August 14, 2008


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Return to seller?
What to do when the bottle is corked
By Tim Protzman

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.

8/7/2008 Wine at the game

7/24/2008 Reviving a star
7/17/2008 Champagne staycation
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6/26/2008 Leftover wine
6/19/2008 Fortune favors Opus One
6/12/2008 In the year 2048
6/5/2008 Tea, the original infusion
5/29/2008 Hello old friends
5/22/2008 Ancient in the new world
5/15/2008 You are the expert
5/8/2008 The must-drink list
5/1/2008 Gaming wine futures
4/24/2008 Chronos and me
4/17/2008 Getting lucky
4/3/2008 The daquiri's of spring
3/27/2008 Germans play well with others
3/13/2008 Complain yourself happy
3/6/2008 Operatic wine tasting
2/28/2008 Everything must go!
2/21/2008 His & hers bottles
2/7/2008 Friends in spam
1/31/2008 Warm up the wine
1/24/2008 A drink to them
1/17/2008 Stalking the barking dingo
1/10/2008 Wishes and predictions
1/3/2008 Bit of bubbly
12/27/2007 Drinking blind
12/20/2007 Not fighting for the right
12/13/2007 The liquor store suite
11/29/2007 World of drinkin'
11/22/2007 Thanks for the Napa cabs
11/15/2007 Drinks with Diwali
11/8/2007 Candy Corn hangover
11/1/2007 Drinks with History Channel
10/25/2007 Schooled in Shiraz
10/18/2007 Spooky wines
10/11/2007 Location, location, location
10/04/2007 Shiraz history
9/27/2007 Ingenious appellation
9/20/2007 Small world of wines
9/13/2007 How not to get screwed
9/6/2007 Wine lover's shopping trip
8/30/2007 Bottle surfing
8/23/2007 Lobster goes red
8/16/2007 Emotional tasting notes
8/9/2007 Stop, wine thief
8/2/2007 Be your own sommelier
7/26/2007 You do know your wine
7/19/2007 Booze free association
7/12/2007 Raiders of the sidewalk
7/5/2007 A sustainable buzz
6/28/2007 We are the merlot
6/21/2007 Forgot Dad? Bring booze.
6/14/2007 Jack & Jill and a pail of wine
6/7/2007 Our lady of the Rioja
5/24/2007 Breaking the fast
5/17/2007 What the best bears drink
5/10/2007It's OK to be pink
5/3/2007 In praise of tastings
4/26/2007 Invention-tini
4/19/2007 More 'Mas'
4/12/2007 Futures in a bottle
3/29/2007 Uneasy glass of spring
3/22/2007 Chateau de blech
3/8/2007 Finding new beauties
3/1/2007 Infatuation or addiction
2/15/2007 The extraordinary ordinary
2/8/2007 A glass of sweetness
2/1/2007 A glass of sweetness
1/25/2007 Ham it up
1/18/2007 Cheating on wine
1/11/2007 Burning down the tree
1/4/2007 New Year's hangover
12/28/2006 Sins of the vine
12/21/2006 Kissing frogs
12/14/2006 Wine for horrible friends
12/07/2006 Like dregs in the wine glass
11/30/2006 Gift of calmer shopping
11/23/2006 YouTube for YouWine
11/16/2006 Welcome to wine
11/9/2006 Fine art, supermarket wine
11/2/2006 The geography of grapes
10/26/2006 Please continue to hold
10/19/2006 The trouble with reds
10/12/2006 Making new friends
10/05/2006 TiVo-ing the wine
09/28/2006 From an unknown battle
09/21/2006 Toast to turkey
09/14/2006 Wine for life
09/07/2006 What are Malpeques, Alex?
08/31/2006 Hanging out wines
08/24/2006 Falling into new wine season
08/17/2006 Where has that wine been?
08/10/2006 Bringing out the dead
08/03/2006 The birth of a wine fop
07/27/2006 Slow process of maturation
07/20/2006 The pain of adolescent wines
07/13/2006 Nice day for a white wedding
07/06/2006 Scoring goals with booze
06/29/2006 Beer, it's what's for dinner
06/22/2006 A drink fit for a czar
06/15/2006 A summer of beer and fried clams
06/08/2006 Keep your cool, fool
06/01/2006 The social lubricant
05/25/2006 Water, water everywhere
05/18/2006 Big fat greek wine tasting
05/11/2006 Drinking to the end
05/04/2006 Schooled in the art of wine
04/27/2006 Make a wish
04/20/2006 Immigrant wines
04/13/2006 A pain in the glass
04/06/2006 Got milk?
03/30/2006 Throw a dart and there's wine
03/23/2006 A life of good wine
03/16/2006 Honoring the dead soldiers
03/09/2006 What once was old i new again
03/02/2006 The taste of sibling rivalry
02/23/2006 Wine travels, doesn’t sing
From grape, to barrel to red-tape jungle

02/16/2006 Love and vine
02/09/2006 A dog-drink-dog world
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01/26/2006 Date-nite drinks
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01/12/2006 Wine, Cheese and Granny Smith
01/05/2006 Resolve to try new wines
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Adventures in and past the Euro-Cave
A Do-It-Yourself Wine Tasting
A Red For Everything
A Red Wth Your Leftovers?
A Tasty Way To Put Wine To The Test
A Year Of Wine
An Around-The-World Holiday
A wine for every holiday

Basking In The Mondavi Light
Behind One Door Is Great Wine
Beware The Hot Bottle
Brandy and the nude beach
Champagne, The Other White Wine
Cheers And Whines Of The Vine
Days of wine and jelly beans
Deep in the heart of Texas
Drinking for your health
Drinking like a newspaperman

Drinking Whites After Labor Day
Finding A Great Medium-Weight Drink (I)
Finding A Great Medium Weight Drink (II)
Gifts for blood, love or money
Grill and sip, sip and sip. Finding the perfect wine for barbecue
Hey baby, stay cool
How The Corleones Saved Wine

In Praise Of An American Wine
In search of the girl next door
Keeping it in the family
Keeping up appearances
Looking back at the heyday of cheap wine
My Big Fat Greek Wine Tasting
The Best Drinks On A Budget
The Highly Drinkable (Mostly) Merlot
The Long, Strange Journey Of Wine
Old French grape in the New World
Olé! to a week in wine
Opening the Parker book

Our French friends — really
Our Northern Neighbor
Poker faces and wine

Presenting A New England Vodka
Presenting The Wines Of Spring
Rewarding Your Support Staff
Schooled In The Art Of Wine
Shopping for Wine Bargains

Sitting By The Fire And Dreaming Of Wine
Slipping A Little Sideways
Spending the holidays in NYC
Spirit World Tales
Springtime calls for wine and ice cream
Sudden ugly mood swings
The new face of fine wines
The wines of fall
Thinking ahead to the holidays
Time To Stay Frosty
Tipples for turkey day
TV worth drinking
What it means to miss N.O.
What To Drink When You Eat Wild
What's Your Wine Sign
White’s OK after Labor Day
Wine Between The Season
Wine for the NASCAR set
Wine is in at the Inn
Wine’ll make you crazy
Wine Works With Red Sauce