure to detrimental environmental conditions.

It is not an exact science and the images and descriptions below should be used as a rule of thumb and guideline only when you are trying to determine the level of risk involved with buying mature wine through the wine auction system.

Note: The following descriptions apply to 750ml bottles only as Magnums and larger formats are often hand filled and this can result in an under filled container and will not necessarily indicate a problem.

Ullage image using a bottle of Penfolds Grange to show levels
BON = Base of Neck. Good for any age and excellent for any bottle 10 years or older (ie 2014 & older).

VVHS = Very, Very High Shoulder. Normal for any bottle older than 15 years (ie 2009 +) and very good for bottles 35 years+ (ie. 1989 & older).

VHS = Very High Shoulder. A good level for any wine 15+ years and older (2009 & older).

HS = High Shoulder. This is considered a normal level for wines 20 years or older (ie 2004 & older).

MS = Mid-Shoulder. This level suggests that some natural reduction through the easing of the cork and evaporation has occurred and is usual for bottles 50 years or older (ie 1974 & older). This is a high risk category and should be valued accordingly if you are planning to drink this wine as opposed to obtaining it as a collectible.

LS = Low Shoulder. A highly risky proposition for any age and values should be significantly lower to account for the risk.

Author: Mark Wickman
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Champagne can last for centuries
Champagne can last for centuries

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