I had dinner with friends the other night at a well-respected restaurant, and the evening ended up being a huge disappointment on several accounts.
I'm not going to name the establishment, nor the wines that were served. I will tell you this: What happened is not a rare, isolated occurrence, and at the end of the evening, everyone ended up losing. The restaurant, because most of the wines were undrinkable. The winery, for the same reason. And of course, we, the consumers.
The wines we ordered should have been grand-slam conversation pieces, spectacular bottles, in their prime, from classic vintages, and we would have been hard-pressed to find superior wines.
When the wines arrived at our table and were opened, there were mixed results. The first Pinot Noir was terrific. But then the Cabernet Sauvignon, a 1997, which was a very ripe year in California, had a pronounced herbaceous aroma. With a few minutes in the glass, it turned thin and metallic. Not corked, mind you, but off. Another bottle of a different wine showed a similar lack of freshness, which made me curious about their origins.
It turns out that the wines had been purchased by the restaurant through a third party—that is, "flipped" by a collector (someone who sells their rare wine because its value exceeds its worth to drink for the individual) or acquired online, at an auction or via another method—all common practices with many fine wines. So when you see a very rare wine on a wine list, you have to wonder where it was obtained.
The reason that the wines we drank last night were flat and stripped of flavor is nearly impossible to pinpoint. Were they stored improperly by the winery? Were they damaged during shipping? Had they been kept in less than ideal cellar conditions, which accounted for their muted flavors?
I suppose I might have been happier had the wines been flat-out corked (and I never thought I'd think along those lines), because if that would have been the case then we could have easily obtained a second bottle, reasonably assured that it would have met our expectations.
No one wins with bad corks, or as I'm starting to discover with more regularity, shoddy storage conditions.
Still, the winery got paid for its wine, and the restaurant profited with its margin.
Where does that leave the consumer? You tell me...