Bad Wine vs. Bad Bottle

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  • By Renée Lorraine
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Bad Wine vs. Bad Bottle

You pour a glass of your favorite wine, and it’s not how you remember it. Perhaps it has a glaring defect or fault (see our blog on faults for the most common ones) or it’s a subtle difference you can’t quite put your finger on. You may be the victim of “bottle variation.”

You pour a glass of your favorite wine, and it’s not how you remember it. Perhaps it has a glaring defect or fault (see our blog on faults for the most common ones) or it’s a subtle difference you can’t quite put your finger on. You may be the victim of  “bottle variation.”
 
We had two wines on the tasting bar recently. One a Bordeaux Superior from Chateau des Landes and a lovely white Burgundy from Chavey-Chouet. The Bordeaux was fabulous, but the Chavey-Chouet was only ok, no noticeable fault, but hollow, and a mere shade of what we tasted when we bought it. We opened another bottle and it sang. What the heck? Bottle variation, my friend.
 
On another day, we were tasting Cabs with our Napa insider Greg Zemple. He was showing Hunnicutt Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 (contender to replace another favorite gone for the vintage.) Greg pulled the cork and we anticipated rich, dark, deep fruit, significant oak influence, Oakville “dust”. But what we tasted  was lean, green, and unpleasant. We all flashed looks at each other.
 
“It’s really green, Greg.”
“That’s not right,” he said, grabbing a glass to taste.
Luckily, Greg had another bottle in the car, and it was a luscious Oakville Cab through and through. Bottle variation strikes again.
 
Variation sometimes starts at bottling. A problem at the winery, or in the case of mass produced wines, many different tanks contain wine of varying levels of quality. Other times, it’s a  problem with the package. The cork may be responsible, allowing excessive oxygen into the bottle. Or, light or heat may have played a part.
 
Sadly, sometimes it’s not just a problem with a single bottle.  Remember the 2011 Tarima Monastrell? A $10 gem with gobs of blue and black fruit, truly a crowd-pleasing party wine. It just changed to the 2012 vintage, and a savvy Unwined customer brought a bottle back. We opened three more bottles, and they all smelled and tasted the same: like an indoor pool, a cross between bleach and chlorine. A chemical contamination at the winery could be the culprit.  We’ve removed all the bottles and sent them back to the supplier. Bummer.
 
So what to do?
 
1. Open another bottle of the same wine. Hopefully it’s a better representation of what you expect.
2. Bring the wine back for a replacement bottle.
3. Let us know about the bottle variation. Like the case of the Tarima Monastrell problem, it may be more widespread.
4. Take it in stride. It’s part of the adventure of loving wine.

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