Not sure if this is the right place to be sending a wine
Something that has been bugging me for the last couple of years
is how I can buy several bottles of a particular wine at one shop and be very
impressed with them, yet buy several bottles of the same wine at another shop
and find that the all of the wines at the latter shop have some major flaw such
as ethyl acetate (nail polish smell) or some form of bitterness that makes the
wine undrinkable after it has been opened for a couple of hours. Is it possible
that some of the major chains are not storing or transporting their wine
Certainly there will be the odd bottle that is not up to scratch
but when one opens three or four in a row with the same fault, one does get
suspicious. This has happened to me so many times that I now will only buy one
bottle from a trustworthy store, rush home to try it within a couple of days and
if all is well, come back to buy a dozen (if they have tastings, I am saved the
extra trip). I'm curious to know if anyone else has had this experience of huge
variability of a wine
across different places of purchase.
On a related note, I have recently moved to America and found that many wines
which I loved in Australia seem to have not travelled well. For instance, in the
last couple of months I have bought Penfolds RWT 2001, Penfolds St Henri 2002
and Penfolds Bin 389 2004 from varied US outlets. All three of them had a bitter
ftertaste (as my wife agreed) that became more pronounced over the two to four
hours I had them open. I wonder if the companies that sell the more expensive
Australia wines over here have tracked the wines to see how they present to the
customer over here. I don't know what the flaw is that produces this bitterness,
perhaps it has something to do with the temperature variability as the cargo
ship crosses the equator. I would love to have some way of testing the wine to
let the winemakers know what the flaw is, as when these wines are in good
condition I think they rate fantastically for the price over here.
Interestingly, I have had very good examples of Penfolds Koonunga Hill here.
I'm always happy to answer questions.
Unfortunately the phenomenon which you described is probably a lot more common
than most people realise. First let me explain the technicalities so that the
process becomes easier to understand.
I won't go into all the gory details, but basically, in most cases, EA occurs in
one of two ways. Firstly as a winemaking fault. When this is the case, obviously
all bottles are affected and that is not what you are describing. The second way
in which EA occurs, rings true for what you are describing.
Once wine is exposed to oxygen, after losing its fresh flavour and taste, the
oxidisation process starts to yield acetic acid. The acetic acid then reacts
with the ethanol and EA is produced. The end result is vinegar. Once a bottle of
wine is opened, this will happen to every bottle. Eventually. In the instances
you are describing, it sounds like it's happening prematurely, because the wines
are you have mentioned certainly should hold up for more than a few hours.
One very likely cause is random oxidisation. The vast majority of people
would not spot a low level of random oxidisation when the bottle is first
opened. However, given the wine has already had more exposure to air than the
winemaker intended, it is already on its way to being vinegar, and that is why
after a few hours of being exposed to air, it has declined so rapidly.
Estimates of the incidence of random oxidisation, by the experts, range from
being minimal to it being a major issue. From my perspective, I think it is more
in line of being a major issue. Many of the wines I pick up and go "this isn't
quite right, or it is not as good as I expected it to be," are quite possibly
suffering from low level random oxidisation. To make matters worse, no one knows
what causes random oxidisation. They know the how, but they don't know the why.
If poor storage and transportation are factors, it is no wonder you are having
Poor transportation and storage is not just a problem with the chains. It can be
a problem with all wine. On a number of occasions I have seen open trucks of
wine with the sun beating down on the cartons. I have also seen trucks with no
installation with wine in them when the temperature is over 35°C. In their
favour, most of the chains have air-conditioned stores. Daily temperature
fluctuations is the biggest enemy of wine, so even if they are being stored in
less than ideal circumstances, as long as the temperature is reasonably
constant, it's not too much of a concern, even if it is a little higher than
optimal. Stores that are not air-conditioned are a bigger issue.
As far as export problems are concerned, on many of the US wine forums I have
seen similar concerns raised about the condition that Australian wine is in when
it reaches the US and Canada. If the wines are shipped in air-conditioned
reefers, or if they are at the bottom of the boat, the transpacific shipping
should not be an issue. But what happens when they hit the docks? Or even the
wholesalers’ warehouses that don't have adequate temperature control.
So yes, to answer your question bad storage and transportation could be a factor
in random oxidisation. If you are very sensitive to it, and by the sound of it
you probably are, you will notice it far more than most people.
I agree with your comments in relation to the value of the Penfolds wines in the
US. They are fantastic value, and when you consider that Bin 389 is the same
price as Bin 128, it either means that you guys are getting fantastic value or
we are being taken to the cleaners.
Variation in wine is a real nightmare. It will be interesting to
see, over time,
how much less there will be for those wines that are
sealed under screwcaps.