April 04, 2023 5 min read
Some weeks ago we received a complaint from a customer about a cork from a valuable bottle of the 2006 vintage. The customer wrote to us:
“on 27.05 I ordered two bottles .... from 2006. On Sunday, I opened the first one, but the cork had completely crumbled (it was so soft that the corkscrew went in practically without turning it). Carefully I tried to pull it out but the cork snapped. It was therefore impossible to drink the wine.
I do not know if this has happened to you with these bottles. Let me know so I can assess what to do with the second bottle.
I have ordered several times from you and have never had any problems. Clearly this time there was a bit of bother because it was also a very special occasion.”
Our response was:
"Good morning Mr. ....,
we are sorry, unfortunately every bottle with a cork has its own history.
Being an old wine it can happen to find soft corks that if treated normally crumble and break easily.
In this case, you should use a corkscrew specifically for old wines that does not crumble the cork. If the cork left in the bottle is not completely pierced one could still try to remove it. If it is pierced, we believe that the wine is now compromised.
When buying old bottles or leaving them in the cellar for a long time, one must always consider that the uncorking operation is always delicate.
Before opening the second one, it is best to check the state of the cork. If it looks like the previous one, then it is better to proceed with all the necessary precautions, using the appropriate tools.
The bottle you uncorked could have been decanted in a special decanter using a strainer with a cotton cloth so as not to let the cork crumbs and possible deposits pass through, or using a more modern instrument. This would allow you to taste the wine and not spoil the party. We will try with the importer to request a replacement of the defective bottle."
From communication with this loyal customer, we came up with the idea of trying to convey best practices for uncorking and analysing an old bottle of wine. These are problems that can occur if you are not aware of some basic principles. We will give you some tips that even the less experienced will know, and should, use.
Let us proceed in order.
It is of fundamental importance to ANALYSE THE STATE OF CONSERVATION OF OUR BOTTLES: this is one of the most important things, especially for bottles with more than a few years on their shoulders.
Attention, you have to take several aspects into account:
It is important to establish one thing right away: has the cap held? Or has it lost elasticity? In order to realise this, it is necessary to assess, for example, whether or not there is any leakage, whether the cork has gone down or tends to come out, whether it is wet and whether it has mould.
Another important aspect is the level of the contents, which, especially for wine, should not go below the neck of the bottle. If the level of your bottle is very low, it is a serious shortcoming for evaluation purposes.
With the passage of time, red wines tend to take on a darker, less brilliant colour with hues ranging from orange to coffee. The more the colour tends towards orange/coffee, the greater the likelihood that it is no longer drinkable. Whites, on the other hand, tend to darken and thus take on a yellow/brownish colour.
The occasions for uncorking an old bottle can be the most varied: the wedding of a child, a birth or simply to finally enjoy in good company that wine that has been stored with such care.
To avoid a real drama, we recommend proceeding very carefully:
Wine that has slept for many years in the cellar needs a 'gentle awakening'.
Avoid sudden jolts. You should be aware that an aged wine naturally develops sediment that settles to the bottom of the bottle and that we risk finding in the glass, spoiling the tasting.
Before serving, let the wine decant so that it releases all its aromas. After so many years in the bottle, the wine needs oxygen and time to express itself better. This is why we recommend pouring it into a decanter or carafe, different in shape but not in purpose.
Before decanting the wine, we need to think about uncorking the bottle. And to complete this operation we will need a few tools:
First, take the bottle from the cellar and place it gently in the basket so that it remains horizontal and the sediment does not move, making the wine cloudy.
Next, proceed with uncorking, keeping the bottle in a horizontal position. At this stage it is important to avoid any sudden movements.
When the wine is finally free, pour it very slowly into the carafe or decanter.
When the sediments appear, risking ending up in the decanter, simply tilt the bottle slightly and slowly let them come back down, after which you slowly continue with the pouring. It is advisable to use a candle to illuminate the neck of the bottle and reveal the sediment before it escapes from the bottle.
When the operation is finished, bring both the decanter and the bottle to the table so that you can show your guests its label or hide it if you want to cause a surprise.
The carafe can be used for wines that do not have a long ageing period behind them, i.e. those with no sediment. Whereas the decanter is suitable for older wines with a lot of sediment.
For this reason, if you are inexperienced but still want to ensure excellent service for your guests, we recommend that you choose wines that are not too old and use the carafe method, which can be carried out more quickly and with less risk.
Whereas for wines that have been aged for longer we always recommend the use of the decanter.
The function of the two containers is the same: to oxygenate the wine so that the ample bouquet opens up and the organoleptic characteristics improve.
Decanting an aged wine can take a long time, even hours. So, before serving this wine in your glasses, wait a few hours and make sure you hear all the notes before letting your guests taste it.
With this article we wanted to give due importance to key moments in the handling of fine aged bottles. We conclude with an aphorism that fits our thinking:
"Old bottles require method, patience and respect. Allow them to tell you the story, they will whisper love sentences to you." (anonymous)