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Article – Old Age and Dodgy Corks

February 22nd, 2010

The anticipation when opening a very special bottle of wine is much like the anticipation with anything you are looking forward to. The only difference in the case of a bottle that you have been saving is the time involved can vary from months to years. Seeing as it was Valentine’s Day this weekend, I opened a bottle I had bought a number of years ago in France. It is from a tiny little appellation in the south of France and is quite different to much of what is on the market. I don’t sell it, so of course its name is not important, but suffice to say, I was looking forward to getting the cork out. The dinner was on, and I opened the wine to give it the time it needs to loosen up the tight fruit. I had a little taste, as I find it hard to resist, but it didn’t taste great. I thought maybe it was tight, so I gave it more time, but after an hour, it still was a little off. To be honest, I may not have noticed this a few years back, but the wine was slightly corked. The fruit, which is what makes this particular wine famous, was faded and while the wine was drinkable, it was not enjoyable. I had opened another bottle of the same wine about a year ago, and it sung like a great wine should. I had kept this wine under perfect conditions, but it just goes to show you can never be certain. It must be cruel for an unknown winemaker to go through the process of getting their wines in front of critics only for their wine to be listed in the “corked” section of the review.

So what should a corked wine taste or smell like? Think of cleaning out your garage and you find a bunch of old newspapers that you used to mop up some liquid spill at some stage in the past. That wet, damp smell is the closest you will get to a corked wine smell. The natural aromas of the wine (all of those wonderful descriptions that you read in the tasting notes – meadows of wild strawberries, hints of meandering black forest fruits) are dramatically reduced and in some cases, decimated. You can technically drink tainted wine, but it won’t taste great and in many cases is just undrinkable. However, a large majority of wines that are corked (albeit slightly) go undetected by the average consumer. It takes a bit of practise to judge a slightly corked bottle. The flip side of this is that there are other wines that are old and their flavours change over time towards a more raison like experience, and sometimes people mistake this for the wine being “a little off”. This is not true, as mature wine is supposed the change and people have returned fantastic old Bordeaux wines that are perfect. To be fair, the market is driven by wines that are not yet mature and very few merchants can afford to hold young wines that need time before selling. The big tight wines that are so often sold too young are slowly becoming the norm and it is a shame as wine with age really does offer something very different. Of course, young Chilean Merlot is intended to be drunk while young. Ageing will not improve this wine.

I sell a 1995 version of our award winning 5 star Chateauneuf du Pape producer, Nicolas Boiron’s wine and to compare it against the 2005 is really interesting. The same vines and the same grapes produce the same wines in two great vintages and they taste completely different. Which is nicer or better you may ask, and of course there is only one answer – Whichever one you prefer. That’s both my Enda Kenny answer and my George Lee answer. If I am to be honest, it took me a while to ‘get’ older wines and the added dimension that a good one can offer. I have seen the look of friend’s faces when I opened an old bottle at dinner and they were forcing out the compliments. The alcohol integrates into the fruit, so you often don’t get that big kick often associated with modern wines. Some people do get it immediately as there is a lot happening there, but if I can offer any small bit of advice, it is to slowly start collecting a bottle a week or a month that is for “laying down”. Life moves pretty fast the older you get, and in no time, the relatively cheap 2007 Chateauneuf du Papes will be 10 years old and coming into their own. I have wines ready to drink with age, but you will pay for them. Wines that might have cost 10 or 15 Euros ten years ago are now trading for 40 or 70 Euros. The secret is to buy from a good vintage. I can always help you with that.

Another misconception that is out there is this. If you break the cork on opening the bottle, do not panic. This just means you made a mess of opening the bottles or probably used one of those terrible winged openers. The wine should still be perfect, and just pick out the bits of cork and enjoy. Going forward, I would suggest that you get yourself a proper double hinged “waiter” style cork and your troubles “should” be over. I sell top quality ones for 5.50 and I’ll even show you how to use it. Inserting the corkscrew at an angle is key. If you buy a nice case of wine, I might even throw in the corkscrew and the lesson for free.

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“Life is much too short to drink bad wine”

Red Nose Wine Article - Nationalist Feb 18 2010

Julian ( writes:

I wish I could write posts like this one!

We often wish we could justify holding on to some older vintages, with our Châteauneuf-du-Pape a prime example because it has a history of good reviews, and the estate always sells out each vintage within a year or two at most, so we can’t buy ‘good years’ retrospectively, even at a price.

It’s difficult, though, to persuade most customers, whether private people or restaurants, to pay the extra for an older wine.

Luckily, there’s plenty of encouragement and advice around with the renewal of interest in eating-and-drinking culture. I think things are going in the right direction, thanks in no small part to businesses that care about what they do and that don’t mind sharing what they know.

admin writes:

Thanks Julian,
Life is too busy and people are not patient anymore I think.
I agree with your comments on the sharing. I am very jealous of the little Cork group you have going – must be great to meet with with Karwigs and Curious to discuss the wonderful world of wine. I do have Twitter of course :)

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