When a wine fails to age, who’s to blame?

Can you successfully sue a synthetic cork producer for a wine’s inability to age? Robert Parker suggests yes. In the context of a discussion about how 2001 California wines are tasting ten years on, he posted on his web site’s discussion board that synthetic cork producers would have “serious liability issues” if the closure is the cause of the “failure” of a ten-year old wine.

Is there a legal precedent here? I don’t know the case history. But it seems to me that unless the product poses a health risk, there would be little negligence on the part of the wine producer or the closure manufacturer. And why would producers of synthetic closures have more liability than cork producers? An off bottle is an off bottle whether it is excessively oxidized or plagued by cork taint (TCA). All this is assuming perfect storage, which is usually the top cause of a wine’s not aging well.

Parker is heading down a slippery slope if he going to start haphazardly assigning blame on wine “failures” after 10 years. At what point might the critic be liable if the optimal drinking window (e.g. “anticipated maturity: 2017-2051”) results only “failure”? Or for lavishing points on a wine made in a style that does not ultimately prove age-worthy? Interestingly, Parker seems to have inoculated himself on this score since in his recent review of the 2001s, he significantly boosted the scores of several wines made in what might be called a “Parkerized” style.

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32 Responses to “When a wine fails to age, who’s to blame?”

  1. There is also the little matter of the winemaker – all too many wines are being made to “show well” on release with scant chance of evolving in the bottle.

  2. I realise that the law, as applied in the USA, is not the same as on this side of the pond but I am sure a judge would rule that caveat emptor applies and so poor Mr Parker would have no redress. Unless, of course, he could prove that the cork producers deliberately set about to sell faulty goods.

  3. The comment made shows that either Robert Parker forgot what he learned in law school, or he never learned it. Probably too much 2007 Chateauneuf for July 4th!

    Either way, it makes no sense to claim liability in that way. And it ain’t that easy either.

    B&H used these crappy corks for a few years. The wines were showing poorly at a very early age. Folks asked B&H to address it, they did not, except to abandon the corks on future vintages. Folks asked RP to address it, as he gave the barrel samples of many wines very high scores, and he elected not to.

  4. Yes, the wine in question was a Behrens & Hitchcock 2001. Do you have ratings history for the wine, Daniel?

  5. Yes, I do!

  6. I acknowledge that I am prime among the nameless “conspiracy theorists” that Parker loves to rail about, but there is a curious factual circumstance here: in Parker’s assessment, the 2001 wines in question,neck-and-neck with the same producer’s 2002s, were the best wines that said producer had made, and yet none were tasted for Parker’s 2001 Cali Cab retrospective. Now out of the blue comes his layman-with-a-license legal analysis concerning the producer’s closure problems, and the disclosure that he owns none of that producer’s 2001 wines. It is a given that Parker will never admit that he was wrong, which, frankly, is the leading cause of the mounting criticism of him. (A man that has made as many concensus (well, a concensus of THINKING people anyway) mistakes and misjudgments as Bob Parker has could have done himself a world of good with a little humility rather than simply bloviating his increasingly unpopular dogma.) So one wonders: why no mention of the closure problem in the intervening years, and why were the producer’s wines not included in the 2001 retrospective? Perhaps such wines, among others, do not support his thesis that the 2001 Cali Cabs are the best ever? Perhaps the wines in question have not aged well irrespective of the closure problems, as John Gillespie suggests above? Just more conspiracy theorizing this, but hey, it is what I do…

  7. Parker scored the 2001 Cabernet from Behrens & Hitchcock 96 points upon release, out of btl, with the synthetic cork, which put it in the top 25 of wines from the vintage, at the time. His recent 2001 retrospective contains retastes of over 200 wines.

    Behrens & Hitchcock seems like a more than obvious omission.

  8. […] study says (Los Angeles Times) What we want – ideally – from our American vintners (Boston.com) ICONIC Australian wine labels Penfolds and Lindeman's could soon be owned by the Chinese. (Weekly Times) New technology could mean the end of traditional oak casks. (The Age) In South […]

  9. The problem with synthetic cork seems to be real. Silvio Jermann on his company webpage says that they had to replace synthetic cork materials because the physical properties of the plastic material changed over time and bottles started to leak air and thus the wine got easily oxidized.

  10. Slow news year in Maryland, perhaps? Unless the syncork producer promised more than to keep wine in the bottle and TCA out of it, Parker is talking or speculating through his hat.

    As for other comments: in Parker’s 2001 CaliCab re-taste, was the B&H the only suspicious oission?

    A problem of leakage such as Jermann reports could certainly occur but I think not relevant to Parker’s case, as surely there’s a needful distinction between oxidation and ‘failure to age.’

  11. The real question is whether the synthetic cork producers withheld any information they knew about ageablity when they marketed the corks. If not, then what we have learned in the passage of time is not the basis for liability in the past.

