It's the enclosure stupid...

The more old wine I enjoy the more clearly I disbelieve the old canard that what wine goes in at bottling largely determines quality 25+ years later, when I know it is the quality of the enclosure that really matters. In the photo above you see a cork on the left from an absolutely sublime bottle of 1983 Ridge Devils Hill PS, on the right a soaked/soft cork from a 1981 Ridge Monte Bello that was thankfully fine to drink but clearly at its end of life.

While the vintages and varietals are in fact different they aren’t as different as the two corks were! I promise the Monte Bello cork was photographed so the only portion that showed any visible numerals/letters was featured. The remaining 2/3s of the cork was wet, deep purple and very close to disintegrating.

I can’t explain the differences based upon ~ 24 M between bottling dates but man was there a difference in these two wines. I suspect that bottle of 1983 Devils Hill would have outlived me if I didn’t pull that cork.


It seems like pure insanity when I see proclamations about too old, peaking, too young, etc. on any significantly aged wine. Corks vary by orders of magnitude in oxygen transmission. Any individual bottle of an ageworthy wine might be dead or still immature just because of the cork.

It would be a dream of mine to serve two bottles of a great Bordeaux to a group of connoisseurs. The first I would verify is near death, the second in great shape, which would be verified prior to tasting. I would watch the oohs and ahhs as the dead bottle is poured. Then out would come the good bottle . . . .

One of my greatest thrills is cracking an older bottle and finding a cork that’s held its own over time. I go nuts and pass the cork around, saying “Look at that! Look!”

It’s like finding the golden ticket. And the sound when it comes out…ahhhhhhh. :smiley:

I agree Glenn…BUT, how do we explain that bottle that has a terrible looking (soaked to the brim cork) and the bottle is delicious? Of course, we all want to see a cork that is perfect every time and really do not want to see those “soakers”. But I have had quite a few great bottles from soaked cork bottles and even more so, leakers.

Case it point: I have not liked the way the '98 Fox Creek Reserve Shiraz have aged. Last week, I noticed one in my cellar that was leaking. So I opened it up figuring it can’t be helping. It was one of the best bottles of the FC '98 that I have had in a few years. [scratch.gif] I was pretty stunned actually.

Perhaps this wine was peaking due to oxygen, and drinking perfectly. With a more solid enclosure, who knows how long that bottle could go for. Maybe that’s what Glenn was getting at.

A sound cork is amost always a precursor of glad tidings.

One word Mike.

Drumroll please…

A sound cork is almost always a precursor of a Christian church? Who knew?


Man I agree completely. Cork came out of the 81 MB yesterday and I can’t even recall the sound, just the relief it came out in one piece - bless the Ah-so.

This is a great thread, and timely for me. A few hours ago I tried to pull the cork on a 1992 Dominus in preparation for an off-line tonight. Half of the cork came out, all crumbly. The second half stayed in. Once I extracted the cork I decanted through a rabbit to get the cork bits out, then returned it to the bottle. Took a little taste to see if the wine is compromised. It tastes fine and smells like Dominus, so I am hopeful. The disintegrating cork has me worried, though.

Glenn, that’s a great photo, but why do you assume that the difference in the appearance of the corks today is due to the corks themselves? Have these bottles been stored under identical conditions for their whole lives?

When I looked at that photo, my first thought was that the PS might have been stored in a cool humid cellar, while the MB was in a warm dry cellar or was heated at some point early in its life. If you still have the corks, try slicing them lengthwise to see if the red one is red in the middle.

Ken - the 81 Monte Bello was part of a private cellar purchase from a warm weather state. The 1983 Devils Hill was a winebid purchase a year or so ago.

I still have the corks and I’m preparing for surgery.

I agree that cork is far too big a variable than it ought to be, and a mass-murderer of countless otherwise wonderful wines. However, I have had wonderful bottles whose cork looks like the one on the right or even worse. I have even gotten great wine out of bottles whose cork is so loose the first tap of the corkscrew pushes it downward. A red cork in a 25-30 year-old wine isn’t abnormal. In this particular case I would wager that cork condition comes in second behind grape variety, or third behind grape variety and storage conditions, in influencing your experience. Petite sirah simply stays primary much longer than cabernet and seldom sees as much transformation with age.

Good point.

Agreed. I had a 1970 Mondavi Napa PS about a year ago, and I wouldn’t have thought it to be more than half that age.

Having had a lot of really old PS @ Bern’s over the years (good way to amortize out the wine bill back when I wasn’t making any real keesh) I realize there is serious varietal difference, hence my acknowledgement in the initial post. Anecdotally I had an awful 1989 Ridge York Creek PS a winter or two ago (middling to poor cork) and then had a really good one with a good cork @ Brian Buzzini’s home last year. We also had the 1980 Monte Bello night before this year’s Superbowl with The Merced crowd, which showed very nicely next to a 1982 Haut-Bailly, and this wine had a cork that looked nothing like the one on the right in the photo above.

I agree there are multiple factors involved and I didn’t mean to stamp the downslope discovery of Friday night’s 1981 MB solely on the cork; I just thought the photo was striking and I have man-love for Carville so using his 1992 campaign mantra made for a fun subject line.

Red cork was a deep orange/tan when bisected Ken.

Deep orange tan?

Perhaps a shade lighter than either tool above.

Stating the obvious, but the book by Taber on corks is quite a fascinating read. And talks of how bad corks were in the 80’s.