Wine Talk

Snooth User: rondemarse

Bottle Damage - need some expert advice

Posted by rondemarse, Jun 8, 2015.

I'm a long-time lurker (and appreciator) of this forum, but this is my first post.  Thanks, in advance, for your help, and for all of the other good advice I've found here in the past.

I got a fantastic deal on a 1995 bottle from what I believed (and still believe, I hope) to be a reputable online seller.  Here are the photos that accompanied the listing:

Listing - Bottle

Listing - Label

Listing - Capsule

The wine arrived, along with five other bottles, this morning.  The other five bottles were flawless, but my prized 1995 didn't match the photos:

Actual - Bottle

Actual - Label

Actual - Capsule

The stain at the top of the label was definitely caused by wine form this bottle, correct?  Here's a closer look at the label damage, and also a trail of residue that seems to lead from the capsule to the label.  Also, the cork seems to be a little sunken.

So here are my big questions for you.  I apologize for what may be some dumb questions.  Despite lurking here for a long time, I'm still no expert.

1) Is it possible that this is the same bottle from the listing?  Could this damage have occurred during last week's (well-packaged and insulated) FedEx shipment?  How likely, would you say?  Or is it a switched bottle?  This particular retailer has sold five bottles of this vintage in the last month.

2) What does this tell me about the wine in the bottle?  Is it possible that the wine is still okay?  Likely?  If so, should it be opened now, or is it possibly still safe to hold onto for awhile?

3) I intended to use this bottle as a gift for a friend.  That's out of the question now, in this condition, right?  (Again, my wine etiquette is still developing.)

4) What would you do in this situation, bearing in mind that I got this bottle for half of its value?  Try to return it?  Still gift it?  Keep it for myself?  If I keep it, should I open it this week?  If I open it and find it tainted, do I have any further recourse?

I'm really eager to hear your thoughts and advice.

Thanks so much, in advance!

[I hope it's okay that I'm posting this question to another wine forum that I frequent.  Again - not sure of the proper etiquette.]


Reply by EMark, Jun 8, 2015.

Wow, a tough one, Ron.

I have no experience with any instance like this, but my knee-jerk reation would be to contact the vendor, show them your pictures, and ask for an exchange or refund.  I doubt that you will be made whole, but you might get something.  Sadly, that something might be a token partial credit to be applied to future purchases, which would not be my ideal settlement at all.

If you end up keeping possession of the bottle, what to do?  My first thought is that I wouldn't gift it to my wine-loving friend.  I'd start shopping for a new gift fo him.  Now, I might invite him over and share it and the story with him.  I don't think that a leaky capsule, and I am of the opinion that you have one, necessarily means the wine is bad.  On the other hand I certainly would open it sooner rather than later, and I would have a backup ready if it is, in fact, NG.

In the meantime, welcome to the Snooth Forum.  Please continue to join in.  Also, I wish I had more friends as generous as you.  :-)

Reply by dmcker, Jun 8, 2015.

Not likely the bottle was damaged to that extent during the FedEx shipment, though it's not impossible. Were the other bottles perfectly clean? Was the label on the problem bottle still damp? From where to where was the shipment made during what kind of weather? That type of spillage could result from pressurization changes (such as in an airplane) as well as from a heat spike.

I'd definitely contact the vendor and give them a chance to make good. If they have a stock of the '95 Tognis (should be great drinking if in good condition), the damaged one might best be replaced by same. Don't want to automatically think of this as a bait and switch operation. Some glitch in the supply chain, most likely, and you'll find out just how good a vendor by their response to your customer service complaint.

Please do keep us posted on how this evolves. And there's no problem with posting vendor names here. This kind of information helps protect us as consumers, and the vendors improve their service.

Reply by rondemarse, Jun 8, 2015.

Thanks a lot, Mark!  I checked the styrofoam shipping container this afternoon, and it seems pretty clear that the leakage occurred during shipping (CA to KY).  Does the depressed cork, the pattern of leakage in the container and on the label, and the fact that this seems to have happened in the past few days tell you anything?  Heat damage?  Shaking/jostling?  A pre-existing problem?

I'm going to assume that the seller won't be interested in fixing this, but I'll reach out.  In the meantime, I guess I make plans for a nice meal this weekend to open it for.

Thanks again - I really appreciate the response!


Reply by EMark, Jun 8, 2015.

Ineresting, Ron.  I agree.  Your wine leaked en route.

I still feel there is no downside to your going back to the vendor and asking for some action.  I would assume that they insured it prior to sending.  Of course they don't want to go through the hassle of making a claim, but, the way I see it, this is a great opportunity for them to do right by you and make you a lifetime customer.