  12. Thanks, Daniel. Yes, I searched and found his tasting notes for the 2001 B&H Cabernet Sauvignon (96 pts). While expressing his admiration for the “obsessed fanatics” who “make no compromises” in making the wine, he noted the 01 had:

    “Sweet notes of creme de cassis…toasty new oak gush from the glass of this [frighteningly rich, concentrated] unctuously-textured Cabernet.”

    For the full review, click here.

    His “anticipated maturity” is 2008-2022.

  13. The decision to not post scores on 2001 B&H appear to be more of a result of the winery not participating, just as Parker said.

    He is not buying any of these wines to review. He (and A Galloni) went out to California, and tasted these wines, with samples provided by the wineries. He gave some wines scores in the 70s and 80s.

    If B&H had participated, they would have been scored, and hopefully, if the grade was honest, it would have been poor.

    It once again shows that Parker does not buy his wines for review (he still claims 60% of it is purchased). I am not sure why he still insists on saying that.

    If hew had bought these wines, he could have done this tasting in Monkton, not Napa. Unless he was craving a burger from In n Out?

  14. The article raises an interesting question from my perspective as a consumer, what recourse do you have when the wine is properly stored yet the plastic corks don’t allow the wine to hold as the winemaker/winery indicated, let alone a wine review. I know I had an issue with wines falling apart from Bonny Doon when they switched from cork to plastic closures and read recently in an interview with Randall Grahm that they experienced the same issue. All part of the fun of being a wine consumer I guess.

  15. To me, TCA taint is a much more serious issue. With up to 5% of wines sealed by natural cork ruined by TCA taint, in financial terms alone this has a large financial impact for wine consumers. And by the way, isn’t rather common knowledge that synthetic corks degrade after a few years and are only meant to be used for short term wines? This was well known at the time the wine in question was bottled.

  16. Parker is a clueless asshole and the World is a better place that he chose to pimp French Wineries and not practice law at the Farmbank in Maryland. He said….”no conspiracy…no intention to avoid any winery…anyone know if the synthetic closures were the definitive cause of the alleged failure of the wines?….If so, I assume the producer of the closures would have serious liability issues to deal with?”
    Sure, you avoid the issue of the crappy bottles you hyped for ten friggin years Sir Palate and some poor wine buyers who had the misfortune of believing you have sought a resolution of the issue of the purple enclosures used by B&H buyers through the Courts. Probably not.
    B&H sure is not seeking redress through the Courts. The fools who listened to The Palate are fools remember????? Why stand up for them, Parker never would.

  17. […] When a wine fails to age, who’s to blame? […]

  18. Kind of shows how much Parker really believes on his own ratings since he did not purchase any of the B & H wines he highly rated.

    Chalk another one to “The Consumer Advocate”.

  19. […] study says (Los Angeles Times) What we want – ideally – from our American vintners (Boston.com) ICONIC Australian wine labels Penfolds and Lindeman's could soon be owned by the Chinese. (Weekly Times) Monsieur Parker, Welcome on board of this EP2010 Bordeaux First Class flight! Please […]

  20. […] his own way (Japan Times) In US, Wine director Rom Toulon leaving Meadowood (Napa Valley Register) CalPERS bribery scandal…Villalobos' French wine collection brings $160,000 (Sacramento Bee) The natural wine movement is teetering on the edge of charlatanry (Decanter) […]

  21. Interesting discussion about wine and closures.

    I’d like to shed some light on this conversation with some facts. In the interest of full disclosure, I work for Nomacorc – the leading global supplier of synthetic closures.

    Perrtu and Boettcher: It’s important to note that not all synthetics are the same. That is why Nomacorc has been so successful where other synthetic closure providers have failed. Our patented co-extruded technology ensures superior closure performance compared to alternative processes such as injection molding (as evidenced by the recent exit of Supremecorq from the closure market). Over our 11-year history, we have invested millions of dollars in research to help the wine industry better understand the significance of oxygen management to wine development and preservation.

    Nomacorc closes 40% of all wine made in the U.S., 25% of the wine in Germany and roughly 20% in France. With sales increasing year over year and growing at double digit rates, we clearly are providing a quality product that consistently protects wine from faults such as cork taint, oxidation and reduction. Our research shows that consumers care about good wine, not closures.

    And Alex A: Really good point. Cork taint remains a huge problem. The results from wine tastings like the IWC in London (typically 14,000 bottles) illustrate that over the last 6 years, on average, 6% of wines submitted for evaluation are considered faulty. Of those wines closed under bark-based closures roughly 3% exhibited cork taint. It is fair to assume this is a best case scenario given the importance of this competition and hence the extra measures taken by participants to ensure their wines are of the highest possible quality. With over 12 billion bark-based closures sold globally in 2010 and a conservative estimated 3% cork taint rate that means that nearly 1 million bottles of wine are ruined every day by traditional cork based closures. What other industry do you know that accepts that kind of failure rate?

