My Rough Weekend with Italian Wine

Sunday, April 10, 2016

First bottle of 2012 Passopisciaro: Totally corked
Is it just me, or is Italian wine more prone to TCA taint than other regions?

Or, is there something fundamentally "funky" about a lot of Italian reds that make them veer dangerously close to the hallmark notes of a corked wine (musty wet cardboard) even when they're solid?

I opened a bunch of relatively expensive Italian red wines this weekend that I've had and enjoyed in the past, only to find them either undeniably flawed -or- in that grey area where you're not sure but you're sure it's not good. And it's got me spooked.

2012 Passopisciaro

I first tried this wine in the 2007 vintage and though it was fabulous. I rated it 93 points and made a mental note to stock up on it in the future. I bought 6 bottles of it recently and Friday night pizza night seemed like a great time to crack one open.

One sniff was all it took to inform me that this wine was absolutely, undeniably, 100% corked. This is especially disconcerting when it happens to the first bottle of a multi-bottle purchase. I'm inclined not to crack another open straight away when this happens. Why? I'm not sure but I usually scurry to safety instead. I went with a recently arrived 2012 Coho Headwaters that absolutely spot on/what I was looking for.

If I'm ever on the fence whether a wine is flawed, opened a sound wine and comparing it side by side usually seals the deal. But this 2012 Passopisciaro wasn't even close. I re-visited it again last night just to check and it was the same as it was the first night. So sad.

Crognolo: Thought it was corked but settled down

2013 Crognolo

Saturday night we had friends over and wanted to do a full-on Italian dinner. Although I would have been more inclined to mix in some California Pinot Noir for broad appeal, I decided to keep it all from Italy. The Prosecco we started off with went well thankfully (a play I learned at Il Preludio in Cortona). But after that we moved onto the Crognolo from Tenuta Sette Ponti, retracing our path from one terrific afternoon in Italy.

As soon as I opened the Crognolo - and I mean literally the second I pulled the cork - I suspected this one was off. The act of removing the cork released musty aromas.

Thankfully in this case, the wine settled down within a few minutes. Although it never soared near the heights of prior vintages (especially those tasted at the winery) it was at least drinkable. But by this point I had hair trigger reflexes for the slightest "off" note and was on high alert.

2008 Tenuta Nuova: Mildly/probably corked

2008 Casanova di Neri Tenuta Nuova

Since the Crognolo was trending towards "lackluster" I went to guns with a bottle of Tenuta Nuova. The 2006 vintage of this wine was one of the best bottles of wine I've ever had, and although I didn't have delusions the 2008 would rise to that level I did think it would be at least really good.

No such luck. This one fell into the unfortunate chasm of "probably/mildly corked". The worst kind of corked. Gah! I'm sniffing a remnant taste of this wine as I'm writing this and I'm still not sure whether it's flawed or just not to my liking.

I will say this though: I never would have called the 2006 one of my favorite bottles of wine ever if it had anything resembling a musty aroma. So, I think this 2008 will just go in the books as an expensive, disappointing bottle of wine.

Bottom Line

Depending on which study you consult, I've read that 5-10% of wines with natural cork enclosures suffer from TCA taint.

When it's obviously/undeniably corked (or flawed in some other way) I always return it if logistically possible. Here's more on that part of the equation.

When trends like these build up it really dampens my enthusiasm for a category - even if it's a total coincidence. That affects the buy side of the equation, but I'll curiously follow up with other bottles I have on hand to see if it's a trend isolated to batches of newly arrived wines.

I'm convinced that if one bottle in a case is corked, the chances of subequent bottles in that same lot being corked goes up dramatically. If the TCA is transmitted from the cork, then the likelihood of another cork in that batch being similarly "bad" seems higher. And if the TCA is transmitted through the cork (either condition is possible) then it would seem that problems in the winemaking process and/or cellar would definitely tend to occur in clusters.

Question of the Day

What do you think? If the first bottle in a case is corked, do you find it more likely that subsequent bottles from that same case are flawed?


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