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Dear Dr. Vinny,
If I'm cellaring a wine that has a wax capsule, should I remove the portion of the wax covering the cork so that the cork can "breathe"? Is the wax capsule purely decorative? Or does it serve some other purpose?
—Charles K., Pasco, Wash.
If you have a bottle dipped in wax, you can just leave it as it is until you’re ready to open it (more on that in a moment). The purpose of the capsule, be it wax or foil, historically, was to protect the corks from critters, but it really is purely decorative these days. Corks really aren’t supposed to “breathe” when a wine is sealed—too much oxygen will cause the wine to age prematurely. There are small levels of oxygen ingress expected with corks, and that isn't hindered by the presence of a wax capsule.
So why use wax? Well, it sure is fancy, and gives a “handmade” vibe to a bottle. There might be some extra protection the wax can give to help keep a cork from drying out, and it’s certainly an assurance of a wine’s authenticity.
When it comes to opening a bottle that has a wax capsule, you have a few options. You can ignore the wax and plow right in with your sharpest waiter’s corkscrew, chip away at the wax first with a knife and then use your corkscrew, or, if you're not concerned about stirring up sediment, you can melt the capsule off by dipping it into a cup of very hot water.
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