Wine Damage – Heat and Air

A winemaker’s worst fear is someone getting a bad bottle of their wine and not knowing it’s bad. It doesn’t matter if it’s the cork, heat damage in transit, or storage problems, the bottom line is the wine will be judged by the taster.

For this reason we do a LOT of quality control at Selene. My concern is what damage can be done to wine in shipping, and how it affects the wines flavors and quality. So today Mia and I are doing a little tasting with these three bottles of 2006 Selene Merlot, Frediani Vineyard.

The first bottle (on the left) is a bottle pulled from our cellar. Notice it has a nice cork in front of it. This will be our ‘control’.

The second bottle (in the middle) is a bottle that we shipped on September 16th by overnight to Florida for a meeting. Unfortunately it was incorrectly routed through Fresno, Sacramento, then through Utah, where they confiscated it for a couple days (claiming it was illegal) then released it to continue it’s travel to Florida only to arrive on September 23rd. Obviously it missed it’s meeting, so we waited another week for them to pick it up, and return it (taking another week). I don’t think I have to mention that it was VERY hot in September this year, so it is pretty safe to say this is a heat damaged bottle of wine. Notice the cork also looks fine, as it showed NO signs of leaking or being pushed up by heat. We marked the label with “FL” (for Florida) when we got it back, with the intention of tasting it along side a bottle from our cellar to understand how heat damage can affect the wine’s flavors.

The last bottle on the right was a bottle Mia was putting into our cellar from our warehouse inventory. She noticed a small red circle on the inside of the case where the bottle had been placed capsule side down. Notice there is no cork in front of the bottle. This bottle is missing it’s cork! See the sediment (cloudiness) on the inside neck of the bottle where the cork should have been. The capsule has kept the wine in the bottle this entire time. (Most wines are stored and shipped upside down, so the capsule creates a seal by the weight of the bottle.)

This is the reason Mia says she can never take her eyes off the bottling line. As soon as she does, something is bound to happen and it happens quickly. This is extremely rare, but it can happen (if you turn away for a few seconds!) although it’s the first time for me.

The tasting was very interesting. The control was very good, rich aromas of fruit, and a lush mouthfeel, and a very nice smooth finish. The Selene Merlot I know!

The FL heat damaged bottle’s aroma’s were more muted, but it wasn’t as pleasant to smell (smelled more acidic/tart). The flavors were harsh, and kind of mean tasting at mid palate, and the finish was like a high alcohol wine (like a bite at the back).

The last bottle was very muted in the nose, lacking the yummy fruit aroma’s. The color was off (oxidation). The flavors were pretty bland. The finish, while being better than the 2nd bottle, was flat. You could tell there was something wrong with this wine right away, but it wasn’t as oxidized as we thought it would be.

What scared me the most about this tasting is that if you were not familiar with Selene Merlot, and you had the heat damaged wine you might think it’s just a poorly made wine.

It’s why we (like so many other wineries) really care about how the wine is shipped and what condition it arrives in. When I see that a shipment could be subject to damage, we replace it and get the wine back.

A lot of people ask what we do with this wine, and why we want it back. Obviously we don’t want it out there representing our brand (see winemaker’s worse fear) so we get it back, taste it and use it as cooking wine. Next up… two recipes that you’ll love! – Skippy

2 Replies to “Wine Damage – Heat and Air”

  1. B r a v o !

    Astonishingly, almost no wineries publicize their QC efforts in this regard. Makes you wonder if they have any QC to begin with.

  2. Thanks Fred! I think a lot of small wineries (like Selene) and their winemakers do a lot of QC, but they don’t talk about it. The ones I’ve talked to think it’s something they just know they have to do, it becomes a part of the winemaking process for them, not a separate thing they talk about. Which is good for everyone!

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