17 March 2010

Wine Past Its Prime

In the immortal words of Norm from Cheers, "Some days you're the puppy, and some days you're the newspaper."

It happens to all of us, though I've had a pretty good track record. In fact, I haven't met a corked wine in over a year. I don't know if that's luck or the fact that I've been drinking a lot of wines with screwcaps/synthetic corks/Zorks. But we all get burned occasionally. I did recently help a friend identify a wine that had a horrible brett infection, and I've come across one or two bearing that petroleum tinge that comes from processing in the wrong kind of plastic.

But the most common flaw you're likely to encounter is simple oxidation. Maybe a bad cork, maybe improper storage, or maybe it was just a wine that wasn't meant to age. The wine turns brown, becomes sour, and it's more like drinking vinegar than wine. The 2000 Georges Dubœuf Moulin-à-Vent Prestige pictured here wasn't quite oxidized, but with another year or two it would have gotten there.

As of 2010 it was merely dead. Drinkable, but a ghost of its former self. An ex-wine, not even pining for the fjords. I could pick up a little cherry structure, a light and balanced body that would have been great five years ago, and the vintage charts claim this was a good year for Beaujolais. However, there's no reason to be angry or upset. Wine is sometimes a gamble, and I've had many more wins than losses.


Ed Thralls said...


"It happens" - Forrest Gump

You mention enclosures and I have been telling many folks that I got a bad wine that was topped with a screwcap. There was a second fermentation in the bottle or something because it was fizzy with CO2. Could've been some microbial issues there, not sure.

Anyway, I really wanted to tell you about the '86 Clerc Milon I opened last month for OTBN. I knew it was on the back end of it's target drinkability range and I even spoke to a rep from Clerc, when I was working the Grand Crus des Bordeaux when they passed through Atlanta back in January, who said it should still be fine. What else was he going to say? Really?

It was a very short-lived wine and hit it's peak in my glass at about 20 minutes in and then in another 20 minutes was gone... poof! It's an educational experience for sure, but not an exact science. You win some and then lose some... better to have loved then lost than to have never loved at all... ok, I'll stop now.


Samantha Dugan said...

I never get mad at the wine but end up feeling really bad...like I killed it. Such a bummer

Benito said...


Back when I lived purely bottle to bottle, I tended to get angry about it because I didn't have a backup wine, and even ruined a few date nights like that. Now I always keep a mixed dozen wines around (at least), so it's easier just to dump it and open another bottle.


Worst story I ever heard, from a wine writer in Canada. He had a giant 6-litre bottle of expensive Champagne, a Methuselah, the kind of bottle you always crave but have no real reason to buy. He saved it for years and opened it at his wedding reception... only to discover that it was horribly, painfully corked.

Thanks for sharing your Bordeaux story, and I'd love to hear other tales of wines that slipped their mortal coil.


Dr. Debs said...

Oh, too bad! It is true, we all sometimes get a dead parrot. But with this bottle, it would have been so wonderful to know how it was doing in its senior citizenhood.

Benito said...

Dr. Debs,

Thanks for the condolences. :)

I had a bunch of metaphors that I deleted from this post because it was getting out of hand, but a dead older wine is sort of like a rare book. You sit down to read it, and then discover that most of the pages are blank. You might have liked it or disliked it, but it's more annoying just not knowing, and you probably won't have a chance to read another copy.


Thomas said...

That's really too bad, because I've had several Grand Cru that have been ten years or so of age, and managed to hold up quite fine. Still got 5-6 bottles of the famed 2003 vintage, I think--at least two Morgans, and some others.

I'll bring one next time I see you! Or maybe send one by one of my, er, couriers.

Big Mike said...

Great Link to the explanation of Brett. You find the coolest places for explanations to post for aids in making your points. The sign of a great blogger. Wondeful job as always my friend

Benito said...


Glad to hear you're having better luck with the Crus! I've had some delightful ones that were 5-7 years old, but this was the first time I'd tried the decade mark.


Much appreciated, and while a little brett can be nice (as you told me years ago), too much is just nasty. A friend in Nashville had bought a whole case of an Argentine Malbec and every bottle had that rotten asparagus/ metallic tang aroma. We had to wash the glasses three times to get the funk off. He wasn't familiar with that particular flaw, but once you've encountered it you don't tend to forget it.


fredric koeppel said...

years ago, i took two bottles of Grand Cru Chablis to dinner at Raji with some friends from out of town. i was practically trembling w/ anticipation. Opened the first bottle: Corked! Opened the second bottle: Corked!! in the pantheon of bummers, that was a champion, but it was also a very rare occurrence.

second story: for a significant birthday for LL in 1995, we spend a few days at the late 18th century Clifton Inn outside Charlottesville. The inn has a wonderful restaurant, so i took a case of great wines. One was the Chateau Magdelaine 1966, St. Emilion. After the waiter poured it at dinner, we sniffed the wine and LL and I looked at each other and said, "Uh-oh." It was musty and faded beyond recall. We gave it some time, however, and in 15 minutes or so, it bloomed beautifully and seemed like the essence of great, old, mellow merlot. Within 20 minutes, though, it crashed and burned. The lesson is, always give wine a chance to perform before writing it off as a failure.

Benito said...


Great stories, and I'd forgotten all about the incredible Raji. I tried this Beaujolais over the course of about four hours, doing everything short of performing CPR on the bottle.

I find myself wondering if there should be some sort of folk ritual to go along with a dead wine, like tossing a pinch of salt over your shoulder after you knock over the shaker. My personal vote would be for a short New Orleans-style jazz funeral march, but one typically does not have a brass band at ones disposal during normal wine service.

I really wasn't bothered by this wine's demise, but reading these comments and thinking back over the years, I can remember each bad bottle in perfect detail. There's obviously a strong emotional component at work here, combined with the natural relationship between scent and memory.


Joe said...

Looking forward to the day when I can buy wine (and store it) by the case, so I can sense things develop year-to-year. Even having to deal with the occasional casualty can be a great educational opportunity.

I know Beaujolais is generally short-lived, but the Crus often get some Burgundian structure, so I'd think this could've weathered the storm.

As far as a farewell, send it out on a burning pyre upon the mighty shoulders of the Mississippi, until it reaches Wine Valhalla (or maybe only great performers, giving their lives to our stomachs, reach this "Wine Valhalla")

Benito said...


I like the Viking funeral idea. Only problem with the Mississippi is that we have a Coast Guard station down on the river, and I really don't need to come under the scrutiny of Homeland Security for sending rafts of burning bottles down towards New Orleans. :)