Thursday, January 31, 2019

Wine Quality Control - Incident Report: Petrus 1966 with a broken piece of cork floating inside


Wine Quality Control 
Incident Report: Petrus 1966
with a broken piece of cork floating inside




Petrus 1966 with a broken cork inside the bottle - Photo by and for ©LeDomduVin 2019



As you probably know by now, as a "Wine Quality Control Director" (for the Wine Division of the company I work for), an essential part of my daily job is to inspect (detailed examination and authentication too) all the bottles we buy, sale and/or store in our different warehouses in Hong Kong and China. (*)

The case scenario I will detail in this post today is a rare one that is quite unlikely to occur on regular basis, and so I thought it would be interesting to write about it (and, you never know, it might also interest you).   

So, here is the situation: 

Two days ago, on January 29th 2019, 6 bottles of Petrus 1966 (and a few more bottles including Chateau Haut-Brion 1989) were prepared at one of our warehouses in HK to be withdrawn then delivered. 

One of the members of my QC Team, in position of QC Supervisor at this warehouse, quickly inspected the bottles and took some pictures (unfortunately in low light - see picture below), which, in turn, were sent to our internal WhatsApp group for the QC (myself) and the C&L (Cellars and Logistics) Senior Manager reviewal and approval, prior the bottles leave the warehouse. 



6 bottles of Petrus 1966 prepared at one of our warehouses in HK - Photo by and for ©LeDomduVin 2019



My QC team member did not switch on the lights that normally should be ON to allow for the wine level and other details to be checked. Consequently, at first glance, looking on WhatsApp on my phone, and despite some of the levels being low, but nothing abnormal for the vintage, the bottles looked OK. Hence, I gave my approval. The bottles were released from the warehouse and delivered to  our company's headquarter building in Kowloon Bay first. 

Once in Kowloon bay, the bottles were put in the cellar of our company's French restaurant "Le Pan". Simpson, Wine Director, at Le Pan, took a picture of the bottles of Petrus 1966 (and the Chateau Haut-Brion 1989) when they arrived, and send it to the WhatsApp group. 




Bottles of Petrus 1966 and Chateau Haut-Brion 1989 - Photo by and for ©LeDomduVin 2019



The picture being clearer (with more light) than the picture taken at the warehouse, Samuel, our C&L Senior Manager, realized that something was wrong with one of the bottles. A broken piece of cork was floating in one of them. 



Bottles of Petrus 1966 and Chateau Haut-Brion 1989 - Photo by and for ©LeDomduVin 2019


So, I looked back, (a bit more closely this time), at the first picture sent from the warehouse prior the delivery, to check if the incident of the broken cork may have happened during the transportation between the warehouse and our headquarters building. 



6 bottles of Petrus 1966 prepared at one of our warehouses in HK - Photo by and for ©LeDomduVin 2019



But no. Looking at it again (more closely this time), I realized that it was already like that at the warehouse (meaning that the broken part of the cork was already floating in the bottle), and that consequently my team member did not inspect the bottles properly and carefully enough prior the delivery. 

I was really unhappy about him, as it is his primary role as QC Supervisor at the warehouse to do a quantitative and qualitative inspection (at good receiving and departing) and consequently to check that all bottles are in good (or at least acceptable) conditions prior the bottles can leave the warehouse and be delivered.     

However, and fortunately, the bottle had been delivered to our headquarters first, meaning, prior going to its final destination. So, I had to take care of the situation and find a solution to replace the bottle with the defectuous broken cork, by a bottle with better condition to be delivered with the other bottles instead. Fortunately (again), we had a few more bottles of Petrus 1966 at the warehouse, so we had to quickly organize and make a new delivery from the warehouse to our headquarters building for the replacement bottle.  

While waiting for the replacement bottle to arrive, I (assisted by my colleague Martin Li) inspected the bottle with the defectuous broken cork. I brought it down to our basement cellar to get a closer look at it. 



Petrus 1966 with a broken cork inside the bottle - Photo by and for ©LeDomduVin 2019



It was clear that a broken piece of the cork had fallen inside....




Petrus 1966 with a broken cork inside the bottle (close up) - Photo by and for ©LeDomduVin 2019




The capsule was still tight, and did not present any sign of seepage or leakage. Yet, it looked like the piece of cork was quite big, but "how big"? (...that was the question...) 




Petrus 1966 with a broken cork inside the bottle (closer up) - Photo by and for ©LeDomduVin 2019



Looking even closer (like on the picture above), it almost seemed that the upper part of the cork was visible and did not seem to be loose. Therefore, I believe (at first) that the broken piece was only the bottom part of the cork and probably corresponded to only about ⅓  of the cork maximum. 

