Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Heartbreak in a 750 ml Bottle - Hey it Happens!

You spend your hard earned money on them, you protect them, make sure they have a comfortable place to live; you show great patience as they age and develop into what you hoped they would become; you read and study up on what to do to make sure you give them the best chance to succeed.  No, I am not referring to children nor am I referring to pets or house plants. I am of course referring to wines that you keep in your wine cellar (or closet, or wine fridge)!

OK - Not my Cellar - But Maybe Someday!

Alas, as with children, pets, and plants - sometimes all your hard work only ends up in heartbreak.  This heartbreak was exactly what I experienced this past weekend, with a wine that I had kept care of for years!

The wine I speak of was a 2005 Cosentino M. Coz.  I had purchased this wine in April of 2009 as part of the Cosentino wine club.  On the higher end of what I call splurge wines (See my Wine Rating System), the wine club price for this wine was...(pause for sad reflection)... $120! On the menu for our Saturday night meal was a Tenderloin Steak with a Cabrales (Spanish blue cheese) sauce.  In looking over my list of cellared (or wine 'fridged) wines - I noticed the 2005 M. Coz.  The specifics seemed to be just what I wanted, a nice big Cab (or Cab blend in this case):

  • Wine Type: Red 
  • Bottle Size: 750ml 
  • Vintage: 2005 
  • Appellation: Napa Valley 
  • Varietal: Meritage 
  • Alcohol content: 14.60% 
  • Oak: French 
  • Time in Oak: 30 months 
  • Release Date: 8-Jun 
  • Vintage Notes: Estate blend of 63% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Cabernet Franc, 15% Merlot, and 2% Petite Verdot from Yountville, St. Helena, Pope Valley and Oakville.
  • Winemaker Notes: The individual lots are punch cap fermented and remain separate during the thirty months of barrel aging in French cooperage. The wine was bottled unfined and unfiltered. 
  • Case Production: 600

My friends at Wine Enthusiast are nice enough to provide a wine vintage chart  where I checked to see that 2005 was a "superb" vintage for Napa Cabs (score of 95 out of 100), and that as of this year the vintage was "can drink, not yet at it's peak". This usually means still quite tannic, but with some aeration and time will be very nice. So, three or four hours before dinner I opened it up and placed it in a decanter.

Initially it had very little nose, a bit of oak and no real fruit. Throughout the three or four hours it was open I swirled the decanter trying to coax something out.  Sadly, dinner time came and the wine was a complete disappointment.  It tasted completely unbalanced, a tiny bit of fruit came through with some oak and bitter tannins. I have no problem with tannic wines, but in this case the lack of fruit or acid to counterbalance left it flat. I would have been disappointed at $10 a bottle - but at $120 it was truly heartbreak in a bottle.

What happened?
I wanted to figure out why the wine was so disappointing, so I looked at a couple of possibilities. 

Did I not decant/aerate enough? I saved a glass full and left it in the decanter for another 24 hours. Upon tasting this wine it was even worse.  Bitter with nothing appealing. If wines needs more aeration, they may be overly tannic or a bit closed off in taste and aroma - but not unpleasant to drink.

Did I decant/aerate too much? If the wine had shown some promise when I first opened and decanted then maybe. But too much oxygen can only really negatively impact really really old (like 50 year old) wine, whose delicate flavors may dissipate with exposure to the air.

Was this not a good wine? Let me stress that Cosentino Winery is one of my favorites. They make great wine at all price points, and although I am not a winery club member right now, I was for years.  Even the best wineries can make a dud on occasion, so I searched for reviews and found this one from Wine Enthusiast:

Wine Enthusiast, December 2009
Rating91 Points

ReviewLots to like in this complex red Bordeaux blend. Shows bigtime fruit flavors of blackberries, cherries, raspberries and cocoa, with a rich edge of smoky oak, wrapped into smooth, fine tannins in the modern Napa style. Finishes a bit obvious and sweet. Could develop bottle complexity over the next decade. - S.H. 

I did not find any other professional reviews, but some fellow winos on Cellartracker had these notes:

5/15/2011 - CBBROWN3 WROTE: 90 Points
Decanted about 3 hours. Deep ruby color. Blackberries, mocha, dried herbs, licorice, leather, and cedar on the nose. Medium body with solid tannins and very nice acidity. Still tastes a bit young. Sweet, ripe fruit on the palate with enough spiciness to add some complexity. Seems to have something buried under the tannins/acidity that I just couldn't get out. Very nice, but better in another few years.

12/25/2011 - JSHINSON WROTE: 95 Points
Bright cherry and tar with hints of cigar box and smoke

1/2/2012 - KURT AND RUTHANN WROTE: 91 Points
Well balanced with lots of fruit. excellent wine.

11/3/2012 - WINO365 WROTE:
- It's unbalanced.

The first three reviews were the wine I was hoping for - and had been patiently waiting for over four years to experience, but after all that time it looks like WINO365 and I had similar experiences. Although WINO365's review is concise, ultimately it matched my thoughts exactly.

Was the wine "corked"? The term corked refers to the impact a chemical called TCA can have on wine. TCA can make its way into wine by other means, but most often through a tainted cork. Proponents of screw tops and synthetic wine corks site TCA as one of the major reasons to avoid natural corks. I have experienced only a few corked wines, and they have been unmistakeable. If you experience an overwhelming aroma of wet cardboard or a damp basement - with little other aromas, then you most probably have a corked wine.  The most memorable was at a wine tasting where a new bottle was opened for the table I was at, and while the host described wonderful strawberry and earthy aromas - she noticed a puzzled look from our table. She took a whiff from one of our glasses and without hesitating said "Nope, that smells like gramma's basement, that was a corked bottle!"  At lower levels however,  TCA can still impact a wine, just without the telltale aromas I have experienced in the past.  In fact, the TCA can obliterate a wine's aroma and flavor at these lower levels.

My Conclusion
I have no way to be 100% sure, but the evidence seems to point to a corked bottle tainted with levels of TCA low enough that there was no wet cardboard smell, but the impacts were still devastating to the wine.  The reviews from Cellartracker seem to point to some with good bottles, and at least one other wino who received a bad bottle.  I have read that TCA may affect nearly one bottle in every case of wine with natural corks - scary when you think about it.

Yes - this wine was heartbreak in a 750 ml bottle (did I mention $120 for a bottle!), but since I have been buying wine to age for more than 10 years and have only had this type of heartbreak once so far, I would definitely say the overall effort to buy and cellar wines is definitely worth it - no reward without risk!Wineries take great steps to combat TCA and the resulting corked wine, so I have no issues with Cosentino winery. Cork taint is just a negative possibility amongst all the potential positives in the wonderful world of wine. In fact, since I had some of the Cabrales sauce left over, I cooked up a couple more steaks last night, and paired it with a 2006 Cosentino The Poet. This wine was also a heritage blend, and come in just under the wire to be a weekend wine at $49 per bottle. Absolutely delicious - fantastic with deep fruit like blueberries, and a nice touch of cedar and baking spices, and some nice tannins. The Poet paired very nicely with the steak and the blue cheese sauce - my big Cab craving was finally satisfied! 

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