No Woman should put up with Premature Oxidisation!

No Woman should put up with Premature Oxidisation!

5th May 2011

By Philip Lawrence, guest contributor.

There is no bigger disappointment in life than not getting what you asked for. Just ask the American billionaire wine collector William Koch, who has sued just about everyone from Christie’s auction house to his local wine shop in his crusade against wine fraud. We must admit though that if our bottle of Petrus turned out to be Tesco Value Chilean Merlot, then we would be slightly annoyed too!

If his campaign has taught us anything, it is that buying fine wine at auction can require a giant leap of faith. Wine fraud receives its generous share of press attention as it is the most likely wine scandal to crop up after auctions in Hong Kong, where cases of Chateau Lafite change hands for $68,000.  However, a less documented problem for those bidding for wine, but no less catastrophic is oxidisation. This is the fault a wine lover is most likely to come across - oxidised wine. The term oxidised is a generic description for wine faults resulting from absorbing excess oxygen, usually the result of poor storage or leaky corks past their best. Oxidised wines, to use the technical term smell and taste bloody awful. Wines lose freshness, they smell flat or stale with bruised-apple flavours in white wines and sweet and sour ones in reds. You will know instantly if your purchase is oxidised, all that lovely fruit you were looking forward to has vanished.

In his second guest article, Philip Lawrence relates his less than thrilling experiences with wine auctions and advises us all to buy White Burgundy in its youth - sometimes it seems  that looks are indeed everything:

Last summer I purchased a case of Chablis Premier Cru (1996), two cases of St Veran (1999) and some odds and sods bottles of Puligny Montrachet (1996-1999) at auction in Wales, at a total cost of around £500. This is because my wife adores all things White Burgundy. None of the wine has been drinkable, much to the disgust of the lady cited above, who, as already said, is an avid fan of the white nectar from S.E France. More recently, I bought a very special 1999 Montrachet Premier Cru from a local merchant in Somerset as a Christmas present for said lady and that also has been flushed down the sink with the other germs and bacteria in our kitchen waste pipe. All of this wine was oxidised, with all fruit and freshness long gone. 

With the ones from auction I knew that I had to take on the chin, caveat emptor and all that. But I didn’t get much of a sympathetic response from the local merchant. Although I am not a regular customer with this merchant and an established relationship is always helpful in these situations. Of course one really needs to be little more precise about the real issue: which is premature oxidisation and as I discovered is not the way to satisfy a woman who likes a glass of old world chardonnay

To be more serious the real and wider problem is that I have encountered reluctance amongst wine sellers of various degrees of capability and knowledge to recognise or understand this little problem. Very recently I purchased two 2004 Chateau Rully from Majestic that were also oxidized. They very cheerfully replaced the wine, but when outlining the problem to the manageress in the warehouse it was clear that she didn’t have a clue what I was talking about. So wake up all those selling any aged white burgundy (at any level in the industry) as there is huge problem here.

Some readers will know of that disquieting sensation one has when you identify a problem that no one else in your circle seems able to see. To be blunt you think you are going barmy. So it was a great relief to me to find an article in the Financial Times Weekend magazine a couple of months back about oxidised white burgundy. In fact Jancis Robinson and some other wine colleagues have been researching and tasting their way through this minefield for some time. It was interesting and welcome news to me to learn that a small number of producers were actually offering a guarantee against this nasty problem of premature oxidisation. But this interest is at the top end. The problem for consumers is that away from the really knowledgeable apex of the wine trade little is known or admitted on this issue. The point being that when some poor customer, who has bought some poisonous brew back for a refund, encounters the staff at his local wine shop he is unlikely to get much of a sympathetic reception. The merchant that I bought from in Somerset, who is quite new to selling serious wines, has staff that know zero about oenology. So don’t buy fine wine from amateurs or parvenu upstarts.

My advice to anyone buying oxidised white wine is to recork immediately and seek a refund. As evidential back up a number of pieces in the Financial Times Weekend magazine have now treated this issue and can be readily cited. 1 In addition the website oxidisedburgs is also useful. I am only guessing but maybe this is an issue about corkage and materials. But the problem needs addressing promptly and effectively. Good White Burgundy is too special to be sold looking and tasting like a blend of urine and domestos. Mrs Lawrence thinks you should be able to tell from the colour, but of course whites darken anyway with ageing. It’s not that simple. What is simple is for people who know they have sold bad wine to give buyers their money back. And of course watch what you’re buying, especially at auction. Right now I would not buy basic burgundy (generic Chablis, Saint Veran etc) at over 5 years of age and even the fine wines can be gone at 10 years. As the old adage has it, “If you wont to be loved stay young and fruitful”.

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