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Cork didn't match the wine: explain

As mentioned in my recent post on the William Tell Inn in West Alton, NH (New England board), I had a puzzling experience with wine at dinner.

We were served an unspoiled but otherwise disappointing 2003 Cotes du Rhone for about $30. The mystery: I happened to notice halfway through the bottle that the extracted cork read "2005 Châteauneuf-du-Pape" from the same vinter. How is that possible? The wine was opened tableside. We enjoyed the rest of the meal too much to investigate further, but it was odd.

Does anyone have a reasonable explanation for this? My theories -- nefarious rebottling or false labelling by the restaurant or the winemaker -- seem a little paranoid for a small Swiss restaurant in rural New Hampshire whose wine list is short and modest, few bottles above $50, mid-point around $30.

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  1. I've had similar things happen a couple of times. I was convinced on both occasions that the error happened in the winery and was random (I was working as a sommelier at the time, and knew where I had gotten the wines and trusted those sources). However, it might not be a mistake. Often a winery will cork it's wines with the appellation name where the wine is made, even if the wine itself is sourced from a wider region. They might buy all of their corks for the vintage with the same imprint to save money. This would be much easier to explain if the vintages matched (is it possible that they did; that the wine list had the wrong vintage for the Cotes du Rhone?). It seems odd that a winery would even have 2005 CDP corks lying around unless they were using them for everything. There would certainly be no reason to mislabel an expensive wine from a decent vintage as an inexpensive wine from a poor one.

    8 Replies
    1. re: monday

      I agree that it is probably a producer issue. But it is strange that the vintage would be 2005, as neither 2005 CdR nor CdP would be released to the market yet. 2005 CdP wouldn't even be in final blend stage yet for many producers, let alone in bottle! As you say, 2005 is considered an equal or better vintage, and there would be no advantage to trying to pass off 2005 as 2003 wine. Sometimes producers will declassify which could explain CdP wine labelled as CdR, but not the vintage mismatch.

      Perhaps the OP still has the cork. If so, did you perhaps misread the vintage?

      1. re: Melanie Wong

        No, certain of both, verified by my two dining companions.

        1. re: Melanie Wong

          Perhaps they bottled the 2003 in 2005, ran out of 2003 corks, and used some of the 2005 corks. Even though they will not have bottled the 2005, they perhaps do have the 2005 corks (apparently).

          1. re: Darren72

            Yep, something like that, a break-down in procedure. To reduce cork taint, producers who are concerned about quality order cork supply just before they're needed and dispose of any leftover corks. Having corks on hand for the 2005 vintage so far in advance is risky.

            One could contact the wine's importer or the producer directly. The producer should have records of every input to the production of each lot of wine and be able to trace the cork details.

            1. re: Melanie Wong

              >Having corks on hand for the 2005 vintage so far in advance is risky.

              Not necessarily so far in advance, however. Some producers will have bottled their 2005 white CDPs by now.

              1. re: Melanie Wong

                "Not necessarily so far in advance, however. Some producers will have bottled their 2005 white CDPs by now."

                Good point. Still, would be rather late to be bottling 2003 CdR sometime after the 2005 harvest.

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  >Still, would be rather late to be bottling 2003 CdR sometime after the 2005 harvest.

                  Yes but it's hardly unheard of in the southern Rhône where wine is often bottled on an as-needed basis. "The appellation [of Châteauneuf du Pape] must come to grips with the fact that so many estates bottle their wine as it is sold, leading to inexcusable and unacceptable bottle variation. When an estate bottles a given vintage 18 months after the harvest and also five years after the harvest, can anyone doubt there is a significant difference in character, flavor, and quality? The later bottling is often (but not always) dried out and unrepresentative of the vintage." –the ever-perscriptive Parker in the 1997 edition of Wines of the Rhône Valley.

                  1. re: Melanie Wong

                    Yes, it's very true that some producers bottle to order. Yet, with Cotes du Rhone (as opposed to Chateauneuf du Pape), that point of no return arrives much earlier if quality is to be preserved. Perhaps that's why the wine was less than exciting for the OP.

                    Yet 2003 was not a large vintage and didn't take long to sell-through, at least those exported to the US at that pricepoint. CdR is a cash-flow wine and lots would likely be bulked off to the negoce than cellared for long. But only the producer knows.

            2. My guess: someone on the bottling line was asleep at the switch. Either they grabbed the wrong cork or slapped on the wrong label (the latter secenario is unlikely, however, since few if any 2005 CDPs have hit the shelves at this point). I doubt anything nefarious is afoot. What would the motive be? Buyers would see the label, not the cork, in the store and so would think they were getting a "lesser" Côtes-du-Rhône, not a "greater" CDP. Sounds like a mix-up at the producer's end and a case of "no harm, no foul" at yours.