Shipping delays cause frustration and added expense for wine importers. They can also spoil the wine.
One independent in north west England is convinced that some of the South American reds it’s been buying from UK agency businesses are madeirised. That’s an obvious sign of heat damage, and the suspicion has to be that pallets or containers have been sitting around in warm weather for longer than they should have been.
“We have experienced a number of bottles in bad condition for a while, seemingly caused by heat damage,” says Edward Speakman, director of Morgan Edwards in Knutsford, Cheshire.
“The wines cover a few different countries from two of our suppliers, who maintain that there isn’t a batch problem, which seems hard to believe.”
Speakman prefers not to publicly name the suppliers concerned, who he says have dealt with the problem swiftly and not quibbled over credit notes. But he’s interested to know how widespread the issue could be, and if other independents have noticed similar faults.
“We took a case of Chilean Pinot Noir to a tasting, and four of the six were madeirised,” he says. “Last week we had some Merlot from the same producer and there were another couple of really madeirised wines.”
Morgan Edwards also sources a South American Marselan from another UK supplier. “I think we’ve had 18 bottles of that one recently, and probably at least half are in a bad condition,” he says. “We just thought, this is too much of a coincidence.
“The Merlot has a madeirised smell. And it wasn’t clear anymore; it’s gone cloudy, with almost a strawberry colour. All the bottles have had a tannin film stuck to the glass.”
It’s interesting to Speakman that not all the wines in the same consignment suffer from similar issues. “It could just be the wines that are on the side of the pallet that’s in the sun,” he suggests. “So it’s restricted to a couple of bottles per case.”
One major supplier who we contacted – which does not work with Morgan Edwards – admitted that the problem exists.
“We’re looking into a couple of issues from South America which could be related to wines sitting too long in ports or warehouses,” a spokesman says, “although that’s only a couple out of 100 or more wines, so not too drastic.
“Generally we haven’t noticed a widespread problem, though, so hopefully these are just isolated incidents.
“Argentina seemed to be the biggest issue for us in terms of moving stock, so that would be the most likely casualty of any QC issues.”
Two South American specialists contacted by The Wine Merchant – again, unconnected to the wines being discussed by Morgan Edwards – say they have not experienced any issues with heat-damaged wines.
Lee Evans of Condor Wines says delays have not been a headache for some time. “Certainly we’ve not had any reports of any problems, and we ship a lot from South America,” he says.
“Yes, probably 12 months ago, things were taking longer than normal to arrive. But now, we don’t have anywhere near the same problems in terms of timing that we had five months ago.
“Last year, we were seeing some shipments taking five to six months. Now that’s getting back down to three to four months.”
Laurie Webster of Ucopia Fine Wines adds: “In all my years importing from Argentina, this has never been a thing. It’s certainly not a trend I am currently aware of.
“I think if it were due to shipping delays the wines in question must have been shipped last year when we experienced the worst delays ever – six to seven months from purchase order to receipt of goods in the UK port.
“If other importers have experienced delays like this over this winter – summer in South America – then it’s quite possible that wines would have been affected if they were sitting in port for a long time in a metal container.
“Fortunately our delays spanned the cooler months in the southern hemisphere and none of our wines are showing any issues of this kind.”
For Morgan Edwards, there is an unexpected silver lining to this particular cloud. “A lot of our customers tried the madeirised Marselan, and they loved it,” says Speakman.
“They said it tasted like port.”