Dear Wine Wizard,
I’m bottling some mead, and wanted to add that extra special touch to the finished product. I’ve seen some bottles with a wax coating on the top, the kind that drips down the side and looks like something out of a swashbuckling movie. I went to the local craft store, and quickly realized there were different kinds of wax (candle, paraffin, beeswax), and I did not know which one to use, or if there was a technique to doing this. Can you advise me on how this is done?
Wine Wizard replies: There’s nothing that gives a bottle that swashbuckling air so much as a drippy, waxy, melty seal. Luckily, it’s easy to do. Once you find the right kind of wax, that is. Some folks use beeswax, but I find that sometimes the smell of the wax is a little too much for me and it can be very soft and comes off easily. Candle wax just looks like, well, candle wax, and paraffin is out of the question. So – who do you turn to? The folks at Etched Images in Napa, California. They carry the right kind of wax (doesn’t chip or break too easily, melts attractively) in a variety of colors. Other places to get the right wax and attractive seals are: Walnut Hill Enterprises Inc. in Bristol, Pennsylvania, and E.C. Kraus in Independence, Missouri. (See contact information at end of answer.)
The technique I use? Melt the wax blocks in a small deep saucepan, or save your saucepan and use a coffee can, on top of your stove over medium heat – this can take a long time, close to two hours. Covering the pan helps the wax to melt more quickly. Make sure the corks are completely flush with the lip of the bottle (so no air bubbles will be trapped underneath) and dip the neck of your bottles in as far as you’d like. For a 750 mL size, I like to cover the cork and go about 1/2-inch more. Take the bottle out of the wax and let it dribble down the sides as it cools. It will cool relatively quickly, so re-dip if you’re not getting enough dripping to suit your tastes. As with anything new, it always helps to practice a few times on some old recycled wine bottles before you do it with your real product.
BEWARE: This is hot wax you’re working with and it can hurt you if it comes in contact with your skin. These waxes work so well for bottles specifically because they have a higher melting point than most other waxes. You’ll have to get them a lot hotter in order to make them melt. Some of these waxes are also flammable. Please check with the manufacturer, as using a gas stove to do this might be asking for trouble.
Another heating alternative is a store-bought home deep fryer. It’ll get hot enough to do the job, will heat evenly from all sides and will not cause any fires if used properly.
Here are the phone numbers for a few selected companies that sell winemaking bottle wax: Etched Images (707-252-5450), Walnut Hill Enterprises Inc. (800-633-3929), and E.C. Kraus (816-254-7448).