Return to seller?
What to do when the bottle is corked
By Tim Protzman firstname.lastname@example.org
Diogenes was an old ancient Greek who extolled honesty and poverty.
He lived in a barrel and took an oil lantern out at night to look for an honest man. Reminds me of a business girl from Las Vegas. But I found my Diogenes. And he gave me champagne.
Why are people afraid to bring back bad wine? I think it’s because the definition of good wine is so subjective. And let’s face it, which makes you look more morally bankrupt — returning a flat of spoiled eggs that you bought to make scrambled eggs at a homeless shelter or trying to get a store credit on a bottle of corky Shiraz you were going to take on a deep sea fishing expedition with your card buddies?
You should be able to return wine. And you can. Only under certain conditions. Most merchants will take the wine back if it is oxidized or corked. Corked means the wine is contaminated by 2,4,6-Trichloroanisole, which means it smells moldy, like a rotting potato. Oxidized means the wine smells almond-like, with a hint of sherry. And on rare occasion if the wine has gotten air into it with yeast cultures, it may undergo a second fermentation, like apple cider. This may mean your Domaine William Fevre Cote de Bougeuerots Grand Cru Chablis is fizzy. It may be good. We mixed a pinot noir and California Methode Champenoise this weekend with amazing results!
The gray area on returning wine is taste. An expensive cabernet sauvignon that fails to deliver. A Super Tuscan so tannic even after six years that it has cotton ball and tongue depressor taste notes. A jug wine so undrinkable that you use it to strip paint. This is where it all comes down to relationships.
If you breeze into a grimy little neon-lit wine shop and grab a dusty bottle of 2003 Chateau Julien Private Reserve Monterey County California Zinfandel at $40, ask about the return policy.
Say things like, “If this wine is undrinkable, can I get store credit if I return the nearly full bottle minus the mouthful of purgatory I had to suffer through?”
If not, just buy the MadFish. Remember high-volume wine shops and wine departments have seen bad wine before and will usually accommodate you. Beware of the low-volume wine shop that just unloaded a 10-year-old bottle of something a smooth talking sales person sold them a case of years ago and they regretted that purchase from that day forward. They see it like this:
They have an old rusting 1965 Ford Falcon in their front yard and someone stops and offers them sticker price for it. They gladly sell just so they don’t have to look at it anymore. A few days later the buyer returns and says something like, “it doesn’t run!” The Falcon owner looks at the buyer like they’re crazy. Instead, realize that few people ever hit the Antiques Roadshow of fine wine. Finding a truly superb product in a wine flea market doesn’t happen often. I did find a 10-year-old bottle of 1987 Far Niente Cabernet for $29.99 tucked in a horizontal rack in a wine shop near the Atlanta Airport (Hartsfield-Jackson) and it was one of my top 20 wines ever tasted. And that’s the other thing. If the bottle’s standing up, there’s more chance the cork will dry out. And that’s what happened to my 1982 G. H. Mumm Millésimé Vintage Champagne. The cork dried out from standing upright. The wine oxidized from the air getting in. I pulled the cork to no fanfare. No pop, not whoosh, just silence.
And I fretted for days, because this wine merchant was someone I did little business with and totally held the power over whether I spent $36 on vinegar or something drinkable.
This gentleman was my Diogenes. He offered to get the wine replaced. The exact bottle. But he’d charge me the difference because he bought my bad bottle years ago and hadn’t raised the price. I asked for a replacement bottle of comparable Champagne. He gladly gave it to me. I had anticipated difficulty, but there was none. Had he not agreed or responded with, “too bad, buyer beware” I would have filed a complaint with Consumer Protection and the Liquor Commission. (I’ve always imagined the Liquor Commission as men in vests and women in power suits with Lalique crystal goblets and snifters in a dark grained wood-paneled room, but maybe I’m watching too much Sopranos.)
The bottom line is that in a high-volume, climate-controlled wine shop the 1982 G. H. Mumm Millésimé Vintage Champagne would be closer to $80 in price. So in addition to Buyer Beware, let’s — out of fairness — add Buyer Be Informed. I encountered this once when I was looking to buy a 1967 bottle of Louis Martini California Charbono. The merchants said it was a big risk for a wine drinker. However, the rarity of the varietal, the age and the producer combine to give the wine a collector’s value, which would be higher if the wine turned out to be drinkable.
I ended up not purchasing it even though it was $38, because if I opened it and it was undrinkable, I’d ruin the collector’s value. A real collector would spend say $7,000 for a Chambertin with Napoleonic provenance, have the cork professionally removed (another $600) and restored if needed and the foil replaced. They might also taste a tiny bit from the eye dropper like a wine thief. And then they’d know.