“The Tragedy of Cooked Wine.” Robert Mondavi Cab Sauv 1979

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I should have known from the frayed, ripped, tattered label that clung to the bottle, no longer by its own accord but instead with a piece of clear tape, that the wine inside the bottle had endured some serious and potentially damaging conditions. Yet the promise of something extraordinary was too tempting to relinquish, and the price too modest to ignore. Positioned as the piece de resistance at our library wine tasting yesterday, this Mondavi Cabernet, two years older than I am, loomed over us in its decanter as wine after wine, we made our way closer to it, until at last it was time. Following on the heels of a brilliant right-banker that I’ll review in the near future, this wine had a lot to live up to… and it flopped horribly.

Provenance. It’s a measure, a degree, an assurance. How was a bottle of wine cared for over ten, twenty, forty or more years? The label might have been a tell, but soiled labels rarely turn serious enthusiasts away, not the way low shoulders do at any rate. I had been assured that this wine had excellent provenance, and came from a reputable cellar. If only that had saved it.

The wine was clearly “cooked”, a term we use to mean that it was once, if not many times, overheated, baking away the fruit and rendering it one dimensional, lifeless, and flat. Though I was disappointed, I reminded myself that this was precisely why we had a group buying in on old wines. If I’d bought it myself, that would have been horrible, leaving me kicking myself for wasting money in such a way. But that day I tasted so many excellent wines that the two bad ones — this and a Riesling from Germany, were but an afterthought.

Once we tired of wishing this wine was something it was not and sadly dumped it out, we opened an ’82 sauternes that I’ll write about sometime also. It saved the day, or at least ended it on a high note. Fortunately, whoever had owned the sauternes had taken better care of it. Keep your wine out of the heat people. Seriously. Some of us are planning to drink it long after you’re dead.

Cheers,

Mark

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