Once this summer, a shipment of six bottles of red wine arrived at our doorstep, and the heat was positively radiating from the box even before we opened it. I feared the whole shipment would be ruined, and promptly donned my Google-wonk hat and did some research.
“Cooked wine” gets varying reviews. Sometimes, it speeds up the aging process pleasantly. (In fact, some vintners heat wine deliberately to bring it to market faster.) Other times, it results in a “sherryized” wine that is well past its prime, or literally bakes the life out of it, resulting in something that’s flat, lifeless, and medicinal.
I’ll start with “lessons learned” from this experience, and then will share brief tasting notes of how the six wines actually turned out despite their hardship. The best research, after all, is tasting. Tough job but someone’s gotta do it.
1. When ordering wine online during hot weather (or if any part of the journey from supplier to destination is likely to be hot during the journey), if the supplier offers an in-transit cooling method (such as “The Cold Case”), say YES. The extra $10 is better than risking losing your entire shipment.
2. Your local wine stop isn’t necessarily immune to “cooked” wines. Ask about their returns policy.
3. Signs of “cooked” wines:
* Obvious “sherrying” of the flavor.
* Wine that has expanded to the point of traveling up and even out the top of the cork.
* An abnormally expanded cork that has absorbed some of the heated and expanded wine.
* A cork that has popped slightly (or totally!) out of the bottle.
4. When you’re having wine shipped, diligently follow the tracking code. Part of the reason our wine cooked is that we weren’t here to receive the shipment the day it was delivered the first time, so it sat on the UPS truck for another 24 hours. I also put a note on the side door instructing “deliveries” to come to the front door and ring the door bell, as I can’t hear them when they knock on the side door, which is all the way across the house from my office. (After this incident, I rented a P.O. box at a Goin’ Postal location; the P.O. box is actually less expensive than a comparable box at the Post Office, and people are available all day during business hours to sign for FedEx and UPS shipments.)
5. Now I’m wondering if the recent run of “just so-so” whites might be attributable to poor shipping and exposure to light in the process of going from vintner to my glass; whites are much more delicate than reds.
HOW THE WINES ACTUALLY TURNED OUT:
This was the biggest surprise of all. Most of them, even the one whose cork had been pushed part of the way out of the bottle, were fine, and three of them were downright delicious.
Wine 1: 2008 Trace Cabernet/Shiraz, California, $14.99. Footnote: We ordered the 2007 Trace Shiraz and we received a substitution not only of vintage but also of varietal without being asked. (I always specify “no substitutions.”) Anyhow, the cork (not true cork, the plastic type) had actually been pushed out of the bottle a little by the expansion of the wine, breaking through the foil. In this case, the vintage/varietal substitution worked out just fine. An interesting blend. RECOMMENDED.
Wine 2: 2007 Zunio Cabernet Franc, Morgan Hill, CA, $9.99. Very interesting! Clear, clean, very tasty, medium-bodied and VERY round and satisfying, long finish. What cracked me up was the faint whiff of mushrooms now and then, as well as the distinct slight odor of green onion as each glass was nearly empty; the full glass didn’t display this particular characteristic. Funny. RECOMMENDED.
Wine 3: Finca Del Viso Red, NV, Tempranillo, Bodegas Fernando Castro, Spain, $12.99. Almost undrinkable. Maybe I can use it in a stew. This is the first Spanish Tempranillo I’ve ever disliked. Probably a product of the overheating.
Wine 4: River’s End Merlot 2008, North Coast (Sonoma), California, $14.99. Very good! However, the J.Lohr 2008 Merlot costs $4/bottle less, and I think it is a little better, but this is an appealing wine with a slightly different style. If you try it, let me know what you think. RECOMMENDED.
Wine 5: 2008 Taurus Chianti, $14.99, Tuscany, Italy. Eh. Jancis Robinson, the great wine writer, has said that Italian wines tend to have some tannic bitterness at the back of the palate, and I’ve found this to be so. It’s an austere style of wine-making for my personal taste. I keep trying, though, because when we visited Italy some WONDERFUL local wines were shared with us.
Wine 6: 2009 Sensual Malbec, $14.99, Mendoza, Argentina. Eh. I haven’t liked a Mendoza Malbec wine yet. Probably a style/terroir I just don’t personally care for.