The Uncorked Dork: This Wine Taint Quite Right
GOOD food calls for good wine. But good doesn’t have to be expensive or pretentious. That’s the philosophy of edible Tampa Bay’s very own wine expert, the Uncorked Dork, who serves up irreverent wine know-how for folks who like wine, but don’t want to be so serious about it.
You open a brand new bottle of wine, ready to enjoy it with friends, but the moment the liquid hits the glass you detect a hint of something musty. You’re at a restaurant and the waiter pours you a bit of wine to taste and something is obviously a bit off. You don’t have to be a connoisseur to detect cork taint: It just plain stinks. Think wet dog, soggy cardboard, a musty basement. Not exactly the aroma you want wafting from your pinot noir.
So, what to do?
Well, while it can smell pretty pungent – and can therefore affect the taste and your overall enjoyment of the wine – let me start off by saying that corked wine is totally harmless to humans. The smell is caused primarily by a chemical compound abbreviated as TCA (I’ll spare you the alphabet soup of the full name) that has entered the wine at levels that are detectable. And this is powerful stuff – most folks can smell it at less than 10 parts per trillion. Think about that … this makes the dirty baby diaper you shoved into the seat pocket of your car last weekend smell like rose water!
Anyway, contrary to what the name implies, corked wine is not always solely from a problem with the cork (it’s also not a term for when someone can’t use a corkscrew and you end up with pieces of cork floating around in your glass). While contaminated cork is often the culprit, sometimes the cork has simply been a conduit, bringing the TCA in from outside the bottle during the aging process.
That’s one reason a waiter will give you the cork when presenting a bottle of wine. Many people sniff it, which basically tells you – wait for it – what a cork soaked in wine smells like. So quit sniffing.
Instead, examine the cork for any edge-to edge-imperfections, which is typically indicative of a storage issue, and, whether that introduced cork taint or simple air that could have affected the natural preservation of the wine, it’s a sign that the wine may not be good.
It’s important to note that while some people are under the impression that cork taint only happens in cheap wine, this simply “taint” the case (ha! I kill me). Wine taint is totally indiscriminate, and will take any and all comers, from your cheapest convenience store selections to the portfolios of your finest restaurants. In fact, about five bottles in 100 contain some level of TCA – and though the amount may be so small as to be undetectable, it can still affect the aroma and flavor of the wine.
With this in mind, cork taint is one of the many reasons that screw tops are becoming more and more prevalent in the wine industry. From the industry perspective, most would like to switch. But don’t expect a full transition any time soon – customers enjoy the aesthetic and the history behind the cork.
That means that cork taint is here to stay and you’re likely to experience it at least a few times as a wine drinker. So do me a favor. Don’t be that guy who sniffs the wine, makes a horrible face, then passes the glass around the table for others to do the same. If it doesn’t smell right, just politely ask your waiter for another bottle.