Have you ever opened up a bottle of wine only to have it not live up to the expectations you had about this wine based on previous bottles?
This happens far too often as far as I’m concerned, especially when it may – and I stress may – be avoidable.
There are many factors that can lead to bottle variation – some of which are controlled by the winemaker, some by the closure chosen, and some that are ‘controlled’ by travel and storage conditions.
When wines are bottled, they generally contain a ‘decent’ amount of free SO2 which aids in combating oxygenation of the wine in the bottle. Most times, winemakers add SO2 at bottling to ensure that, based on the pH of the wine, this coverage is adequate. But what if winemakers decide not to add and SO2 and the wine is bottled with lower amounts than are ‘suggested’? Or what if the wine has a very high pH and you cannot add enough to make the coverage ‘adequate’? In both of these cases, the wine will be subject to ‘premature oxidation’, thus leading to a wine that ages much faster than it should . . .
At bottling, winemakers also can choose to filter their wines or not. This decision is somewhat determined by quality, somewhat determined by marketing, and somewhat determined by ‘tradition; Many winemakers believe the filtering ‘strips’ a wine of some of its character and flavor; this is mainly based on ‘old-school’ forms of filtration that ‘beat the wine up’ and truly did change the wine fairly drastically. Newer forms of filtration, borrowed from the pharmaceutical industry, are now being used, though, that do not strip the wines of anything.
Why is filtration done at all? To make a wine microbiologically ‘clean’ to ensure that no further ‘growth’ of bacteria or yeast cells continues in the bottle after bottling..
Should a wine NOT be filtered AND if the wine contains even trace amounts of residual sugar, there is a very good chance that, given the right conditions, ‘growth’ will take place in the bottle, leading to a wine that is quite different than the one the winemaker intended it to be. And thus leading to many cases of ‘bottle variation’ . . .
The closure chosen can also lead to bottle variation. Synthetic closures have certainly been improved since they were release nearly two decades ago, but they still tend to allow in more oxygen than all other closures, thus leading to a faster aging of the wine. Therefore, the young wine will be much ‘fresher’ than the same wine a few years down the line . . .
Natural corks have proven to be ‘reliable’ closures for centuries, but not without their problems as well. Forgetting about TCA and other common problems with corks, the fact that these are ‘all natural’ means that each cork is unique with a unique set of pore sizes, thus leading to different amounts of oxygen getting in. Therefore, an argument can be made that no two wines under cork will be exactly the same as the wine ages.
Screwcaps have become more popular, but also pose some potential problems. Some believe that wines bottled under these do not see enough oxygen, leading to the potential of ‘reduced’ aromas such as rotten eggs. Others note that since these are ‘man made’, problems can arise in manufacturing that can lead to more oxygen getting in than the winemaker intended.
Last but not least are the issues of travel and storage. Wines are sensitive to changes in temperature, especially very cold or very warm temperatures. Therefore, if a wine travels in the heat of summer in a warm car or on the back of a warm delivery truck, chemical reactions can occur in the bottle that will change the wine and how it smells and tastes. Likewise, if a wine is stored in a warm kitchen for long periods of time, the same can happen.
What’s the point of all of this information?!?!?? Just to educate many that ‘bottle variation’ is a reality and to help to understand what may cause it.
PLEASE join in the discussion and let us know examples you’ve had of bottle variation – AND let me know if you have any further questions . . .