I ran into this bottle of Ch. Haut-Brion 1947 last year at the Gaulois Wine Exhibit in Montreal (see my blog post on the exhibit here). It is a really interesting example of how much wine can evaporate from a bottle as it ages. In the picture you can see the bottle has a very low shoulder fill (the shoulder is the rounded part of the bottle). This is a potential problem because there is now too much oxygene in the bottle and it could oxidize the wine. For bottles that are less than 30 years of age – this would be an indication of poor storage or a potential seepage problem with the bottle. For bottles of this vintage it is pretty standard (they did not used to fill wine bottles so full) and the only way to guard against it is to open the bottles every few years – add wine – and then re-cork.
I first ran into the process of re-bottling at Bordeaux negociant house Mahler-Besse during a visit in 2008. The Mahler-Besse family still owns many (and I mean many) cases of 1945 Ch. Mouton-Rothschild. They are stacked in the cellars in rows of cases 5-10 high (as seen in the picture above). These wines are so old that they are still stored inside the their cases in their original straw sheaths which would have protected them from breakage during shipping back in the day.
The cases of 1945 Ch. Mouton Rothschild in the cellar of Mahler-Besse
(picture from addresso.no)
During my visit in the cellars, the wines were being “re-bottled”. This consisted of opening each crate, opening all the bottles, ensuring that there was adequate fill in each bottle, and then re-corking them. I was told that every 10-20 years one bottle out of every case has to be sacrificed to top up the other bottles. Given that 1945 Mouton was then tens of thousands of U.S. dollars per bottle – it was a significant sacrifice the family was making to ensure that the wine remained in pristine condition.
Then again, that bottle of 1947 Ch. Haut-Brion could also have a low shoulder fill because it has been stored standing upright under a halogen light in a museum for the last few years . . .