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Diagnose Flaw: wine? my palate? wine store?

I realize this question is a bit like asking a doctor to diagnose your ailment over the phone. You can't taste the wine, so you'll never really know, but anyway...

I opened a bottle of 2003 Monastrell from Casa de la Ermita. Actually, it was branded as their less expensive line, I don't remember exactly what they call it. Cost $11. I have had the slightly more expensive $13-$15 botttles a few years ago, they are one of my favorites ever. If I recall correctly, they got some wine mag press back then as well. I had also had the cheaper bottle in the past, it was good, but not as great.

So I bought the bottle in question 2 weeks ago from the only serious independent wine store in town. When I opened it, the cork was stained. The wine had a pronounced brown "edge" in the glass. It tasted OK as I begin to sip, but the finish was hot and harsh and unpleasant. I'm completely inarticulate w/ wine descriptors, sorry. I tasted it again a little later and decided it just wasn't worth drinking.

Since I knew I had liked the wine in the past, I decided to shove the cork back in and take it back to the wine store to ask them to taste it and tell me how one describes what is wrong with the wine. I did not ask for money back or imply fault. The wine guy (I think he's part owner, not sure) refused to taste it until it had time to warm up (it was cold that morning and had been in my car for a few hours) I bought another(different) bottle before I left, there was no discussion of any monetary adjustment. When I called him later he said...

"There's nothing wrong with the wine, it's mature."
"You mean past it's prime?"
"No, I think it's AT it's prime."
"So this is how you think it should taste?"
"yes. I could give you another bottle, but I think they will all be like this one."

I declined the offer. So, am I just palate challenged and can't appreciate older wine? Was it stored poorly? Is it just not a good enough bottle of wine to stand a few years of age? I opened a bottle of 2001 Mondavi Oakville Cab ($30) the next weekend and it was very nice.

What do you think?

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  1. Monastrells are normally wines that are best in their youth, and an '03 would probably be three or four years on the shelf. On the other hand, if it was the 2003 Monastrell Jumilla Monasterio de Santa Ana from Casa de la Ermita, it wasn't very good to begin with and I doubt that age would have helped it much. I think Wine Spectator gave it a 78.

    A nice Oakville Cab on the other hand, would be very good with 5 or more years on it if it had been stored properly.

    1. If you stay away from wines at $11 price point you will less likely end up disappointed.

      9 Replies
      1. re: olasek

        That's interesting. Are they dumping crap at that price point? Is the stuff at $15 significantly better?

        1. re: ccferg

          who can say "objectively" that this was crap? I didn't try it, did you?

          1. re: olasek

            No, and I've certainly had some pretty good wines that were under $11. I just thought you might be saying that since $11 is a very popular price point for consumers that distributors might unload a lot of mediocre stuff at that particular price -- when in fact there might be much better values at a few dollars more or less. I thought you were suggesting it was some kind of marketing ploy.

        2. re: olasek

          That's like saying " That's what you get for drinking inexpensive wine" There are potable wines at any price. If you know enough about wine to make that comment, perhaps you could offer the OP some assistance.

          1. re: Tay

            >> That's what you get for drinking inexpensive wine

            Please read what I said. The only thing I said was that going with "inexpensive" wines you enhance your chances of being disappointed, nothing more, nothing less. If this is such a controversial statement to you so bid, I can't help you.

            1. re: olasek

              Actually I find just the opposite. $50 bottles of wine disappoint me a lot more than $11 bottles.

              1. re: mengathon

                >> Actually I find just the opposite. $50 bottles of wine disappoint me a lot more than $11 bottles

                I envy your senses. Life would be lot cheaper ... :lol

                1. re: olasek

                  I think the point was that expectations are higher at $50 a pop.

          2. re: olasek

            2005 Altos Luzon is $11.99 from the Wine Library www.winelibrary.com Similar to the '04 which may have been the best under $20 wine of the year these are remarkable values. Juan Gil, mentioned elsewhere in this thread, is particularly good also. I might also add the curiously named shiraz, Fetish the Watcher ('05) which received 91 points from the WS ('04 Altos Luzon had 93 points) and is available for about $15 or 16 if you can find it anywhere.

