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WineAdvisor: Cooked!

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Robin Garr

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WineAdvisor: Cooked!

by Robin Garr » Fri Apr 07, 2006 10:13 am

Cooked!

It doesn't take most wine enthusiasts long to learn to recognize a wine that's "corked." Once you've had it pointed out, it's easy to detect the musty, mushroomy stench of chlorine-based chemicals from tainted natural corks (or, on occasion, wood and other contaminants).

But how about the other frequent culprit in spoiled wine? "Cooked" wine - damaged by exposure to excess heat in transportation or storage or a long spell on the shelf in a warm wine shop or even on your own wine rack at home - can also escape detection until you've brought it home and uncorked disappointment at the dinner table.

Recognizing cooked wine can be a challenge for a couple of reasons: First, the effects may not be immediately apparent. Years ago, as a simple experiment, I deliberately left a bottle of modest California Cabernet all afternoon on a searing summer day. Tasted "blind" against an un-cooked sample a few days later, after it had cooled, the "cooked" wine actually tasted <i>better</i> than its un-treated companion: More fruit-forward and integrated, as if it had enjoyed a ride foward in a time machine ("'Cooking' Wine, an experiment," in the June 18, 2001 Wine Advisor).

This process is not unknown in the industry, and legend has it that the occasional unscrupulous producer will "flash-heat" cheap wines to enhance their fruit profile ... for a little while.

But this practice isn't prudent, and I don't recommend that you boost your wines with a brief bake in a warm oven. The flash-heating effect doesn't last for long, and experience shows that cooked wines quickly fall apart, because of the damaging effects of the heat itself, and perhaps because the expansion and contraction of the wine and air in its headspace may inhale a bit of damaging air around the cork.

I had the disappointment of an obviously "cooked" wine the other day; no point in naming it, for fear the producer be blamed for the importer or retailer's crime. Suffice it to say that it was a fine Sangiovese and Sagrantino blend from Umbria that I had been looking forward to enjoying with an excellent Italian meal.

The first sign of trouble came when I noticed that the foil capsule around the business end of the bottle was glued tight to the glass with dried wine that had leaked around the cork ("crud," to use a technical wine-tasting term). While this is not a sure sign of dammaged wine - I've had plenty of fine wine from repulsively cruddy bottles - it's an almost certain sign that the wine hasn't been kept consistently under cool storage conditions. The cork seemed unusually soft, spongy and dry, and when I pulled it out, it had been stained with red wine from end to end.

The wine's color didn't betray serious problems: It was clear, not cloudy, and remained garnet, reddish-violet, without the distinct "brown" colors that betray a dead wine. But the aroma and flavor further suggested a wine damaged by heat or exposure to air: Subtle fruit remained, focused on red-skinned plums, but it was hiding shyly behind a veil of burnt sugar and caramel. Tart fruit flavors were laced with the light but distinct walnut and pecan character, reminiscent of Sherry, that betrays oxidation. This one was borderline, frankly. In contrast with cork taint, which almost always renders a wine undrinkable for me, this one retained enough fruit and structure to be palatable. But the experience was significantly diminished, and it wouldn't be fair to represent this wine as typical of its brand with a formal tasting note.

Bottom line, if the retailer was aware that the wine was damaged, it shouldn't have been on the shelf. And if we hadn't gone ahead and drunk most of the bottle, I would have felt fully justified in taking it back for a refund. If you encounter a wine that's obviously corked or cooked, you should do the same.

TELL US WHAT YOU THINK!
Let's talk about today's topic! First, I've set up a simple poll in our Netscape WineLovers Community, inviting you to "vote" on the most likely culprit when wine is "cooked," offering as likely suspects the importer, distributor, retailer and consumer. No registration is needed, just click and vote.

Then, follow up on your vote by posting a comment here.
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Bill Spencer

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Easy solution ?

by Bill Spencer » Fri Apr 07, 2006 12:43 pm

%^)

Dealing with an established wine shop where you know the owner has done away with much of this problem here in the Desert Southwest for me ... Mike doesn't buy ANYTHING for his shop that he hasn't tasted first ... I've come to trust his palate as he has taken the time to explore my palate ... that and an experienced wino like Mike pretty much knows what to look for when it comes to evidence of "cooked" wines, i.e. pushed corks, sticky foils, etc. ...

