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Paul B.

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Any experiences with wineries passing spoiled wine off as good?

by Paul B. » Sun Oct 22, 2006 1:23 pm

Recently, I've had what seems like a spate of bad luck with wineries that I visit passing off oxidized and otherwise flawed wines as perfectly normal, or using the lowest trick of all and trying to convince the taster that "that's just the way it tastes". I've been into this vinous hobby since 1997 and I darn well know the telltale nutty/sherry-like or nail-varnish-like smell of oxidation and the madeirized smell of a cooked wine. These flaws are immediately obvious to me and there is no way I can continue to sample wines thusly affected, much less drink them. I also know TCA with its musty wet-cardboard stink.

Imagine then, being at a winery, trying a wine that shows glaring signs of oxidation (which may have even happened prior to bottling) and having a member of the tasting room staff try the same wine and quizzically declaring it "just fine" or saying "that's just what it tastes like".

What's worse is that by simple indication of vintage, some of these wines have been laying around at the wineries for a number of years, long past when they'd have normally been sold, and are put out at relatively inexpensive prices (while well aged Meritage-type blends are often laid away carefully and sold years later at very high prices), again making the probability that someone there knows they were flawed some time back quite high.

Recently I wrote to one winery with regard to two bottles that I bought, the contents of which proved equally affected by nail-varnish like oxidation. The response I received from the winery was along the lines of "We checked the rest and they are all fine. We are sorry that you do not like our wine." Of course, I was ready to reply back that it was not fair to lay the obvious problem of spoilage at my doorstep - but because they agreed to replace the bottles on my next visit, I graciously let it drop.

Now, I understand that there are some who feel that they are compromising their honour by admitting that they might have a flawed wine - but I think it's far more risky to assume that everyone who comes into the tasting room is an utter newbie and will be so inexperienced as to blindly accept any story, glaringly incorrect as it may be! I am also floored by the fact that in some tasting rooms, the staff do not seem to understand the basics of wine and will routinely make faux pas that really look bad to anyone with even a bit of knowledge about wine.

That said, I have the highest respect for wineries that owe up to problems and don't try to pass them off as merely the consumer's dislike of their perfectly okay wine. In my view, it is honourable to admit when something's off - that way, you maintain the trust and goodwill of your wine-buying public. Or, maybe, there are far more clueless people moving through tasting rooms than I realize, and numbers-wise, the tall tales actually work in their favour.

Any similar experiences or thoughts out there?
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Harry Cantrell

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Re: Any experiences with wineries passing spoiled wine off as good?

by Harry Cantrell » Sun Oct 22, 2006 3:30 pm

Paul, the big one that comes to mind is the run of Ducru Beaucaillou from about 1988 to 1991(?). They apparently had a cellar-wide TCA problem-NOT just from corks-and it took them years to correct the problem. They knew there was a problem, yet sold wine for many years where a big percentage of wine was flawed. I was one of those customers. I have NEVER bought Ducru after this incident.
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Re: Any experiences with wineries passing spoiled wine off as good?

by Paul B. » Sun Oct 22, 2006 4:02 pm

Harry, that's it exactly. This sort of thing will turn off those in the know, and of course it's hard to re-gain that trust later on down the road.

What I keep thinking, though, is that in the game of cold hard numbers there may not be a loss involved for wineries that deny flaws because they may simply produce enough passable tour bus wine to make a profit - even if they lose the occasional geek now and then due to other offerings that have gone through spoilage.
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