Snooth Blog

Snooth User: Philip James

One in One Hundred

Posted by Philip James, Apr 25, 2007.

I've long held Bounty Hunter Wines in high regard. They are a Napa based wine store who excel in supplying high end Californian wines. They produce an excellent catalog, and they evoke a mystique about their craft. I feel like an explorer just by reading it.

When I suddenly found myself driving past their store/winebar on Friday night (it had slipped my mind that they were based in Napa) I felt like I'd found home. The place was fantastic - a casual, saloon style bar; I could smell the barbecue from outside the door. Tens of wines by the glass, and best of all tasting flights.

Now, before i go any further, let me say: I still do hold the company in high regard, and most of the wines I tried were great and the food was excellent. However...

The staff at Bounty Hunter served me two corked wines in a row. Bad enough, but then the waiter refused to believe that they were in fact corked. His disdainful response was that I was in fact mistaking Oak for the wet cardboard smell I complained about! (coincidentally both were bottled under Bounty Hunter's own label (Pursuit)).

I work in the wine industry and have a nose for corked wines. I don't just mean off-smelling barnyard style wines, or wines contaminated with any of the tens of other chemicals that can make a wine pong, but a wine that's tainted with TCA. Trust me, after tasting thousands of wines a year, if it smells of wet cardboard and over the space of an hour turns undrinkable I know it's corked.

I don't want this to sully any potential relationship with Bounty Hunter, and we'd love to feature their wines at Snooth, and I most certainly would recommend to anyone that they stop in there on a visit to Napa.

The message I want to convey here, however, is that I see the kind of pretension that the waiter showed me, that night, in the wine industry far too often and it needs to change. The typical wine drinker might detect that the wine was off, and be too timid to say anything, or worse, be shot down if they dared.

P.S. Why the title? Somewhere between 5 and 15% of wines are corked. Lets take the average: 10%. That makes the chance of getting two wines in a row that are corked 1 in 100.

If you are looking for advice on how to save a corked wine, refer to my earlier post on saving a wine that’s corked.


Blog comment by betsey, Apr 25, 2007.

I can attest to the fact that Philip has always been a big fan of Bounty Hunter and looked to them as a model company, so it is unfortunate that he had this experience while visiting their winebar, given that the odds of it happening were 1 in 100!

Reply by Sung, Apr 25, 2007.

Great post! I've encountered numerous situations where I found the wine undrinkable at a restaurant or bar but felt it was rude of me to bring it up. I felt as if I were at the mercy of the bartender who might notice that I wasn't drinking my wine, which happened on a couple of occasions, but definitely not the norm.

Blog comment by Denis, Apr 25, 2007.

I share 100% of Philipp's opinion as I already experienced the same. Not in the USA but in Spain last summer.
Unfortunately, some staff memebers sometimes don't have the right reaction...
Let's not be shy to ask the management of the restaurant (if this restaurant claims to be qualified to serve wine) to admit that the wine is corked, when it is !
Another good reason to use either synthetric corks (Altec for instance) or screwcaps (for most of the whites and roses, some light, easy and young reds).

Blog comment by RA Kacz, Apr 25, 2007.

Unfortunately what seems to have happened in this case is a situation in which the server has not been trained in proper customer service. Corked wine exists and for a server in any establishment to argue with you or tell you your wrong because of the reason you have given to send something back is simply not acceptable. One should not need to explain. As a customer we have rights and we should expect the server/vendor to honor same.. This is a great way to loose business and unfortunately for the rest of the wine industy this type of uneducated snobbery only adds to the inaccessability of wine enjoyment to the masses.

Blog comment by Rodolphe, Apr 25, 2007.

A sharply dressed young man goes out to a restaurant with an attractive young woman. He orders a bottle a bottle of wine. When it arrives, he sends it back brusquely. The restaurant owner returns with a second bottle of the same wine. The young man proceeds to refuse this bottle as well. The restaurant owner returns again with a new bottle. This time the young man winks at his female companion and triumphantly accepts the wine with a snide comment like "Ahhh, that's better." The restaurant owner responds that the third bottle is actually the first bottle again!

