Last week TJ and I were filming a spot for Boldfacers, and Lisa Pierpont asked us, “Why do people love wine so much? It’s almost like a cult!” Our response is sort of a blur, but I’m fairly certain we went on and on about making wine memories and experiences, and am certain that TJ said, “wine is sexy.” TJ fully believes that everything about wine is sexy – the taste, the color, the glass, the pour, the swirl…you get the point. When he worked with our architects Oudens/Ello he asked for a sexy retail space, and I believe they achieved it. But nothing ruins the sexiness of wine more than an off bottle. Be it too young, too unbalanced, or too off, a bad bottle of wine is decidedly unsexy.
So let’s talk about unsexy wine, because it’s not to be avoided, and every wine drinker should know what recourse they have if they run into a bottle that makes them unhappy. If you buy a wine and there is nothing structurally wrong with it, but you just don’t like it, then you are probably out the money you spent on it. But the experience doesn’t have to be a total loss. For instance, at The Urban Grape, we ask that you bring in the name of the bottle you didn’t like (or the wine itself if you want us to try it and give you our thoughts) and the reasons you didn’t like it. We will add these notes to your wine profile – the profile we create the first time you buy wine from us that stores all the bottles you’ve ever purchased, your likes and dislikes, etc. – and we can reference those notes when next helping you to pick a bottle. This way you can be assured that we won’t steer you toward a similar wine in the future.
If the bottle is corked or oxidized, you have more options. Corked wine occurs when the cork itself is contaminated by TCA (Trichloroanisole), a chemical that is produced, in part, by mold in the cork. These wines are just plain unsexy. Musty, dank, smelly…and they have a terrible feel on the palate. Industry sources say that only 5% of wines are corked, but in our experience it is a higher percentage than that. If you buy a wine with a synthetic cork or a screw cap, then the wine cannot be corked. If you encounter a corked wine that you bought at The Urban Grape, bring it back to the store- the bottle and the wine. We credit you and then send it back to the distributor, they credit us and all is right in the world. Any store that won’t take back a corked bottle of wine is not worth your patronage (yeah, we’ll say it!) because it costs them nothing but time and effort to take back a corked bottle.
Oxidized wine is sort of like corked wine but is, in our mind, more of an unsexy shame. Because often these are wines that should not even be on the shelf. Oxidization can happen during the bottling process when too much air enters the bottle. In short, the air oxidizes the tannins which produces hydrogen peroxide (great, the stuff we clean cuts with…how sexy), which further oxidizes the ethanol into acetaldehyde. It’s the acetaldehyde that gives an oxidized wine its off odor and taste (almost vinegar like). A batch of wine that is bottled incorrectly is often, but not always, detected before it is shipped out through taste testing and the like. So if you get an oxidized bottle, chances are good that it was not shipped or stored correctly. Most likely it was exposed to extreme heat during shipping or storage (think canisters at docks, train stations and truck stops), which causes the cork to move out of the bottle, allowing air in. Once the bottle cools back down the cork pushes back in but the damage has been done.
When you see wines on the shelf and think “this price is too good to be true,” that’s because it probably is. It may have been an off vintage, or the wine is not popular and therefore is not selling, or it may be because somewhere along the line the wine was not properly stored and may be oxidized. The retail store has bought that wine off of a “Close out list”, and is now hoping to get lucky with a bottle that is not flawed. If the bottle is flawed, the store is hoping that you either won’t notice or won’t complain. That’s why The Urban Grape does not buy wines from close out lists. Too risky, and our customers are more important to us than the profit to be made.
By the way, oxidization also happens when your open bottles are recorked and left for a few days. That’s why wine almost never tastes as good on the second or third night its open (with a few great exceptions!). So how can we keep our Enomatic wines open for so many days without subjecting them to oxidization? The answer is Argon gas. Argon is heavier than Oxygen, so when we pipe it into the bottles the Argon sinks below the Oxygen and pushes it out of the bottle. Thus preserving the wine beneath!
Beyond the fourth grade Science lesson, what is our point? Unsexy wine is never fun. The Urban Grape promises to help you learn from it or to credit you, and any shop that won’t do the same is decidedly unsexy too.