I love getting wax-dipped wine bottles! They symbolize a rich tradition of bottling and shipping.
Historically, wax protected corks from rodents in the wine cellar. Today, wine has wax caps for four reasons: 1) wax protects corks from mold that can taint wine, 2) wax adds a barrier to prevent air entering, 3) wax shields corks from long-aged bottles, and 4) wax is part of the bottle’s marketing design (most common).
Here’s what you need to know about wax on wine bottles.
- Why Are Some Wine Bottles Sealed with Wax?
- What Kind of Wax Is Used on Wine Bottles?
- Should you seal wine bottles with wax?
- How do they dip wine bottles in wax?
- How Do You Open a Wax-sealed Wine Bottle?
Why Are Some Wine Bottles Sealed with Wax?
Corks were invented in the late 1600s when glass manufacturers figured out how to make bottles that were all the same shape. People could store their wine bottles in attacks and basements, but mice and rats would chew through the corks.
By adding wax toppers, people stopped the rats and mice from destroying their corks and wine.
Before this invention of wine bottles and corks, you’d stuff a bit of rag into the neck of the bottle and call it a day.
As for wine quality, well… yeah. Not so much.
Fast forward several hundred years and thankfully most of us are fortunate enough not to have to worry about rats in our basements accosting our Cabernet, but the use of wax persists.
Why Do Wine Bottles Have Wax? Marketing
Wine bottle closures have one purpose: to keep air out and wine fresh. Today, the majority of waxed wines you see in the store are part of the marketing and package design.
Wax conveys gravitas.
We automatically connect wax with heritage – a brand story, whether real or invented – that adds prestige, elegance, and therefore more value, to the wine.
We are willing to pay more money for wax-dipped wine bottles.
Different Wine Brands Have Different Wax Styles
When used as part of package design, wax adds a unique look to bottles that helps them stand out on store shelves. Some bottles come with dainty dollops, a bit like a coquettish cocktail dress.
You can still see the sexy curve of the bottle neck. Other bottles flaunt outrageous swoops of wax – the Cardi B. Met Gala of wax jobs (external link), screaming for attention: Look at me!
Why Do Wine Bottles Have Wax? To Protect Wines for Long Aging
Rioja wines have lengthy aging requirements – some bottles need aging for 5+ years. In this case, using wax can actually serve a purpose.
If you’re a fan of Spanish Rioja wines, you’ve heard of R. López de Heredia, (external link), a multi-generational wine producer.
Lopez de Heredia ages wines for 6, 8, and 10+ years in dank cellars with high humidity. Mold slowly envelops the bottle’s exterior and will taint the wines if left unprotected.
A wax seal ensures the cork maintains its integrity through the aging process.
This is a uniquely storied winery, though, with ancient moldering cellars.
Helpful Tip: Here’s a fun post that takes a peak at Rioja’s wine history and how it got to be the dominant quality Spanish wine region that it is today. If you like history and wine, this post’s for you!
So, what’s with all the wax?
In the words of a dear friend, the magic ingredient is marketing…
What Kind of Wax Is Used on Wine Bottles?
Commercial-grade bottle wax is a mixture of materials. Bottle wax commonly uses rosin, paraffin wax, and microcrystalline wax.
Should you seal wine bottles with wax?
If you’re a home winemaker and thinking about sealing your wine bottles with wax, the question you need to ask yourself is: How long will my wine age? Most wines don’t last more than a few years and wine isn’t necessary. If you’re holding onto your bottles for 5-10+ years, you may want to experiment with wax.
How do they dip wine bottles in wax?
Boutique wineries will hand-dip their top-tier wines. The bottle gets a gentle dip into a pot of melted wax, lifted out with a deft twist, and then receives a follow-up dunk into a bowl of cold water to set the wax. Wineries with any sizeable level of production automate the process.
Check out this little mé·nage à trois dipping action with @hasherfamilyestate.
How Do You Open a Wax-sealed Wine Bottle?
Check out this 1 minute video on how to open your next waxed wine bottle – full disclosure, I struggled with this one, but it’s still fun!
Wax comes in two varieties: hard wax and soft wax.
- Hard Wax: If you find yourself with a hard wax, deep breath. It’s time to channel your inner medieval stonemason and get busy. First, try to chip away at the seal lightly but with conviction using the handle of your corkscrew. If you’re so inclined, you can wrap the bottle in a plastic bag or place the bottle in the sink for this step to prevent the wax from flying everywhere. If that doesn’t work, try putting the corkscrew right through the wax.
- Soft Wax: Soft wax is much friendlier and easier to remove. Simply put the corkscrew through the wax into the cork as you normally would a non-wax bottle and open it up. The cork may even have a small pull tab embedded within as an assist.
Thirsty for More?
I know that when I was first getting into wine I had so many different questions about bottle quality and what I was paying for. Here’s one that may interest you: Does sediment in wine mean it’s good?
And, because we’re on the topic of money and wine, here’s a quick post: Are wine clubs worth it?