To open or not to open, that is the question


Let me answer a few of your questions about kosher wines and distilled spirits that arrived in my email.

I recently went to purchase some recent vintage chardonnay at a wine store and noticed that there seemed to be a big difference in the height of the wine in the bottles. Should I be concerned about this variation in the height of the wine level in these new bottles of wine?

Ullage, from the French “ouillage,” is the unfilled space inside the top of a bottle of wine; it’s there to allow for the sometimes inconsistent filling of the bottles and as a precaution for the expansion of the wine in the bottle in case of temperature change. The term refers to the empty space in the neck of the bottle between wine and cork, but when measuring the level of the wine in the neck of the bottle, one refers to its fill level.

Unless you have a reason to suspect that the wines have been subjected to dramatic temperature fluctuations, then no — all things being equal — you probably have nothing to worry about.

In older wines, discussions about fill levels and ullage come up all the time. A wine’s fill level will fall, and the ullage will increase, as it undergoes significant aging.

In a young or new wine, the fill level shouldn’t cause concern. Wildly inconsistent fill-levels — provided the wine is still well within the neck — point more to issues in bottling than storage, unless there are signs of leakage or extreme discoloration. If the fill level were below the neck or where the bottle begins to taper in towards the neck, then concern is warranted.

Asking the retailer about the variation in fill level will usually prevent temp-damaged bottles from being sold. If the purveyor reassures you, it is probably fine. A decent wine shop will be honest because they want repeat customers, not a one-time sale.

If I’m having a dinner party and have already selected wines to pair with the food, is it rude to not serve wines brought unbidden by guests? Does it make a difference if the wine they brought wouldn’t pair well with the menu?

No, strictly speaking, it is not rude — although a gesture of gratitude and a word of thanks are in order. Once a gift is given it belongs to the recipient. Guests ought to check with their hosts before bringing something intended to be consumed at that meal — whether it’s wine, salad or dessert; check with the host in advance to make sure it works with what’s planned.

That said, guests and hosts are not always in sync. A certain savoir faire is required to avoid awkwardness. One can either open it anyway, along with whatever wines you’ve already planned, or take it graciously while indicating that you look forward to drinking it at a future meal.

What’s good this week?

Jerusalem Wineries, Marselan, Gerstein Special Edition, 2014 ($20): Originally a Languedoc hybrid of cabernet and grenache used often in Rhône blends, the Marselan grape has started showing real promise in Israel. The grapes used here were grown in the Shomron. This fine example is soft, with mild tannins, offering wild brambly aromas and flavors, with some cherry, black cherry, strawberry, raspberry, black pepper, vanilla, anise, notes of fresh sage and a subtle whiff of tobacco. The finish is fruity and savory, if a bit subdued. Highly enjoyable. L’chaim!

Have wine or spirits questions for Joshua E. London? Email him at l[email protected].

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