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Have your say

Letters to the wine anorak: do you have feedback or suggestions, or do you want to respond to any of the articles?

Ask the anorak: your wine questions answered

From: Geoff Dawson
Subject: Mystery solved
Date sent: Thu, 27 Jul 2000

Thanks for your excellent site and particularly for solving a long standing mystery for me. For many years I have been trying to identify a smell that I have noticed only in Southern French red wines. I first came across it in some St. Chinian wines I bought from the Co-op at Roquebrun. I found it quite off-putting even though the taste seemed unaffected. I obviously became attuned to the smell as I then started to notice it to a lesser degree in other Southern French wines It seemed most often in wines containing Grenache but occasionally in Sarah based wines so that seemed to rule out a grape. I started asking anyone I met who was knowledgeable about wines 'what is that characteristic smell that some Southern French reds have' but could only best describe it as an unpleasant yeasty smell. I even noticed a hint of it when I was tasting a 92 Chateauneuf du Pape at Beaucastel but when I asked about it I was told that it was a characteristic of one of the grapes and that the wine needed to be opened and aired longer than it had. But now, thanks to you, I believe that my long standing mystery is now answered. When I read the article on Terroir I discovered, for the first time, 'brett'. Surely this must be the characteristic I have been trying to identify for so long. Thanks again from a new and extremely grateful reader.

Geoff Dawson

From: Nelson Laviolette
Subject: ageing & cellaring

I would not consider myself an expert in the subject but I believe that you are correct in your assumptions. I look at my modest cellar not as an ageing room but a supply room. Often a particularly good group (to me) of wines becomes available and I will buy 10-15 bottles. Since it is not my intention to drink them all at once, my cellar makes a handy place to store them until the right moment comes along. This is particularly true if I purchase some Bordeaux futures. When shipped they are still relatively young (about 3 years) and can probably benefit from some ageing. As for ageing, some wines will probably remain fairly drinkable for extended periods of time but I would imaging that most wines would fall into a 5 to 10 year period at best. As for knowing ahead of time how long a wine can or should age, I think this is open to great controversy. I often note that wines bottled in say 1985 to 1990 that might have been considered "ageless" are now rated as drink "sooner than later" In fact very few wine charts rate any wines older than 10 years as "keepers" So I guess a lot of the hype lies in ones ability to tell their friends that they have a bottle of 1982 Chateau "######" that they paid $50 for and is now valued at $750. Drinkability does not enter into the equation. I suppose that experts opinion on the longevity of a wine may have to do with historical date on similar vintages but too many processes go into ageing and drinkability. Also I suppose a recent vintage labeled as a non keeper would not fetch any snobbery value early on. I suspect that a lot of cellars are full of wines that would have been better enjoyed many years prior. Now one could cellar wines for profit such as a prestigious restaurant that could see some good appreciation in profits by long cellaring. Or a collector who plans to auction or resell but neither have much to do with personal enjoyment of the wine itself. As well this entails buying relatively expensive wines to start with like a $700 bottle of 1998 Chateau Petrus. For most of us this is out of our "drinking" league and most people are probably in the $30 to $50 range at best. Obviously if you want to be a collector or reseller there is value in buying expensive as greater profits are available for the same amount of time and care. Wine "snobs" would also expect to pay a lot for a "good wine". Getting back to my cellar, I tend to rotate my wines and very few make it to 10 years. The only exceptions are some old ports 1977 1970 but then I did not buy them 20+ years ago.Alas for most, wine falls into the category of baseball cards "the older they are the more they are worth".

Regards, Nelson Laviolette, Canada

Just a quick note to commend you on your web site - wow! Every year I have to write a report on the UK wine market for U.S. exporters to help them better understand the structure of the market, and in its next due date - June, I'll be sure to list your web site as a great resource.


Jennifer Jones, Agricultural Marketing Specialist, U.S. Dept of Agriculture, U.S. Embassy, London


"Enjoying your web site. Again I find the article on cork taint very informative, but I have a question. I was at a tasting last night at our local wine shop. The owner said that it was caused by air seeping through the cork. If this is true then wouldn't it stand to reason that by using a wax or plastic seal over the cork, instead of the traditional lead or metal seal covering over the mouth of the bottle, the problem would be solved?
Thank you in advance for your insight."
Jody Hayward, Seaside, Oregon USA

Cork taint is caused by a microbial contaminant, trichloroanisole, which is present in some corks and is detectable at extremely low concentrations by the human nose. Your retailer misled you to some extent. What you describe -- air seeping through the cork -- is not what is normally referred to as cork taint. This is called cork failure, and results in the oxidation of the wine -- this does occur, but is much rarer and is generally less of an issue (although, of course, it is catastrophic for the wine when it happens). Using a wax seal will have no effect on the incidence of cork taint.  The wine anorak.

Congratulations on your renovated web site.
I was going to post this info to the WLDG some time ago but then couldn't be bothered so you might be interested. At the Air New Zealand Wine Awards in Nov 1999, someone kept track of the number of bottles of those that were opened that were corked. It turned out to be 6.3%. Disgusting, eh!
I am totally sick of corked wines. I just had another one this weekend when we went to a remote beach - 35km's from the nearest wine shop. And the Mt Riley Riesling 1998 - a super wine - was corked! Fortunately we took more than one bottle of wine away with us, but we didn't have another riesling. I am waiting with interest to see if anyone can develop a neutral stopper that will allow the wines to age gracefully.
Anyway, your corked article is great, as is the one about terroir.
Best Wishes,
Sue Courtney