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Bottle Fill Level Abbreviations

The fill level of a wine bottle communicates a great deal about the condition of its contents. A lower fill level means more air in the bottle, and an accelerated ageing process. The technical term for lost (or unfilled) volume in a bottle, barrel or tank is 'ullage'.

The key reasons for low fill levels are:
  • Natural evaporation through the cork - a naturally breathable substance
  • Poor bottling controls, e.g. bottling at high temperature
  • Faulty or deteriorating (leaky) corks

Wine breathes naturally through the cork as it ages. It is this gradual process of oxygenation which adds complexity and finesse and lower levels of liquid in the bottle. However, fill levels lower than expected for a wine's age often indicate a problem, leading to a reduction in the wine's market value. For wines up to 20 years old, the level should be in the neck. For wines 20 to 40 years old, anything below top shoulder is less than expected.

There are different fill level abbreviations for Bordeaux-style and Burgundy-style bottles. The most commonly used terms are listed below.

  Bordeaux Bottle   Burgundy Bottle
  Bordeaux   Burgundy



Fill Levels for Bordeaux Bottles

MN Mid neck fill. Indicates exceptional storage. In bottles over 10 years of age, indicates especially good storage conditions. For those over 40 years of age, may indicate a re-corked/reconditioned bottle.
BN Base neck fill. The fill is at about the bottom of the neck. Indicates excellent storage. A standard fill for recent and older vintages. For wines over 25 years of age, indicates exceptional storage conditions. Many producers fill bottles at base neck or lower.
TS Top shoulder fill. A fill just below base neck. A standard fill for wines over 10 years of age. For wines over 25 years of age, indicates excellent storage conditions.
HS High shoulder fill. Good fill for wines over 25 years of age.
US Upper shoulder fill. A fill just above the midpoint (as measured by volume) of the shoulder of the bottle. May also be referred to as HTMS (or high to mid shoulder) fill. Common for wines over 40 years of age. For wines less than this age, may indicate problems with storage conditions.
MS Mid shoulder fill. A fill at about the midpoint (as measured by volume) of the shoulder of the bottle. Not unusual for wines over 40 years of age, but may suggest poor storage conditions or early signs of cork failure. Can be at significant risk of being undrinkable.
LS Low shoulder fill (and below). A fill below the midpoint (as measured by volume) of the shoulder. This can often be an indicator of poor storage conditions and/or an undrinkable wine. Not normally recommended for consumption.
BS Below Shoulder fill. Rarely seen, but indicates the fill has dropped below the shoulder into the main cylindrical section of the bottle. A high chance that the wine is undrinkable. Rarely sold, except where the bottling or label is rare.
 

Fill Levels for Burgundy Bottles

(see picture above)
  The shape of Burgundy bottles does not allow for a level rating system based on the shoulder of the bottle; levels are described in terms of inches (or centimeters) below the cork. Generally, Burgundy bottles with a fill level of 1 inch (2.5cm) or above are considered normal for wines younger than 10 years of age. Wines more than 15 years old age with fill levels of between 1½ and 3 inches are generally considered to be of sound provenance, though consideration should be given to the clarity and color of the wine in the bottle, as well as the condition of the cork. Burgundy bottles with fill levels lower than three inches may be at risk of being damaged or undrinkable, and therefore could be unsellable.
< 2 cm Considered an excellent fill for any age.
< 3 cm A perfectly normal fill for wines 12 years of age and older. It is an excellent fill level for wines 25 years of age or older.
< 4 cm Considered a normal fill for wines more than 20 years of age and excellent for wines more than 35 years of age. However, it should be cause for concern in wines 15 years and younger.
< 5 cm Not uncommon in older wines of 30 years and more. However, at this level, some oxidation is likely to have occurred and the remaining wine may be fragile at best and undrinkable at worst.
< 6 cm This is a poor fill level for any wine and is unlikely to be available for sale unless extremely rare.
<x cm> BC An alternative way of expressing the number of centimeters below the cork.

For information and advice on investing wines, see our Fine Wine Investments page.
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