Wednesday, April 20, 2011


Sometimes you need a bad experience with a wine to remind you of how much some things have improved.

Back in the 80s, when I really started getting interested in wine, it wasn’t that unusual to get a bottle of wine that was “corked”; i.e., spoiled by a cork that was infected with 2,4,6-trichloroanisole (TCA to its enemies…it has no friends). Conventional wisdom and common experience was that poor quality corks spoiled around 1 out of 8 to 12 bottles. That frequency has gone down, thanks to two factors: the rise of screwcaps and artificial corks as well as improvements in the quality control over corks. Certainly, my experience is that corked wines are fewer and farther between.

But memories of the bad old days came back to us a couple of weeks ago when we opened a bottle of Chateau Leoville Las Cases, AC Saint-Julien 1986 to celebrate the 25th anniversary of our first date. (Chateau Leoville Las Cases is a second growth Bordeaux from the famous 1855 classification.)

It’s a wine that I had bought about 20 years ago in anticipation of just this occasion. Storage conditions were faultless.

But I was somewhat suspicious about its condition as I noticed that the cork had pushed its way slightly above the lip of the bottle (maybe a couple of millimetres).

We took the wine to Beckta to celebrate. But after the folks at Beckta very carefully removed the cork, it was clear that the cork was in poor condition: mouldy and damp.

The wine was undrinkable (we did try), perhaps the worst case of cork taint (old, wet cardboard) that I can recall, even though its colour was still surprisingly youthful with no signs of aging even after 25 years. Much like us (ahem).

Fortunately, we had ready access to Beckta’s wine cellar and the evening remained celebratory in spite of our disappointment with the wine.

But it was a strong and smelly reminder of how disappointing wines from that era could be, and how poor quality control was, even at a top winery.

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1 comment:

  1. Now that's a very sad story. Not so long ago I opened a bottle (not quite so precious) of Bordeaux that had been sitting in my cellar and found it was corked also. I will now always buy two (not so sure that's a solution, but it's making me feel better). Hopefully you have another and it's in better shape.