          3. My preference would have been for the proprietor to have been a little more solicitous
            and understanding. What he described as "mature" may have in reality referred to a wine that was cooked (leaky cork, brown tinge to wine) because of improper storage, perhaps his improper storage. The proprietor did offer to give you a second bottle -- I would have taken him up on that -- and tasted the two bottles side by side. But if both were stored improperly, well...head to a new store.

            1. Yeah, sounds like this wine is cooked. I'd get that second bottle from the store as well. If not, you should at least get store credit.

              9 Replies
              1. re: mengathon

                If not "cooked," possibly oxidized from a leaking cork. In the case of the former, then bottle #2 would probably manifest the same elements. In case of the latter, I'd guess that the cork might have done a better job.

                It would help, if I knew the wine, but I do not, so all is just conjecture.

                Hunt

                1. re: Bill Hunt

                  Let me chime in by saying that the up-and-coming region of Jumilla makes some very reasonably priced, quite drinkable wines. I like some of the wines from Bodega Juan Gil (the GOS monastrell is a steal), and I particularly enjoyed the Finca Luzon Jumilla Altos de Luzon 2003, which for around $16 was one of the best buys from that vintage.

                  I think that it is important to find wine regions whose reputations have not led to massive price inflation; if I was rich, I would love to drink top-notch Burgundies, Barolos, and Bordeaux all the time, but alas, I am just a commoner who needs to find beauty in the value-priced labels.

                  1. re: anewton

                    I've had both the Juan Gil and Luzon and enjoyed both. As I mentioned, the Casa de la Ermita was one of my all time favorites, I prefered it to either of the aforementioned. The bottle in question was exactly the one supposed by the first responser to this post. I remember it as being good, but certainly not as nice as the Casa de la Ermita "proper".

                  2. re: Bill Hunt

                    I asked about oxidation, and asked about the stained cork. I was informed that the cork was meaningless. I've read that before...that one should more or less ignore the cork when presented it in a restaurant, but really, it seems that quite often a cork that has stains up the side has heralded a less than enjoyable bottle.

                    What do you think?

                    1. re: danna

                      Describe the cork in more detail. Did the stain go around the entire cork? How far up the side did it go? Was the stain's colour vivid or faint, red-purple or tending brown? Did it seem new or old? Was it wet or dry? Was the cork itself springy or dried out and crumbly/stiff?

                      In my experience, cooked wines don't turn brown prematurely. That's usually a sign of oxidation.

                      1. re: carswell

                        My experience matches yours. In AZ, where wines can "cook" in a heartbeat, there is usually no color (or colour) difference, that I can tell. There are many other tips, that might indicate heat damage, but color is usually not one. Oxidation, however, will often mute the colors of a red to brick/brown - "Colorado" in my book.

                        Question: I mentioned the "metallic" element in an oxidized red. Have you encountered that, or have I always imagined it?

                        Hunt

                        1. re: Bill Hunt

                          If anything, cooked wines seem more frozen in time, seem to evolve less rapidly than undamaged wines.

                          Can't say I've ever noted a metallic note in oxidized reds, though my experience of them is fortunately limited (sadly not the case with cooked wines).

                        2. re: carswell

                          Stain was only about a quarter of the cork's circumfrence. It went about half way up the length of the cork. The stain was vivid red-purple. I'm afraid I can't answer the new/old wet/dry questions. I did not notice the cork being crumbly.

                          Thanks to you and everyone for helping me learn. I realize this is a lot of bother over a cheap bottle of wine...but if and when this happens with a pricier bottle, I want to be educated!

                        3. re: danna

                          Danna,

                          In very general terms, this is true. However, when a wine displays a possible fault, then the cork SHOULD be examined. The staining *could* indicate a less-than-perfect seal. Since your wine exhibited a brownish tinge, that is a distinct possibility. With lighter reds, that are oxidized, I often find a "metallic" taste, that is also, often, present on the nose. I do not mean to put words into your mouth, as you did not mention any aspect of a metallic taste.

                          [EDIT] The presentation of the cork, in a restaurant, is more to give assurance that the wine is what is on the label, and that the vintage is the same. If one finds a fault, THEN the cork can help tell the story.

                          It could just be, as some have commented, that the wine was just well passed its prime and had started to go downhill quickly. Again, I do not know this wine, so I have nothing to offer there. Others seem to think that it might just be too old - I'd go with their conjuecture.

