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Bottle Variation

One Of These Things Is Not Like The Other
Unfortunately, bottle variation doesn’t mean you drink a different bottle of wine every night. Although if you every run into bottle variation, you probably would wish it did. Instead, bottle variation describes the phenomena when two bottles of the same wine deliver two different experiences. One experience would be the wine as the winemaker intended it to be while the other would be an inferior experience, as something has caused the wine to taste and smell different.

So what insidious forces are plotting to ruin what should be a perfectly good bottle of wine? Turns out there are several. During bottling, perhaps one of the bottles was contaminated permitting yeast cell growth as the wine ages, or perhaps during the shipment or storage of the wine, it was exposed to light and/or heat causing the wine to chemically change and age improperly.

Then there is the cork whose purpose is to keep air out of the bottle and prevent premature oxidation. Well, perhaps your wine was stored standing up for a long period of time in a low humidity environment and the cork dried out a little letting oxygen into the bottle, or even if the bottle was stored in a manner that kept the cork moist, the cork could have been inferior and let air into your bottle.  

As you are getting the picture, there can be many diabolical forces at play here. Whatever the true reason your bottle has gone south, there is little consolation any explanation can offer when a wine just doesn't live up to its potential.

Case in point, several weeks ago, I opened a bottle of 2001 Cuvee Du Vatican Chateauneuf Du Pape Reserve Sixtine, which I had cellared since purchase. Despite the 95 points of glory Robert Parker promised me, I was denied by bottle variation. How do I know bottle variation was to blame here? Well, several weeks later a friend opened another bottle of the 2001 Cuvee Sixtine with me and did it ever deliver!

The wine required several hours of decanting before we were treated to aromas of blackberries, plums, spice, and black pepper wafting from the glass. The nose carried on to the palate and was joined by the minerality, which is Chateauneuf, along with a full bodied rich fruit profile followed by an acidity which brought the long finish into focus. This wine was a completely different experience than the last time.

Unfortunately, given the reviews of the 01 Cuvee Sixtine on Cellartracker, it seems anything goes with the remaining bottle in my cellar, as bottle variation is a common theme across the reviews. Oh well, one day I’ll pull the cork and hope for the best.

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Reader Comments (1)

Some of my oldest memories of wine involved being in a restaurant, watching the server open a bottle of wine and give the first sip to my dad. What seemed like a simple endeavor, to determine if it is indeed the wine that my father had in mind for the meal, has evolved into the understanding that its the first moment that a wine variation can be detected. And, it must be done quickly with high level of observation and perception. And, with all eyes at the table on you, taboot!

I suppose an entire article could be written, and many minutes dedicated, to what actually should happen at the simple moment when time appears to stand still and a bottle of wine is first tasted. Typically, its up to the taster to surmise the wine's value and whether, or not, there is a wine variation. However, I've learned the classic restaurant protocol is for the bottle to be opened away from the table and tasted by the server or sommelier for genuineness. Therefore, when in doubt, its always correct and polite to give the server the a chance to make his determination, if he hasn't already done so.

Just another aspect of wine that I simply wanted to throw in to the conversation. Thanks for the article.

October 12, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterVintageVoice

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