Clink !

%^)
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Paul Winalski

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Re: WineAdvisor: Cooked!

by Paul Winalski » Sat Apr 08, 2006 1:38 am

I have to concur with John D. Zuccarino that transportation is a major culprit in producing cooked wine. European wines on the US West Coast are particularly prone to the problem, as they usually come by ship through the Panama Canal, where unless stored in refrigerated containers they will be subjected to temperatures in the 150 degree-F-plus range.

Back in 1986, I bought a bottle of 1983 Chave Hermitage in Dallas, TX. The wine stain on the neck label should have tipped me off that there might be a problem, but I bought it anyway. I cellared that bottle lovingly until the time when it should have been mature, but when opened it was a severe disappointment. It wasn't bad, but it exhibited only simple, stewed-prune fruit, and none of the complexity that is the hallmark and glory of Chave in a good vintage.

-Paul W.
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Ed Draves

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Re: WineAdvisor: Cooked!

by Ed Draves » Sat Apr 08, 2006 8:38 am

I agree with John about transportation. A customer (unless they are shopping online) can come into a store and see the storage conditions. There should be no suprises buying at retail.
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Robin Garr

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Re: WineAdvisor: Cooked!

by Robin Garr » Sat Apr 08, 2006 9:32 am

Ed Draves wrote:I agree with John about transportation. A customer (unless they are shopping online) can come into a store and see the storage conditions. There should be no suprises buying at retail.


Point taken, Ed, but I addressed John's similar observation on the Netscape/CompuServe Forum and stand by it here: "Yes, I could have singled out transportation, but I didn't, and here's why: It seemed to me that no matter where in the transportation system the wine gets cooked, the culprit is still actually the organization or individual who decided to ship it in hot weather, or using shipping methods without temperature control. So rather than blaming the poor sap who drives the truck, I thought it made more sense to nail the guy who decided to ship under less than ideal conditions.

"A debatable point for sure, but I hope you see what I'm getting at. And of course, in all these polls, it's always in good order to decline to vote but to post an explanation instead."
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Manuel Camblor

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Re: WineAdvisor: Cooked!

by Manuel Camblor » Sat Apr 08, 2006 11:32 am

Robin Garr wrote: So rather than blaming the poor sap who drives the truck, I thought it made more sense to nail the guy who decided to ship under less than ideal conditions.

"A debatable point for sure, but I hope you see what I'm getting at. And of course, in all these polls, it's always in good order to decline to vote but to post an explanation instead."


I would agree with you, Robin, that it's of very little use to blame the dude who drives the truck and handles the wine. For all most of them care, truck drivers could just as well be hauling boxes of beets, canned sardines, pencils, dog food or fluffy pink toys.

To ship wine (or, for example) something else with the handling of which I also find problems: Olive oil) in hot weather without using refrigerated containers is a risky course of action, as has already been noted.

Alas, I find some disturbing patterns of behavior at the retail level that happen on the margins of transport.

On many a less-than-cool day (and on some hot-as-balls ones) I've walked past some wine shops in New York, only to see stacks of cases of wine waiting ot be moved, either into a truck or into the shop. Sometimes I've walked past the same shop later and seen the same boxes on the sidewalk, under the sun. Even if we grant that the stay of those cases of wine under those conditions is relatively brief, I can't help but think that it may repeat at several stages during the wine's progress from winery to importer or distributor's warehouse, to shop, to end-user. A half hour here, twenty minutes there, fifteen more elsewhere, pretty son they all add up.

Also, we need to emphasize that the temperature inside most wine shops is, sadly, less than ideal for wine conservation. Which is why I try never to buy anything that's been sitting on the shelves for a while in any of the shops I frequent. If I happen to saunter into a new shop and want to buy a bottle of something that's more or less pricey, I usually ask for the attendant to bring me a bottle from cold storage and refuse to take what's on the shelf, exosed to the vagaries of city air conditoning (the excess of heating in winter, the lack of cooling in spring and summer). Also, I take care to talk with the salesperson about how the wine's been handled and ask what their return/refund policy is.

Preventive medicine, if you will...
Best,

LL
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Re: WineAdvisor: Cooked!

by Robin Garr » Sat Apr 08, 2006 11:39 am

Manuel Camblor wrote:Preventive medicine, if you will...


Great prescription, Doc. Thanks!

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