                          I also agree with an above comment on accepting the offer of another bottle of the same wine, and, maybe even in the shop (if laws permit) sampling it vs your bottle. If it too is off, then you have a few aspects to address with the retailer: has all of this been improperly stored? Is this wine just too old to enjoy? Did one cork leak, and the other not? If I were the merchant, I'd invite you to sample your btl., with another, and then discuss the wines in length. It could be that you are just not a fan of this particular wine with some years on it. If that is the case, I, as the wine seller, would want to find this out, so that I could better serve you with your next purchase. I like many wines with some years in my cellar - my wife less so (whites & reds), so I know that I will often pass on a well-aged white Burg for dinner with her, and opt for a younger, more fruit-forward wine. Nothing wrong with that, as it's just personal tastes.

                          When folk ask "how long should I age wine XXXX?" The answer is to age it to match YOUR tastes. RP, Jr, Jim Laube, et al, cannot tell YOU, how long to age any wine. You have to decide for yourself, and no one can tell you that you are wrong, because it's to YOUR tastes, not their's.

                          Hunt

                    2. I'm a bit surprised the owner didnt offer to replace the wine while you were in the store. Would replacing an $11 item to satisfy a customer bankrupted him?

                      Sorry, I cant help you diagnosing the wine but can recognize poor customer service and my prognosis for this shop is a poor one. Sad part is now you no longer have a "serious" wine shop in town.

                      1. I think you should find a new wine merchant. Whether its an $11 bottle or $110 bottle, any reputable merchant will accept a customer's feeling that a wine is off. There is no need for them to taste it, and you should have been offered replacement IMMEDIATELY.

                        4 Replies
                        1. re: Erk877

                          On the one hand.... I *DID* ask them to taste it. I was convinced there was some specific flaw and I wanted to learn what it was...oxidized, cooked, etc.

                          On the other hand...I guess that's the thing that frustrates me. Even though I didn't ask for a new bottle, the fact that I stood there, before they even tasted it (remember they wanted to wait until it warmed up) and bought a $23 bottle, and there was not even a whisper of suggestion that they consider the fact that I just handed them a practically full bottle of wine back ...bearing their small lable that they put on every bottle.

                          I am accustomed to making friends with my food sources...from the chef who always brings me treats from the kitchen, to the fruit stand where they hide a few figs for me, to the wine lady at Whole Foods who insists on hugging me the instant I come within range. I'm extroverted, and I'm interested in their product...it just happens. So it drives me crazy that these people (2 owners and a long-time emp) treat me with an upturned nose and politeness that does not extend any where near warmth. (except for the non-owner who I don't even give "polite" to) I've been a regular for around 15 years....since their store was much smaller.

                          When Whole Foods opened last year, I moved most of my business there...but despite how nice the selection is , it can't touch the wine store in question. So now I'm stuck.

                          We also have a Total Wines in town, a huge wine warehouse affair. I am leary of the storage conditions at those places, but maybe I should give it a shot.

                          Thanks for listening to my poor-me rant !

                          1. re: danna

                            a 2003 Mourvedre should not have a brown edge....it probably wasn't stored properly , and your merchant definitely should have made good on it by replacing it with a different bottle of wine, one that he was positive was OK.....once he was made aware of your problem , it would be pointless to offer another bottle of the same wine .

                            1. re: danna

                              Danna,

                              As for the big-box shop (I do not know Total Wines), I felt the same, as you, when we moved to AZ and the Costcos carried wines. I hesitated, and watched their inventories. They turned over very quickly. Now, I have no compunction about buying from them. When I've encountered flawed wines (many "corked," and one badly oxidized) they have inquired as to the problem, but once explained, have never hesitated to take a return. Now, I'm dealing with a person at the "Returns" desk, and not the wine-buyer, or even someone in the wine dept., but they have never hesitated. Good policy. In all of my wino years, I've only had two sommeliers/wine stewards, who gave me any attitude, what so ever - their mistake.

                              Sorry that you encountered the treatment, that you did. Were I a retailer, the last thing that I would want would be for a customer to have a problem with a bottle of my wine. I'd want to taste it, and would do my best to express exactly what I found. If one bottle did not do the trick, I'd open another. I'd also spend time talking to the client, about what I found in the wine vs what they might have found. In the end, I would want them to be satisfied and to return.

                              Hunt

                              1. re: danna

                                <<sitting here flabbergasted>>

                                15 year customer and they wouldnt replace the wine