Wednesday, July 11, 2012


These days, it’s hard to buy a bad bottle of wine.  Bad, as in something seriously wrong.  It’s so rare that, when we learned about wine faults in the Sommelier Program at Algonquin, they only taught them by description, not by direct tasting experience.

But it happens.  And here’s one:

Craneford Cabernet Sauvignon John Zilm 2004; Barossa Valley (Australia)
I can’t remember when I bought this wine but I’m guessing it was in 2007, back in the day when I paid attention to the reviews of The Wine Advocate (Robert Parker).  Here’s the Parker review that I found online:
The 2004 Cabernet Sauvignon (93% Cabernet Sauvignon and 7% Merlot, aged primarily in small new French oak) offers superb flavor purity as well as delineation. Its dense purple color is followed by sweet scents of creme de cassis and licorice. A big, rich Cabernet with no hard edges, it should age for a decade, but is probably best consumed during its first 5-7 years of life.
I’m also guessing that I paid about $30.

We opened the bottle to have with grilled steaks and here’s what we found:  Colour of medium purple but with considerable brick colour, indicating a wine that’s significantly aged before it’s time.  Somewhat cloudy.  Muted cooked aromas of black cassis and red cherry.  Very tart acidity…tasted like a mouthful of under-ripe cranberries and rhubarb.  On its way to vinegar?  Atypical for Cabernet Sauvignon.  Short finish.  This bottle had about 2 centimetres of deposit in the bottom!

Was it just one bad bottle?  Did something happen during transportation to Ontario?  Or did something go seriously wrong in the winemaker’s cellar?  Here are comments from other folks who bought this bottle, courtesy of CellarTracker:
  • one of the worst cabs I've had for awhile
  • Flawed bottle: Cloudy wine, sharp mouth - cranberries are a possibility. One taste then down the drain.
  • Did I get a bad bottle? I don't think so. I prescribe this for a yeast infection, as it's indistinguishable from pure cranberry juice save for the minty alcoholic finish. The nose could pass for hair spray and the dry cranberry palate sucked my cheeks down my esophagus. I'm thinking that they just boffed this one badly.

OK, so it’s not just one bad bottle.  Something went seriously wrong and it’s not only that I held onto the bottle for too long, although that probably didn’t help.

What happened?  One guess is that the wine was exposed to too much oxygen at one or more points during vinification.  If crushed grapes are exposed too long to oxygen, the juice can begin to turn brown.  Later on, acetic acid bacteria, which need oxygen to grow, can convert the alcohol to acetaldehyde and then to acetic acid (the acid in vinegar).  Winemakers combat these threats by using sulphur dioxide and keeping tanks and barrels full.

I contacted Craneford wines and, to their credit, they replied.  Good on them!  (Winemakers, like most of us, don’t like to dwell on their mistakes.)  Here’s what their winemaker had to say:
I am so sorry to hear you have had a wine of ours that has been undrinkable and in this condition. Since this wine was produced we have changed our winemaking and production team and therefore it is very hard to indicate the exact problem with the wine and if it was an issue with transport or something else. Please review our current team online at
Please accept our sincere apology, but please do not give up on Craneford Wines!
If you would like please send me your address details and I will forward to you 1 bottle of our current vintage Craneford Cabernet Sauvignon.    
On that basis alone, I certainly won’t give up on Craneford wines.

As I’ve said before, sometimes it’s only by experiencing the bad that we appreciate the good.

For a bonus, here’s a photo of the back label.  See if you can spot the spelling error in the last line.     

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  1. Great post. A nice way to talk about a bad bottle.

  2. Hey David,

    Loved this post. And you're getting a replacement bottle! Let's see how well it travels. As you know my nose is sensitive to bad, I mean faulted, wines. I seem to be able to smell it a mile away. My continued disappointments seem to always be with French wines, and most always cork taint. Keep a bottle for 10-12 years, open it with great anticipation and then often WTF. No more of that.

    So I'm missing Vic already, you up for the challenge? Need a a back-up? Be in touch soon.

  3. I think you are right about the exposure to oxygen Dave, the "hair spray" descriptor likely means it is aldehydes from oxidation of ethanol (alcohol). That would also account for the acidity.

    As nice as their gesture to send you a bottle of wine is, do not accept it. The wine will be seized by customs. Sorry.

    As for the label, maybe they want to highlight their extra long skids they use for shipping.

    1. Thanks, Aaron, for the confirmation. It's good to get confirmation from a REAL expert!