    Mr. Parker, I would like to personally invite you to come and visit Nomacorc’s plant in North Carolina. We’ll take you through our state-of-the-art lean manufacturing facility where we produce almost 6 million closures a day.

    Dr. Vino, we would love for you to visit us too. You can reach me at jslater@nomacorc.com.

    Jeffrey Slater

  22. Jeffrey thanks for that commercial endorsement of your product. Do you know who made the enclosures used by Behrens and Hitchcock that are the basis of this sorid discussion?

  23. Jack – I believe the Behrens & Hitchcock wines were bottled using Supreme Corq (injection molded).

    Jeffrey – What do your tests show about the ageability of wines bottled under Nomacorc? In my experience, the wines bottled with this closure are strictly for current consumption.

  24. Best short term closure is a screw cap. Period.

    Besides, the so-called “artificial corks” are oftentimes very difficult to extract.

    I have no financial interest in Stelvin or any of the other screw cap manufacturers but speaking strictly as a consumer, I would like to see all short term wines (and several more of the age-worhty whites) sealed by screw cap.

  25. Jack, the orange cork that was referenced in the original Parker comments about Behrens and Hitchcock is from Supremecorq not Nomacorc. As you may know, Supremecorq is no longer in business.

    Dr.Vino, as to the question of ageability, you raise an very important and interesting topic.
    As you know, over 90% of the world’s wines are bottled and consumed within 1 year. Hence by definition as the second largest closure company in the world selling over 2 billion closures per year, a significant percentage of our products are used in wines that are consumed in a shorter term.

    However, at Nomacorc, we think the issue of aging is really a more complex question based on the research we have conducted with our various technical global partners like Geisenheim, UC Davis, AWRI, InterRhone and several others.

    Varietal, wine style, bottling equipment performance, level of SO2, consistent headspace, micro-ox, storage and transport conditions and many more factors can affect how well a wine will age irrespective of closure. It is our belief that the right closure can be selected but it is important to first understand multiple inputs to the winemaking decisions first.

    Many people don’t realize it but winemaking continues even after bottling so managing oxygen post bottling is critical and we are on the cutting edge of this science. Our newest closure series, named Select, provides a unique and innovative engineered approach to managing oxygen transfer rates.

    I would note that our products are designed with wine maker intention and preservation requirements in mind. We have products that are intended for wines that are consumed quickly. At the same time, we have products that are designed to preserve wines for extended aging. Of particular note are our latest generation offerings (Select Series) which are intended for wines that could experience aging in excess of 10 years.

    Finally, we are working on software that will be available later this summer to help guide a winemaker to choose the right closure to meet a wine maker’s intention. By leveraging our expertise in oxygen management, we can recommend a closure that will provide the optimized oxygen transfer required based on up to 20 different inputs.

    Have I answered your question?


  26. Jeffrey Slater said “Jack, the orange cork that was referenced in the original Parker comments about Behrens and Hitchcock is from Supremecorq not Nomacorc. As you may know, Supremecorq is no longer in business.”

    Jeffrey, the corks used by Behrens and Hitchcock were purple not orange.
    Assuming the accuracy of your statement that Supremecorq the cork manufacturer used by B&H was no longer in business; that fact renders the statement by Robert Parker on July 5 2011 that “the producer of the closures of B&H wines would have serious liability issues to deal with” to be even more absurd and further proof of his lazy and anti consumer metamorphasis.

  27. I don’t know or claim to know the ability of a synthetic corks ability to aid wine aging (as good as or better than true cork), but I personally would never buy a wine intending to hold it for over 10 years that had a synthetic cork. I view the holding of Cali wine more of gamble anyway, but to hold for 10+ with a synthetic closure is not going to happen for me anytime soon.

  28. […] There'll be sour grapes from the French… but it was a Brit who invented Champagne (Daily Mail) When a wine fails to age, who’s to blame? (Dr Vino) Why are there ‘systematic errors’ in wine alcohol labels? (Inside Scoop) In UK, […]

  29. Audrey

    Robert Parker has given recommended aging windoes of these wines for up to 20 years.

  30. My organic wine producers do use screw caps with synthetic inlays only for easy drinking white wines which should be drunken fast. Every other wine, which is better than the all-day wine has cork, especially all reds.

  31. […] There'll be sour grapes from the French… but it was a Brit who invented Champagne (Daily Mail) When a wine fails to age, who’s to blame? (Dr Vino) Monsieur Parker, Welcome on board of this EP2010 Bordeaux First Class flight! Please […]

  32. […] happens if your wine doesn’t age? Curious thoughts on who is to blame for […]


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