From failure to success!

I mentioned in my post The Wine Auctions that one of the advantages of the auctions is being able to get hold of older wine.  I also mentioned how, most of the time, the failure rate is quite low and the pain from the times you have to pour that old bottle down the sink, along with your tears, is far outweighed by the joys you get from the good bottles.  I recently had just such an experience.

IMG_2757I pulled out a bottle of 1972 Redman Claret from Coonawarra in South Australia, a wine actually made from Shiraz.  Australia used to label their wines after French wines even when the grape had no relevance to the label.  Claret is from Bordeaux and they do not use Shiraz!  Those crazy Aussies!

I got this wine in a mixed case of older vintage wines that set me back about $10 per bottle.  All the other bottles had been good but you can see by looking at this one why I’d put off opening it.  The label has disappointment written all over it!  So I went to put the cork screw into the cork and the cork just dropped straight into the bottle.  Plop!!  More signs of impending disaster!

Then, almost like a purple haze, out drifted a poisonous gas that almost knocked my head off.  The flies that usually circle my head dropped to the ground. The room smelt like vinegar!  Not looking good at all.

I poured it into a glass and admired the cloudy sickly pink-purple colour.  Do I or don’t I sip?  If I don’t sip, I will never really know if it was as bad as all other senses were telling me.  If I do sip, surely I can spit fast enough before that stuff eats away at the lining of my mouth and stomach.

So, of course, I take a sip  I’m a risk taker.  And? …  I couldn’t spit fast enough.  And I wasn’t able to rinse my mouth as quickly as I’d like.  “Get it out of there!”  It was the most rotten red wine vinegar you’ve ever tasted!  Oxygen had done its damage indeed.  As I poured it down the sink I could hear it sizzle as it rinsed my pipes clean!

IMG_2763I needed to bring on redemption for the 72 vintage.  I pulled out a bottle of 1972 Seppelt Private Bin Hermitage from The Barossa Valley in South Australia.  This one I picked up as an individual bottle on another wine auction site for about $30 so I was already expecting a better result.  The label… nice and clean and in really good nick!  A positive sign.  And there’s that crazy old Aussie labelling again.  “A full, soft ‘Burgundy’ made entirely from ‘Hermitage'”.  LOL.  To a wine wanker that just doesn’t make sense but it was all about getting on the French label bandwagon back then.

As soon as I popped this bottle open with its wine level up into the neck and its cork fully intact with red colouring only half way down, my senses were telling me this was going to be good.  I lit up!  Although musty at first I could smell berry fruit, and lots of it. And there were hints of aged leather, which is a good thing and not usually prominent in younger Southern Aussies.

IMG_2759I poured and it was a beautiful purple colour.  I just had to sip.  Vinegar and battery acid?  Nup, far from it.  My first senses were correct again.  This wine was an utter delight.  It was still quite fruity with loads of juice, and it was backed up by lots of savoury aged characters with a pleasant light mustiness and a vanilla finish.  And I could taste it in my mouth for ages!

So you could say that I ended up paying around $40 for that bottle instead of $30 when you add in the failure.  The thing is, you just can’t get that experience in a young wine so it was well worth the risk for the final reward.


Author: Conrad



  1. Loved your description of the Redman “Claret” disaster, as well as the buried treasure of “Hermitage.” I had to look on Wikipedia to discover that “Hermitage” is an Australian term for Syrah/Shiraz. It’s really strange that they called it Burgundy when the Hermitage reference is to the Rhône. Were they choosing these names randomly? Maybe one day you’ll turn up a “Chablis” made of Shiraz!


  2. Shiraz is/are very popular in California. And it is always labeled as such, so we know it is an Australian wine. I used to think a wine that had turned could be used as vinegar, but probably not, after reading this. You are lucky it didn’t make you sick.


    • It quite possibly could have been used as vinegar but I wasn’t up to finding out. It was very unlikely to make me sick, it’s just oxidised and broken down juice and alcohol. It would need germs within it to cause illness and that is not very likely in alcohol.


  3. at the bad bottle, is it mold? old wine stains? that thing looks disgusting, good that I cant smell it, but yes, just throwing it away without fully knowing doesnt seem right.


  4. Vinegar and battery acid? Reminds me of when my mother ventured into the world of home made wine making. Just awful. But no one had the nerve to say the truth. I like how you rationalize the cost. We women do that all the time. 🙂


  5. Great tale. Delighted you opened them in that order. We have a neighbour who has/had a lot of very good French wines from the 70s. A couple of years back, we decided that we should both start to drink his (and my) older wines. So we took it in turns to host a Sunday afternoon of wine tasting. After three visits to his, I had to give up. Every bottle of top name Bordeaux we sampled was years beyond it’s best. My overriding memory is on sitting in an overstuffed chair, sipping a rapidly thinning brown/red Bordeaux. My wines were not such great ‘houses’ but every bottle was at least drinkable and at best divine. I got the raw end of the deal.


  6. I admire your bravery in tasting that first one! After seeing the label, seeing the cork drop, and sniffing the “fumes,” I’m afraid I’d have immediately poured it down the drain.


  7. Holy crap, Conrad, you’re speedy on the views! I put the ‘Somm’ “review” (haha) up two minutes ago!
    LOVED this post — I’m always eyeballing old bottles in the shop where I work, wondering what it’s like to get one’s hands on something from the 60s or the 70s. If I was pushier I’d try and get myself into the local circles to have a chance to try these things, but I’m an antisocial misanthrope at heart. Brilliant post, loved it, and of course the photos and labels — you know I’m all about the graphics! Please keep up the posts on your auction finds!
    Zelda/The Illustrated Wine


  8. Thanks for following my blog, Conrad! In an effort to show respect, I’ve taken the box wine out of the refridgerator. I’ve done this in order to make an honest attempt at learning something from you. 😀 I already really enjoy a glass of tequlia, so I feel like I’m where I need to be…


  9. Does the label condition give some hint as to the potential for the wine? That label is a little off-putting, I’d of worried about proper storage.


  10. Your description of disaster had me sitting on the edge of my seat. I felt tense on your behalf, as though I was there… Purple haze – nooo – Oh, those poor flies!… OMG, he’s going to taste it. Argh!

    You know, I never thought that drinking wine could be dangerous in quite that way. You’re a brave man.


  11. Great post. You so make me want to return to drinking wine (can’t cause it migraines my brains in an instant), the way you describe each step, the label, the scents, the colors…. it’s like each bottle of wine is an entire ceremony. And LOL !!. at the flies that usually circle your head dropping to the ground and the oxygenated liquid cleaning your pipes!!


  12. “Then, almost like a purple haze, out drifted a poisonous gas that almost knocked my head off. The flies that usually circle my head dropped to the ground.” Ha!

    I’m now all about seeking out an old vintage just so I could participate in, “You just can’t get that experience in a young wine so it was well worth the risk for the final reward.”


  13. When it comes to alcoholic beverages, I’m only concerned about one thing – dulling the senses- quckly, effectively and cheaply. I’ve read everywhere about the romantic relationship some people have with wine, and i’ve wondered about it. I enjoyed reading about your experience with the old bottle. I have to say, that you write about wine the way i’d write about going to an old used books store and hitting a jackpot with a cheap paperback on offer. Hopefully your blog will educate me more about wines.


  14. Yet a bottle of 1969 Redmans Claret (distributed by Rhinecastle Wines ) converted a non drinking cousin of mine into a life long passion with wine. Max Lake was quoted as saying that a gamble on an aged wine is more fun than buying a Lotto ticket. I agree totally!


Please let us know your thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s