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One can get a bad bottle of wine from time to time

By By Stan Torgerson / wine columnist
Sept. 24, 2003
The first time it happened, way back when, I thought someone had put something over on me and had sold me a bad bottle of wine.
I was working at a small radio station in La Crosse, Wis., and my wife and I were living on what was even then starvation wages.
There was an event now long forgotten, perhaps getting a raise, which called for a celebration of some type. I bought a bottle of white wine and brought it home as a surprise. It was a surprise all right.
When I looked closely, there were little flakes of something floating in the wine. I was convinced I had been had. I know now that they were harmless little deposit flakes with no taste and no effect on the contents of the bottle. It doesn't develop often, but sometimes it happens.
The bottle was never opened. Instead, I fired off a letter to the winery which had produced it and, in due time, received a response.
They were terribly sorry, they said, and sent their sales representative to our home, retrieving the bottle about which I was complaining and presenting me with one that was clear. It took more than 20 years before I realized the fault was mine, not theirs.
Unpleasant surprise
Last week, a wine-loving friend came to the house for an evening and, as was his usual procedure, brought a bottle out of his own cellar to taste. And, we had some from my cellar as well.
I hadn't tasted a rose wine for years, so I bought one in New Orleans recently just to remind me of what was once a favorite. We opened it and took one taste. It was terrible and its destiny was to be poured down the sink. Talk about throwing money away.
A few days before, I had also purchased a bottle of white wine which I hoped would complement one of the cheeses we will serve at this week's wine and cheese tasting.
We chilled it and gave it a try. It was pure sugar water with no distinguished character of any kind. It promptly joined the other one down the kitchen drain.
Now it was my friend's turn. He had brought a 1996 pinot noir which we both believed should be at its absolute peak. We knew the minute we poured it into our glasses it was a bad bottle. The bouquet was bad, the color was bad and, as we soon discovered, the taste was bad.
Three for three. Down the drain again.
We finally located a drinkable fourth bottle, but I estimate we had poured out perhaps $60 worth of wine and there was no one to write a letter to and argue they should make it good.
It happens
My point is simply this. Sooner or later, you're going to run into a bad bottle, or bad bottles. You'll know when the white wine in the bottle isn't lemon or straw-colored or even golden, but dark in color.
White wines turn dark if oxygen has gotten into the bottle, or their storage place has been too hot, or if the bottle has been exposed to sunlight for long periods of time.
If it smells or tastes bad, as it likely will, pour it out and buy a different one. Don't try to convince yourself that's the way it is supposed to taste. It isn't.
If the wine you've opened is a red, these are the telltale signs. If the wine is brown instead of red, it is almost certainly ruined. Pour a bit into your glass, hold something white behind it, paper, a dish towel, whatever, tip the glass and look through the edge of the wine against the white background.
If the edge of the wine is brown in appearance, if the balance of the wine is red, then the wine is on the way down. Some of these borderline wines can still be consumed, but you'll taste the difference. If it has gone too far, put the contents down the sink and try again with something else.
There really aren't any mysteries about the taste of wine. Either it is good or it isn't and to attempt to convince yourself that an "off" taste is really a characteristic of the wine only displays your naivet.
I've drunk my share of wine. I've also poured out my share. Bad wine is like bad food. It's garbage, nothing more, nothing less.
Wine tasting
Thursday's wine and cheese tasting is sold out. Sorry, but it is.
We have a waiting list, so if you hold a reservation and change your mind or something comes up that makes it impossible for you to attend, please call us at 482-0930 and cancel so someone else can take your place. Those on the waiting list would appreciate it and so would we.