Is There a Solution to Bottle Variation?

Can closures be further improved? Would heat sensors prevent the sale of cooked bottles?
Nov 20, 2014

One of my peeves, and it's more than a pet, is wine bottle variation. Most wine drinkers are familiar with this unfortunate reality. One time you drink a wine and it's exciting, the next time something is slightly off. You know the saying: There are no great wines, only great bottles.

I'm not sure if there is a solution that would end bottle variation—there are many causes. I've taken up this topic with many respected winemakers, seeking their thoughts.

There's no denying the existence of bottle variation. It's most apparent to people who routinely taste and retaste wines, such as winemakers, sommeliers and critics, usually in blind tastings, where the variability is evident. For sure, people who pour wine in tasting rooms encounter this often enough.

Once a wine is bottled, the weakest link in the chain from winery to consumer is the cork, or seal. Winemakers know the issues with cork, and to some extent with twist-offs as well, and a bad seal is certainly a cause for a wine to underperform. 

When I interviewed winemakers about other possible causes I was surprised to hear them say that the very bottle a wine goes into might be flawed—not thoroughly clean, perhaps with a spec of dust.

Shipping conditions and storage, and whether a wine has been exposed to excessive heat, is another key factor. It can be a matter of a wine stored in too warm an environment (a retail outlet, or your trunk). Wine is fairly durable, but it's a living thing, and a bottle that gets too hot and stays hot can spoil.

There are ways to measure whether a wine bottle has been exposed to excessive heat. Sensors like the ones made by eProvenance can track the temperature of a wine bottle from cellar to consumer, but few wineries use them.

Would you pay a premium for wines that have had their temperature history recorded? Have you experienced bottle variation, and how frequently? Why do you think the bottles were different? Seal? Heat? Or is this just the way it is and we should live with it?

Closures Wine Flaws

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