I reaaly don't know why the cork is depressed.  It seems to me that if the wine was heated, the internal pressure would push the cork out.  My best guess, and, believe me, this is a guess, is that the cork was inserted deeply into the bottle--I have seen that--and in the handling of the bottle, somebody pressed the foil and pushed it in.  

Could the heat have increased the internal pressure and pushed the liquid out through "nooks and crannies" (sounds like an English muffin) of the cork?  I don't know, but maybe.  The only other test that I can think of is to pull off the capsule and inspect the cork.  I wouldn't do that, though, until after I had fully pursued the issue with the vendor.

I don't want to criticize you, but you might take one lesson from this experience.  I am not crazy about the fact that your package was picked up in Carson, CA on a Tuesday and delivered to you on the following Monday--apparently, sitting on a FedEx truck Saturday and Sunday.  When ordering wines to by shipped, try to avoid having it sit in a truck or a terminal over the weekend.  Give serious thought to upgrading the delivery service to 2- or 3-day delivery.  Then time your order so that you know it will be shipped on a Monday.  I'm finding that more and more wineries in California do all their shipping on Mondays, but I suspect that many online vendors ship as quickly as they can.  So, if an order comes in on Tuesday, it goes out on Wednesday.  It's a pain for you, and upgrading the shipping will increase your cost, but, considering how much you paid for your wines, I think it is worthwhile to make these consderations.

Reply by GregT, Jun 8, 2015.


It's possible that the cork was less than ideal and the seller didn't know, particularly if the wine was undisturbed for some time, or upright. When the bottle was thrown around during shipping and handling, and perhaps even shipped upside down for a while, that might have been the catalyst or it might have simply allowed wine to flow that was already in the capsule.

When the wine leaked out and when it flowed down from the capsule may be two different events.

I guess it doesn't matter in the end though. It's hard to tell from the pics but if the capsule actually leaked the wine, no matter when, the seller owes you a bottle.

Reply by rondemarse, Jun 8, 2015.

Thanks a lot, guys.  The consensus I'm seeing from this site - as well as over on - is that the leakage happened in transit, but that it was likely due to jostling/shaking (and possibly a brittle cork) - but not from heat.  The indented cork seems to indicate this, right? (Thanks for your insight on both forums, Greg)

The vendor - TKWine of Torrance, CA - has been great. In fact, they just offered a full refund. But I'm a little torn.
1) If this was caused by a faulty cork, it's perfectly reasonable to expect them to replace the bottle, right? And there's a fair likelihood that the wine will be spoiled, correct?
2) But if this was caused by shaking/jostling in transit, it's not really their fault. And they won't be able to re-sell the bottle, will they? I was hoping to gift this wine, but if we think it's probably okay, I could just "gift" it to myself this weekend. Maybe work out a token discount with them? So everyone's happy (enough) and they don't have to lose a $150 bottle.

Maybe I'm overthinking this. I haven't bought many bottles in this price range, so I'm not sure what's reasonable, or what etiquette dictates.

Thanks again,

Reply by dvogler, Jun 9, 2015.

Ron, take the refund.  The photo they put on the site obviously wasn't your bottle.  I've purchased through WineBid (some on here dislike them), but at least they put photos of the actual bottle and describe in great detail all possible flaws, including nicks on the label and you can zoom in on the photos.


Reply by dmcker, Jun 9, 2015.

Ron, the merchant owes you a new bottle of the same wine (or equivalent refund in some acceptable form of cash). Period. It was their responsibility to get the bottle to you in good shape, including during the shipper's portion of its travel to you. Take the refund, and apply it towards the same Togni if you care to (I would). Doubt they'll ask for the damaged bottle back--so gift it to yourself, too. And you might want to question future wineshippers about their shipping vendor. FedEx left the bottles in the truck over a June weekend???

Anyway, these are the costs of doing business for the wine merchant, and their responsibility to the end user/recipient/consumer (you). Not a question of 'etiquette' but of standard business practices.

Reply by outthere, Jun 9, 2015.

It's not FedEx fault, the box was sent ground. It's all on the retailer. Most wine retailers are in weather hold right now so I am surprised they sent it. They'll make you whole though.

Reply by EMark, Jun 9, 2015.

I agree with OT, that FedEx is not to blame.  Their performance met the service level requirements of their customer--the shipper. 

On Last Bottle, last week, I happened to read a notice that they would be offering "refrigerated" shipping during the summer months.  I would imagine that other on-line vendors will be offering that option.

Ron, I would take the refund.  If they let me keep the bottle, I would make sure that I placed future orders from this vendor.  From the response that you reported, they appear to be a responsible vendor.  I would support that ethic.  If they want you to return the bottle, I see that as no big deal.  I would probably still try to do business with them in the future.

