A Tale of Two Corks (Never Judge a Wine by Its Enclosure)

Just when I thought I had understood, at least roughly, the relationship between the condition of a bottle’s cork enclosure and its contents within, I come across this, throwing what I more or less knew out the window.

I was very fortunate to acquire two bottles of 2003 Mount Mary Pinot Noir. I opened the first after giving the wine about a week to settle. It was very good, but not great. Lovely colour, soft and silky on the palate, with a pleasant earthy character. It needed some time in the decanter to come together, and when it did, it was immensely enjoyable.

Despite all that, I have to admit that I was slightly disappointed. I sort of expected more. Don’t get me wrong: it was a very classy wine, comparable to a fine village-level Burgundy (just short of Premier Cru status). However, this felt like it had already peaked and didn’t appear to have much staying power.

Several weeks later, I couldn’t resist giving it another try, so I opened the second bottle.

Woah, what a huge difference!

This time, it seemed very youthful,  with lots of power in the fruit, mellowed into a harmoniously luxurious and seductive wine, redolent of chocolate, truffle, rich ripe fruit, lovely secondary characters with hints of mint, liquorice, anise and other spices. Simply sublime!  Comparable to a top quality Premier Cru (or even Grand Cru) Burgundy.

This wine bore a similar “character” or soul, as I like to think of it, as the first. After all, it is the same wine. Both acquired at the same time from the same source; both have the same provenance and were cellared professionally.

So why this amazing difference?

I examined the corks from both bottles. Guess which cork was from the second (better) bottle, and which was from the first.

Surprisingly, the tired looking cork on the left (the slightly distorted one with purple stain running down it) came from the *better* bottle, while the nearly perfect one on the right came from the first bottle!

Go figure.

I think both had similar ullage to start with, so why the difference? I guess I may never know… Wine is like people: with an organic, evolving life. Even identical twins brought up under similar environments can turn out differently.