I had a bad bottle but the winery wouldn't replace it. What gives?

Ask Dr Vinny

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Dear Dr. Vinny,

I opened a corked bottle of 2008 Cabernet from a well-known winery in the Stags Leap District. My guests all agreed that the wine was corked. I contacted the winery and discussed the situation with them on a subsequent visit to Napa. Since I could not prove I purchased it there, they would not agree to replace the bottle. What are your thoughts—should they replace a corked bottle?

—Anne C., Huntersville, N.C.

Dear Anne,

The good news is that you sound like you have a good understanding of what “corky” or “corked” wines are, and how the harmless but annoying chemical compound TCA, or 2,4,6-trichloroanisole, can affect wines with moldy, damp basement notes.

It can be a little easier to deal with a corky wine if you get one in a restaurant. The whole ritual of tasting before being served a bottle is to give you some recourse in the event the bottle is flawed—you can just point out that the bottle is off, and they should replace it with a fresh bottle. That’s not to say these transactions always go smoothly—if the person handling your wine isn’t as good as you are at picking out notes of TCA, it can be a little awkward.

When it comes to bottles that you purchase at retail, I think it’s perfectly fair for either the retailer or the producer (if you purchase directly from them) to ask for your receipt. It’s also not unusual to be asked to return the opened, flawed bottle. I realize that’s not convenient or possible in every case, but I don’t think it’s convenient or possible for a retailer or producer to replace a bottle of wine every time a person tells them they had a flawed bottle a while back. A well-known Cabernet from the Stags Leap District probably costs $200 or more.

Even though I think these practices are fair, the larger point is that you are their customer, and you aren’t happy with how the winery treated you. Perhaps there was something they could have done to let you know they value your business, and to give you more confidence in their brand—comp a tasting, offer you a discount, or give you a free bottle of something less expensive. In the future, it’s probably a good idea to keep receipts of the expensive bottles you purchase, and not dump corky bottles when you get them. Immediately contact the business you purchased the wine from and hope they can replace it.

—Dr. Vinny

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