There's a list for everything these days, including things to do before one shuffles off one's mortal coil. Some of these I find more engaging than others. The Pyramids are one thing, but I have often wondered, in the case of 'see Naples and die', what they might put on your death certificate. The arrival of the Grim Reaper has a way of making whatever one has missed along the way wholly irrelevant, so it's far more important in my view to catch things before they die. I have been lucky enough to enjoy two of these. One was the Vasari corridor in Florence, a fantastic gallery extending over the Arno atop the Ponte Vecchio, lined with self-portraits of just about every artist of note, and now closed. The other was Concorde.
Some years ago, to cheer ourselves up after an annus horribilis, we threw caution to the winds and flew supersonic to the Caribbean. That it culminated in a four-hour wait in Barbados for a connecting flight by crop-sprayer to our destination was neither here nor there. It was an unforgettable experience, the hideous cost of which we have lived never to regret, especially now that the beautiful bird has vanished forever from our skies. The memory of being the envy of friends and colleagues, lording it in the VIP lounge at Heathrow, hitting the speed of sound and arriving in Bridgetown before we had left London will stay with me forever. As will another, less happy memory of what I now think of as the most expensive wine I have ever had. It was a grand cru Chablis from a splendid grower and a fine vintage. It was complimentary, as were the Krug and Pichon 1986 served before and after it. And it was hopelessly, horribly corked.
It is a fact of life that wine can be corked at Mach 2 or at a standstill, at home in the garden, or in a high-toned restaurant. It is also a fact that complaint-handling is a measure of a company's mettle. It's certainly something we take very seriously at The Society. However, when the offending glass, which reeked of the unmistakeable bouquet of trichloranisole (TCA) the pungent compound which signals the reaction between chlorine-based bleach and a mouldy cork, was proffered, in a friendly way to the flight attendant, her response was that nobody else had complained. We suggested she might like to sniff the wine herself, which she declined to do protesting a bunged-up nose. It took some effort to persuade her that the correct response was a fresh bottle. Some time later, on hearing this tale, a trade colleague, one of the airline's contracted wine suppliers, urged me to share it with the World's Favourite Airline. Ten years on, I'm still awaiting, shall we say, closure on that one.
Thanks to better husbandry, technical improvements in cork production methods and, of course, the advent of synthetic closures, corky bottles are a relatively rare occurrence these days. Our tasting-room average is in the region of one infected cork in twenty-five pulled, and I include here wines showing a very slight degree of cork taint as well as the truly foul-smelling and undrinkable. Of the relatively few 'corky' bottles reported and returned to us by members, even fewer are actually affected by TCA. Other factors – oxidation, for example, which is caused by prolonged exposure to air – can just as easily ruin a bottle of wine. Nevertheless, we would much prefer to hear about any problem, however described, than to think of our members drinking their way manfully through a bottle that doesn't seem right.
So please don't ever put up with faulty wine, whether it is corked, Sherry-like (assuming it is not Sherry), in the throes of a secondary fermentation (assuming it's not Champagne) or in any other way not as it should be. Responsible merchants or sommeliers will take your comments seriously; if they won't, they are not worthy of your patronage and the same applies to airlines.
We flew back subsonic, without incident. Or, it must be said, quite as much excitement. But at least the wine was drinkable.
Janet Wynne Evans
Specialist wine manager
Should you ever be disappointed with a bottle purchased from The Society, we would like to hear about it. Feedback from members helps us to monitor the quality of our stocks, pinpoint potential problems and ensure satisfaction all round. Please share any concerns with our Member Services team on 01438 741177. There is more information on our website on how to spot common wine faults here