What's my point? Well, until both ends of the wine server-wine drinker dynamic start to take quality control more serously, millions of poeople are going to stay turned off of wine. Bad bottles are an enormous problem and have nothing to do with machismo (the young man showing off for his date) or "mistaking oak tastes for wet cardboard" (Philip's experience), these unpleasant experiences will continue. Although, many wine faults have been corrected by new winery equipment and technology, I still regularly receive corked or oxidized (too old) wines in bars and restaurants. Some cynics even think that cork taint is on the rise as the cork industry struggles to stay competitive with other closure technologies...

I would have hoped that a forward-thinking, discover-great-new-wines company like Bounty Hunter would have (a) someone checking the bottles before serving them, (b) a more friendly and less wine-snobbish staff, and (c) trained the staff on what TCA actually tastes like! Until the wine industry settles on a new closure to replace the venerable cork, this problem isn't going to go away. Bravo, Philip for standing your ground in Napa and telling us all about it.

PS - If you don't know what TCA or "cork taint" tastes like you should have a friend at a bar or restaurant save a corked bottle for you. Since the fault only gets worse once the bottle is opened, you should have no problem identifying it. You used to be able to purchase vials of TCA on the internet for educational purchases... but I couldn't find any sites still selling them.

Reply by Philip James, Apr 25, 2007.

Some great comments, thank you all for the input. I think its worth pointing out that Denis is the President of Baron Francois, a wine importer based in New York. If anyone is qualified to determine if a bottle is corked it is him.

Blog comment by Oliver, Apr 25, 2007.

I think it's perfectly legitimate for Philip to point this type of pretension out. The worst offenders are wine bars and restaurants at the highest end of the price scale which is a shame because the customer is already intimidated when it comes to ordering wines at these establishments so to get poor service and have someone doubt one's opinion on a wine is doubly humiliating. Possibly lack of education on their part, possibly the fact that the wines they are serving tend to be expensive so they don't like to take them back. Either way, totally unacceptable. My view is that any server worth their salt at a high-end establishment should nose a bottle of wine properly before serving it to clients to make sure it is not tainted. That saves everyone from potentially awkward situations.

Reply by winehiker, Apr 30, 2007.

I, too, had a similar experience at Bounty Hunter on a summer afternoon in 2005. I had sent back two bottles. I didn't think the wines were corked, but the taste of soap was sharply present. The waitperson, however, was responsive to my group's needs and the manager was sincerely concerned when I suggested he examine his glass-washing methodology. We actually ended up having a rather nice experience; we received new glasses, and the third bottle tasted just fine.

Blog comment by Barrld, May 3, 2007.

Couple of points; there is no doubt in my mind that Phillip's wines were corked, and that he's tasted 100 times more wines than the waiter. That's just rude and ignorant treatment of customers. Second, I think Bounty Hunter is a premium plus operations, few of its wines are really finds and the prices are well outside the spectrum of reasonable retail. It's certainly fine with me if people are so uneducated that they think Bounty Hunter is offering deals or rare gems but I personally find it all about hype and marketing. Third, on winehiker's experience, I always smell the glass before accepting a pour, just in case it's soapy or foul smelling. Yes I know it's goofy. Phillip you didn't tell us how this played out at the restaurant.

Reply by Philip James, May 4, 2007.

Barrld - Welcome to the blog. Sadly, not that much happened. I complained about the first wine (it was a just a glass full - part of a flight). The staff didn't believe me, so I left it on the table and smelled it before I left to confirm that the TCA had grown more pronounced. The second wine was a bottle that I took home, by the time I opened it that night it was too late to complain.

Thats partly why I wrote the post - I wanted to make it clear that this also happens to professionals in the industry.

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