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Executive editor Thomas Matthews joined Wine Spectator in 1988. His tasting beat is Spain.
Thomas Matthews

Crumbling Cork, Soaring Red

M. Chapoutier Hermitage La Sizeranne 1990

Thomas Matthews
Posted: December 30, 2009

I had saved this 1990 Hermitage produced by Chapoutier for the climax of a very vinous dinner party. But when I tried to open the Rhône red, the cork completely disintegrated. I started chipping out bits and pieces, but finally had to push much of the cork down into the bottle, then filter the wine through cheesecloth into a decanter. Not a happy feeling!

I started to breathe again when I saw the wine’s vibrant garnet color, and decided decanting was a good idea when thick sediment began to cloud the last of the wine. And when I poured the wine into our glasses, it perfumed the room. Elegant, complex, powerful and harmonious, it showed floral, tobacco, black pepper and tarry accents to a vivid core of black cherry, briar and mineral. We all agreed it was the wine of the night. I rated it 96 points, non-blind.

It just goes to show that there are no universals in wine. The cork can crumble, the fill can be low, the provenance and storage can be mysteries—and yet, the wine can still be glorious. (And, alas, the opposite can also be true.) The only way to know for certain is to open the bottle.

WineSpectator.com members: Read the original blind-tasting review for M. Chapoutier Hermitage La Sizeranne 1990 (91, $28 on release, Top 100 of 1992: Rank 89).

• Plus, get our quick list of Top Values among Rhône reds.

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