Though the story of any wine begins in the vineyard, each bottle travels a unique path. Some bottles nestled in the safety of the vigneron’s cave may only depart their cradle decades after production. Other bottles leave their nursery for placement on the global wine market. Traveling solo or as packs, changing from commercial to a private cellar, and every hand which touches it along the way – the journey of a bottle from production to procurement is part of a wine’s story.
This final leg of the journey warrants a close look. For years, possibly decades, the path of this coveted bottle has slowly wound its way to you. Freshly released or safely stored, the journey will leave a mark on each bottle. The impacts range from superficial to chemically profound. And well educated and trained wine professionals have a system to catalog visible signs of a bottle’s journey – and we use those visible clues to infer the overall impact of that journey on the wine itself.
For those wines where the journey is mysterious – signs of wine seeping from inside the bottle, a raised or depressed cork, or unhealthy color – the risk requires us to return those bottles.
Our team diligently works to ensure that Benchmark wines enjoyed a safe journey through time and across the globe. And wines with cosmetic conditions – like label nicks – offer incredible value for the price among the super-premium wines of the world.
A couple of jet-lag style conditions are universal – and thankfully do not impact the quality of the wine.
Bottle-shock or bottle sickness refers to the out-of-sync state of freshly bottled younger wines or vigorously shaken older bottles. Plane rides and jostling result in muted flavors. The solution is simple – rest for a few days and decant.
Wine diamonds form on the wine-facing side of the cork or the bottom of the bottle. Generally more common in high acid wines, and are more noticeable in white wines than red. The completely benign tartrate crystals are the product of cold temperatures encouraging tartaric acid and potassium to combine and fall out of suspension.
Sediment’s place at the bottom of your wine bottle, along the side ridge of your decanter, and (if you’re daring) lightly lining the bowl of your glass indicates the physical stuff of age. The chemical processes responsible for this evidence of time passing warrant a separate novella – so let’s address the real concern: a swirling cloud of grit which can mar a prestigious and elegant glassful.
Travel and storage of wine carry specific cosmetic impacts, which indicate no change in the quality of a wine – only superficial alternations to the packaging.
Capsules sort into two dominant forms – wax or metal. The brittle and fragile nature of wax capsules exposes clumsy hands and transit more readily than metal. Metal capsules must be applied tightly and carry the potential to react with the atmosphere leading to corrosion. Both forms may suffer bumps and nicks. And – should vintage be challenging to discern or confirm – it is common practice in the secondary market to intentionally damage the capsule to reveal the cork in search of vintage date.
Labels- Wine professionals marvel at the fragility of this crucial element on a wine bottle. Items meant to protect the bottle, such as tissue, cellophane, and storage containers, damage the label. The high level of humidity necessary for long term wine storage alters its appearance and adherence. Other bottles, well-meaning winery owners, overly high fill levels, and hazards too numerous to name will stain, nick, scuff, wrinkle, and otherwise mar the delicate artistry and crucial information of a wine label.
Age carries unique implications for the presentation of a wine bottle. Ullage levels change over time as the wine ‘breathes,’ or loses liquid volume, through the natural cork. Thus the headspace in a bottle, with its atmosphere of alcohol, water vapor, and carbon dioxide, will slowly increase. These changes are predictable and reliable enough that deviations from the norm (say an abnormally high fill on very old bottles or unusually low fill on very young bottles) may indicate recorking, bottle tampering, or cork failure.
You’ll find conditioning notes on a portion of our wines. These cosmetic issues, such as label scuffs and capsule nicks, are benign indicators of the bottle’s journey. Ullage levels, sediment, and some color changes arrive like laugh lines and gray hair – expected and beautiful signs of maturity. Here at Benchmark Wine Group, we choose to embrace the beauty that lies within the bottle before judgments on the bottle’s exterior conditions.
Click here to browse a selection of our favorite bottles of wine, all who have collected some cosmetic character along the way to our cellar.
Established in 2002, Benchmark Wine Group is the leading source of fine and rare wine retailers, restaurants and collectors around the world. Based in Napa Valley, we acquire the most sought-after wines from private individuals and professional contacts, but only when provenance can be verified by our team of acquisition professionals. Our staff draws on decades of industry experience and is dedicated to providing exceptional service to all of our clients. Benchmarkwine.com offers 24-hour access to our cellar, displaying inventory in real-time.