Reply by dmcker, Jun 9, 2015.

Come on, guys, stop making excuses for a supply chain with hiccups. It *is* *also* FedEx's 'fault', though not on the delivery person level. Their planning and practices units back at headquarters need to set specs in such ways that semi-perishables like wine are not left in a truck for days during the summer. Period. FedEx has always had a number of issues, but they've often also been good at overcoming them when they needed to.

Oh, and whether 'ground' or not, those bottles flew over to Kentucky. Pressurization issues may be the cause of the leak.

Of course, ultimate responsibility for the quality of delivered product is with the merchant, since they are the ones who chose FedEx for fulfillment, and are the face of the whole transaction (not Togni, not FedEx) to the purchaser. Not sure how insurance was specified in the contract but whether or not there was an option to the purchaser the merchant still needs to supply good-condition product to the customer at their doorstep when they're doing online like this (not brick-and-mortar store sales).

If I were the merchant I'd be making FedEx's ears red right now. And if I were purchasing online in the States right now I'd be very clear about when and how I'd accept deliveries during the summer and would want to know the particulars of the merchant's delivery mechanism ahead of time. Those are the lessons to be learned from this case study here in this thread.

So Ron, take that refund as your due, with no qualms whatsoever. And I'd really be surprised if the merchant asks for the bottle back. Let us know if they do. Unnecessary extra cost on their side for a bottle of very limited value at this stage.

Reply by napagirl68, Jun 9, 2015.

I agree with most on here.  Personally, I would:

a)  take the refund,   or

b)  take an exchange if offered and you are interested, WITH some conditions- overnight or 2day shipping method, FREE OF CHARGE for your inconvenience, and make sure the vendor does a thorough visual check of the replacement bottle. 

Customer service does still exist today, and I make sure to give those folks my business again and again.  The rest are dead to me.


Reply by outthere, Jun 9, 2015.

Sorry DMCKER. I'll bet the farm that the box was not labeled perishable. It's all on the seller to make sure the product is shipped in a safe manner. Across country Ground in June is not acceptable. Unless of course the buyer Ok'd it. FedEx offers refrigerated ground as EMark mentioned earlier but it comes at a cost. Shipping on Tuesday is marginal and shipping Ground rather than Home Delivery caused it to sit over the weekend. They are professionals, they should know better.

Reply by GregT, Jun 10, 2015.

I agree. There are delivery services for wine that move thousands of cases while keeping the wine cold. And many shippers specify on their websites that they aren't shipping until the weather is better. The shipper has to specify what he wants. Fed Ex doesn't have to think for him.

If the shipper wants to send butter by ground and doesn't request and pay for cooling, it's not the fault of Fed Ex if the butter melts.

Reply by rondemarse, Jun 10, 2015.

I assume the vendor saw the same relatively-cool forecast for the week that I did, and assumed it wouldn't take 7 days to deliver.  For the record, the box declared the product "Fragile" and "Alcohol", but not perishable.  If there were better delivery options that the vendor ignored (failed to offer, at least), I can't blame FedEx for the shipping method.


Going back to my second message (up above), the FedEx status updates are agonizing to look at.  Who knows how accurate those are, but they seem to say that the box went on the truck on Saturday morning at 5:30am and just sat there, inexplicably, for the 51 hottest hours of the entire week.  If that's true - and maybe it's not - I can't give FedEx a complete pass.


Anyway - my bigger issue now is: What do I do with the other five bottles from that shipment?  I was hoping to cellar most of them, but if you think that heat caused the damage to the Togni, that same heat was bearing down on the other five, right?  Even though there's no sign of damage (no protruding corks, no leakage), should I make it a point to drink all of them soon?  Is heat-damaged wine better in the short term?  Is it risky to try to cellar it?

Thanks again!

Reply by GregT, Jun 10, 2015.

I wouldn't sweat too much. Were they in ideal circumstances?


Are they dead? Probably not but you never know till you drink them.

Also, you don't know that Fed Ex left the packages on the trucks. Some people will confidently say that you should drink them soon because the damage won't show for a while. I don't know of the science supporting that assertion. that's not to say it's impossible, but I'd like to understand the chemistry a bit.

Otherwise remember that you have no idea what happened to any bottle of wine from the time it left the winery until you got it. Wine sits on loading docks, in trucks, on ships, on sidewalks, and you have no idea whether it was  a January day in Boston or a July day in Florida.  Ideally you'd have great conditions all along the way but in reality you don't. If you're an importer, you don't want to do much importing in July and August and maybe even September. But you need to show the wines in September and even late August for the season ahead. So you bring the container in. They're sent to distributors and retailers and then to  customers who baby them more than they've ever been babied before.

