I think it is scandalous for wine importers not to use refrigerated containers when they are shipping. It only costs a few dollars a case more, and it is the best way to maintain the quality of the wine. Yet some continue not to use “reefers,” and wines are literally cooked in transit. In the hot summer, bottles of wine in a metal container can be boiled. They may as well put them in an oven.
A case in point is what happened with a recent release of the 2001 Pio Cesare Barolo in shops of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario. Forumites on this site started a thread on Oct. 29 saying that they found leaky bottles of this excellent red, which they bought through the Canadian wine-and-spirits monopoly.
My office in Tuscany made some calls to Pio Cesare, the LCBO and the importer. The LCBO's manager of quality services, Leonard Franssen, confirmed that about 250 cases of the Barolo were shipped by sea container this summer from Europe without temperature control. Apparently there were no reefers available at the time, and the wines were shipped anyway. LCBO retailers have so far reported leakage in 20 cases, Franssen said, and an investigation of the problem is still underway.
It's not 100 percent positive that the unavailability of reefers was the cause of the leaky bottles of Barolo. (Franssen added that the LCBO's policy is to ensure that non-reefer containers are shipped way down in the hold, and he noted that the shipment passed visual inspection on arrival.) The problem could also be due to bad storage somewhere else in the distribution chain. But it certainly can be said that it was not a good idea shipping the wines without temperature control in the middle of the summer. It can’t help the wines!
The wine left the cellars of Pio Cesare in perfect condition, according to Pio Boffa, whose family owns the winery. (For the U.S. market, Boffa said, importer Maison Marques et Domaines guarantees the use of a reefer container for shipment of his Barolos.)
I hope wine producers, importers, distributors, retailers and restaurateurs learn a lesson from this most recent example of bad shipping and storage practices. Fine imported wines are expensive, and they (hell, all wines) deserve to be treated properly!