After last week’s post on where corks come from, Jan wrote in to ask what it means when someone says the wine is corked. Here’s a brief explanation:
I should add that cork taint is an equal opportunity problem and can afflict everything from two-buck Chuck to Chateau Sticker Shock!
Jan’s question leads us to another one: What kind of seal will be the most common 25 years from now? Anyone want to place a bet?
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Question from Mike: What am I supposed to do when the wine comes at a restaurant? I’m okay ordering it but I get really embarrassed when the waiter gives me the cork and all that.
Reply: Hi, Mike. I’ll be a lot of people will be really glad you wrote to ask. It can be a little intimidating.
The most important thing to remember is that you’re the customer and the server really wants you to be happy so don’t worry about any potential faux pas. Here’s how it goes:
The server brings the wine to the person who ordered it and shows it to him/her. Go ahead and check the label to double check that you got what you ordered.
The most common mistake is that the wrong vintage comes to the table. If so, you might ask your server if there’s a significant difference between the vintages. For myself, if the wine is from California or some other warm climate situation, I don’t worry too much about the vintage. If it’s European, the vintage can play a bigger role. Ask the server. If the restaurant’s any good at all, he’ll probably offer you a taste. If you do a lot of dining out you might download a vintage chart. Here’s one from Robert Parker. And one from Wine Spectator. Continue reading
Question from Bill: Hi! What is corked wine?
Reply: Hi, Bill. Thanks for writing! With the popularity of plastic corks and screw caps you might well think that when someone says “This wine is corked” it means that it has a real cork in it! But, no…
When the wine is “corked” it means that it’s got a dank, moldy aroma like a stack of wet newspapers or a damp basement. Yuck! Fortunately, it’s not harmful. Unfortunately, it stinks! At low levels it dulls the fruit character. At high levels it’s extremely offensive! And, human detection is measured in the parts per trillion – this is potent stuff! If you hear a reference to “cork taint”, its the same thing.
There are other sources, but the most common reason for this off character is a compound called 2,4,6 tricholoranisole (TCA for short). We now know that TCA can come from other wooden surfaces (natural cork is bark of the cork-oak tree) like a barrel or a picking box. Wineries have been known to remodel if they have any wooden surfaces in the actual production area because if you get the right naturally-occurring airborne fungi together with chlorine (very common in wineries; in the past they used chlorine to purify natural cork, but that’s been replaced by hydrogen peroxide) it’s a nice recipe for producing TCA. Continue reading