But I had to be sure and it was important to know how much of the cork was remaining in the neck of the bottle to make a rough assessment on the wine condition and ensure the wine was still safe from harm. Therefore, I decided to cut open the capsule by making an incision right below the ring of the neck.

For record purposes, I asked my colleague, Martin Li, to assist me by also commenting (and holding the camera too) while making a little video of me cutting the capsule (of this Petrus 1966 with a floating cork inside), to check how much of the cork left within the neck.

(I definitely need a better camera man..... 😊)



LeDomduVin: Petrus 1966 with a broken cork inside the bottle (inspection) - Video 1/2





LeDomduVin: Petrus 1966 with a broken cork inside the bottle (inspection) - Video 2/2






So, when I cut open the capsule to check the remaining part of the cork, I realized that I was wrong, as, in fact, ¾ of the cork was broken and the remaining ¼ upper part of the cork was seemingly solid and still tight. Therefore, it is possible that the wine may not have been harmed or damaged by this rather peculiar cork condition.  Yet, difficult to say.... unless we open the bottle.....



Petrus 1966 with capsule opened and a broken cork inside the bottle (closer up) -
Photo by and for ©LeDomduVin 2019 (1/3)





Petrus 1966 with capsule opened and a broken cork inside the bottle (closer up) -
Photo by and for ©LeDomduVin 2019 (2/3)






Petrus 1966 with capsule opened and a broken cork inside the bottle (closer up) -
Photo by and for ©LeDomduVin 2019 (3/3)



The broken part of the cork being so big, and therefore the level of the wine being difficult to estimate, it is also hard to tell if the wine suffered from air oxidation or if the wine has evaporated a little due to the cork condition. 

Yet, as previously said, the capsule is tight and the remaining upper part of the cork is seemingly solid and tight against the inside of the neck, the capsule does not present any trace of seepage or leakage, so we can assume the wine could be OK, after all.



Petrus 1966 with capsule sealed back with tape and a broken piece of cork inside the bottle (closer up) -
Photo by and for ©LeDomduVin 2019 (1/3)




Petrus 1966 with capsule sealed back with tape and a broken piece of cork inside the bottle (closer up) -
Photo by and for ©LeDomduVin 2019 (2/3)




Petrus 1966 with capsule sealed back with tape and a broken piece of cork inside the bottle (closer up) -
Photo by and for ©LeDomduVin 2019 (3/3)



I sealed back the cut part of the capsule with tape, then laid down the bottle in the cellar for further examination by regular checking within the few hours that followed. 


Conclusion


It is hard to determinate what exactly happened for the bottom part of the cork to break within the bottle like this. It is a rare case scenario that is unlikely to occur usually, unless the bottle previous handling and/or storage conditions led to the weakening and eventually cracking of the cork.

We can only speculate that this situation may have occurred, for example, if the bottle experienced  or has been exposed to important and/or sudden variations and/or oscillations of the temperature and/or humidity levels (for a certain period of time and at a certain period of the bottle's life), altering and changing the shape of the cork in some ways, weakening it, while, at the same time, creating  a pulling force, like a vacuum, sucking the cork within the bottle. 

This situation usually happens when the temperatures are too cold, causing the cork to slightly shrink and get pulled into the neck of the bottle, which normally leads to a "depressed" cork.... 



Petrus 1966 capsule top - video screenshot by and for ©LeDomduVin 2019



However, as you can see in the video and in this screenshot of the video above, the usual sign of a depressed cork, which is normally characterized by a "dent" formed on the top of the capsule, giving a clear indication that the cork is either weak and/or has slightly been sucked in, is barely visible. But ,even if, a tiny, slightly bit depressed, it is nothing compared to bottles with serious depressed cork conditions I previously inspected. And therefore, once again, makes me think the wine might be OK. The color and overall condition of the wine seemed OK too when I checked it. So, let's cross fingers.           

In any case, I put the bottle laying down in the cellar, and will keep it there for the next few days, to check if any seepage or leakage occurs due to the defectuous/broken cork. If no seepage or leakage  appear after a few days, the bottle is to be sent back to its original warehouse (for long term storage), with a note to be written and taped on the bottle, saying "do not touch unless strictly necessary and/or to be handled with extreme care due to the broken cork".   

My advice (first verbally formulated by my former CEO Bernard de Laage, when I showed him the pictures) is that this bottle should be opened and consumed as soon as possible, as the wine may deteriorate quickly (or not) with a cork in such conditions.

I will keep you inform of the status of this particular bottle.



That's all folks for today, stay tuned for more posts coming soon and meanwhile drink responsibly and give a closer look to the cork condition of your old bottles. You never know....

Santé! Cheers!


LeDomduVin a.k.a. Dominique Noël

©LeDomduVin 2019


(*) You can also read about wine inspection and bottle authentication in my previous posts on the subject here and here  



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