Earlier this month when Alan and Barbara were out here, we had the first informal meeting of their trip over at their house. After the meeting was over, Alan pulled out a bottle of 1983 Petrus for us to drink as we caught up on what had been happening for the last few months. It was a very good wine but it was not quite the experience that I had been expecting. Alan took one look at the wine in the glass and said that the wine had already peaked and was heading downhill. He advised me to mark down the rest of the 1983 Petrus because it wasn't going to last much longer. His deduction was based upon the fact that the rim had faded to a burnt orange color. In his many years of wine drinking and collecting (more years than I've been alive), this occurence had always signalled a deterioration in the quality of the wine. I have not been able to drink as many older wines as I'd like so I can't accurately confirm or deny his opinions. Although I have tasted older wines that had not yet faded to orange at the rim which were much more vibrant and balanced than this particular bottle of Petrus. But is that like comparing apples and oranges, to make a judgment call based solely upon the appearance of the rim? The conversation did led to some other thoughts on wine.
Over the years when Alex and I have come across a bottle that we especially enjoyed we would buy a case or a six pack of the wine to put away. This way we could enjoy the wine's evolution over a period of years. In my experience the quality and character of wines in a case can vary widely. For example, when I worked at Sherry Lehmann I received a case of Gruaud-Larose. The bottles in the case ranged from flabby and jammy to lean and refined. It was like drinking two entirely different wines except that they came packaged in the same wooden case. Generally speaking no two wines in a case are exactly alike and that is part of the wine's allure. I mentioned this when Alan suggested marking down all of the Petrus because I didn't necessarily believe that because one bottle was past it's peak, that the rest of them were as well. After all, the wines in the KG cellar weren't even from the same case and the storage conditions are slightly better at the Guest House.
When I worked at the wine store the accepted theory on flawed wines was that they tended to occur in batches. So, if one bottle was returned the odds were that the entire case was off. In fact, when bottles were returned the distributors were informed so that they could red flag a particular wine and let the retail outlets know that there could be issues with that particular wine. If you follow the theory and you buy a case of wine, if the first bottle is flawed you may want to return the rest. Now, I am either a glutton for punishment or an eternal optimist because last year we bought a case of wine from a winery as one of our house wines (at home) and the first bottle was flawed. We tossed it and moved on. The second bottle was fine. The third and fourth bottles were corked. The fifth and sixth bottles were good, the seventh, eigth and ninth were corked. At this point I didn't want to call the winery because I felt kind of silly for opening all these bottles over a period of months. A smart person would have just cut their losses and returned the wine several bottles earlier. Two of the remaining three bottles were good and after much debate I sat down and e-mailed the winery about my experience. I did not ask for a refund or replacement, I just wanted to let them know what happened. The winery actually replaced the entire case which I felt was above and beyond the call of duty although I certainly appreciated the gesture. The question remains, if you buy in quantity and do not open the wine for months or years, what do you do if the first bottle is corked?
Speaking of flawed wines, corkage has been less of an issue in Colorado than secondary refermentation. I have opened more sparkling wines that were meant to be still here in Colorado than anywhere else in my life. It's a terrible thing to see a vibrant luscious wine metamorposize into something fizzy and devoid of flavor. It makes me think that the altitude is a factor but I haven't been able to get any confirmation on that either way. I enjoy unfiltered wines and it's a calculated risk but I can't help but wonder if the problem is as widespread at sea level?
So, if anyone out there has some insight we'd love to hear it. In spite of our responsibilities in the wine room and developing the wine list, I don't get to taste as often as I'd like. Wine is an ever-changing landscape and I always seem to be slightly behind on my homework. It's one of those topics where I know I know I've forgotten more than I'll ever remember. It is fascinating subject though, one of the few that you can study and experience at the same time. Perhaps the constant questions are just part of it's intoxication.