Reply by EMark, Jun 10, 2015.

Ron, I am getting sucked deeper and deeper into your quandary.  I had not really considered any decision you may have regarding the 5 bottles that do not show damage.  I am curious, are they five different botles?  If you purchased multiples, I would certainly open up one soon and check it out.  Then you can make a decision whether or not you want to cellar the others.  Keep in mind that even if the ambient temperature hits 80, that does not mean that the wine itself hit eighty.  Those styro packing sleeves provide a good amount of thermal insullation.  It's going to take a while before the air temp within hits 80.  Then the glass bottle is going to provide additional insulation.  The more I think of it, the less concerned I am about heat.

Please keep us updated on your actions and your findings.  I am finding this to be very interesting.

Again, I'm going to continue to defend FedEx a bit.  They offer multiple levels of service:

  • Ground
  • 3-day
  • 2-day
  • Overnight with 10:00 am delivery on weekdays
  • Overnight with Saturday delivery

I'm pretty sure that the first three options do not include Saturday delivery  I may be wrong, or there may be an option to specify it for an additional charge.

Obviously, as you go down the list the price goes up.  I am coming to the opinion that the default choice of a high-end wine purveyor should not be the cheapest.

I order a fair amount of wine for delivery.  When completing an on-line order form I usually blow by the "Shipping Options" box and take the default setting as often as not.  I know this is my negligence and should be addressed.  Last month I ordered some wines from a Sonoma County winery.  A week later I received an e-mail from them to the effect,

Hey, Mark, on your order you specified overnight air shipment.  It's an overnight road trip from up here down to your house in Southern California.  So, we're going to ship it by truck and post a credit to your credit card number.

Cool.  Once again, I completely ignored that "Shipping Options" field.  Rest assured, with attentive customer service like that, I will be happy to place more orders with them.  (If anybody cares, the winery was Limerick Lane.)

Now, the fact that their default shipping service level is "Overnight Air" is good for east coast buyers.  If they do look at the shipping price, and decide that it is too much, then they can pick another option.

Reply by outthere, Jun 10, 2015.

FedEx Ground - Monday-Friday delivery

FedEx Ground Home Delivery - Tuesday-Saturday delivery

The neighbor got Home Delivery Ron got ground. The package was loaded on the truck and the truck likely was parked inside the FedEx hub and not outside. They are not going to leave loaded trucks sitting outside where they can be broken into.

As for the other 5 bottles, pop one and check it out. If it's OK then don't worry. If it's cooked ask for a refund on the rest.

Reply by rondemarse, Jun 11, 2015.

Thanks again, guys.  You've been a huge help.

EMark> are they five different botles?

Nope.  I don't get too many opportunities to buy top-shelf wine, so I almost always opt for variety.  The other five are all different (though three are 2010 Gary Farrell pinot noirs, but from different vineyards).  I'll probably open one of those this weekend as the test.

OutThere> They are not going to leave loaded trucks sitting outside where they can be broken into.

Makes sense to me.  Also - I always assumed the "FedEx Ground Home Delivery" just meant Ground with a residential address.  I didn't realize it was a shipping option.  Good to know.

GregT> Otherwise remember that you have no idea what happened to any bottle of wine from the time it left the winery until you got it.

Excellent point.  In this case, though, if the Togni can give me any clues about the other bottles, it seems wise to take them.  Based on this discussion, I'm not completely convinced that the wine saw really excessive, damaging heat, so I'm sort of inclined to cellar them.  I also don't know the science behind heat damage and wine.  Any experience among the rest of you?  Is it true that heat-damaged wine is nearly identical to non-damaged wine in the short term, but that it falls apart over time?  Or does it immediately taint it?  If we think the wine may be damaged, and if damaged wine is better now than it will be in 5 or 10 years, I guess I should drink it soon.  But I'm not sure if any of that logic is sound.

I'm learning toward opening a bottle this weekend.  Anything I should be looking, sniffing or tasting for?

Thanks again!  You guys are the best.

Reply by EMark, Jun 11, 2015.

Ron, I'm not sure I can help.  I have experience with several wines that my brother-in-law has found at estate sales that I know were not stored properly.  From the faded lables I can pretty much guess that the stood in direct sunlight for years on window sills or kitchen counters.   My experience with these is that they are, pretty much, just sour--no fruit/berry flavors, no earthiness, no tannin, no sophistication, no subtlety.  In the spirit of making lemonade from your lemon, they do make perfectly fine vinegar substitutes for meat marinades.

Please keep us up to date on your experience.  I am finding this to be fascinating.

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