Wax seals: Why they were developed and how to open them

That’s Fattoria dei Barbi’s wax seal, above.

The estate still uses the wax seal for its large-format bottlings. That’s the three-liter bottle above.

Wax seals were developed centuries ago to ensure provenance. Similarly to a letter sealed with wax, a bottle that’s been sealed with wax cannot be opened without breaking the wax. As a result, it’s a lot harder to counterfeit or adulterate the wine.

Today, the risk of counterfeit wine isn’t as prevalent as it once was. But winemakers like Fattoria dei Barbi still like to use them: With their bygone-era look and feel, they give an aura of gravitas to the bottle. (Some producers today use faux wax seals that are actually made of plastic; Fattoria dei Barbi uses real wax for its large-format wines.)

Even some of the most seasoned wine professionals are intimidated by opening a wax seal. It’s often messy to open a wax seal but it’s actually very easy to do: Simply insert the worm of your wine key into the wax at a roughly 45° angle as you would with any cork; the wax will break as you twist the wine key and dig down into the cork.

But it will be messy.

It’s never a bad idea to lay a cloth napkin under the bottle before you open it. The napkin makes it easy to gather and dispose of the broken wax bits.

And you should also have a wine strainer, funnel, and decanter on hand in case some of the wax falls into the wine.

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