Are we ever sure or confident enough with our wine knowledge to say
‘Excuse me sir, this wine is corked’. It happens time and time again in restaurants in Ireland. Wine is ordered, we sample it with a swirl of the glass, take a quick sniff (we don’t want to seem to confidant), sip and say with a nod and a smile ‘Ya, that’s fine, pour away’. Even when wine tastes like old socks, we often tend to believe it’s our poor choice of wine – the Bordeaux for €10 more would have been better.Well, all wines on a wine list should be palatable and taste good, no matter what the price. So if your wine doesn’t taste good, it is more than likely corked.
Now, the truth is, many of us, including wait staff and retail staff, do not know what ‘Corked Wine’ means. As most of us know, it’s not the crumbly bits floating on the top of your wine glass. Let’s understand the actual true meaning – a corked wine means that an invisible mould, that exists in the bark of old trees, sometimes, ends up in the pores of produced wine corks. When this mould combines with traces of bleach used to sanitize the wine corks, a reaction called TCA (tri-chloro-anisole) occurs. These damaged corks are then stuffed into wine bottles by bottlers, who are unaware of their existence. The cork inevitably becomes in contact with the wine, moistens and begins to taint the wine. The result is a bad tasting wine that often exudes very recognisable aromas of wet carpet or Hessian sacks. However, in most cases, corked wine smells flat and displays ‘musty’ flavours that can often be difficult to detect by the untrained palate. The wine colour may be off – the white wine more yellow than usual or your favourite red more brown.
Now, although this unpleasant tasting wine ain’t going to kill ya, it is currently a high profile worldwide debate among wine experts. It is said that one in fifty bottles of wine produced each year is corked. This is an outstanding statistic considering 26 billion corks go into wine bottles each year (1.4 billion spoilt wines) How many do we drink? Corks are mainly produced in Portugal from old oak tree bark and cost anywhere from 7 to 40 cents (depending on the quality). The wine experts, mostly from New World wine production countries, are blaming this traditional Portuguese cottage industry for the growing problem and point out that cork substitutes will have to start being produced.
Synthetic corks are now being used by some wine companies but are often difficult to extract from bottles. And we are all aware of the controversial screw cap, aka The ‘Stelvin Closure’ which is still slow to be accepted by wine lovers despite its tried and tested success to date.
For now, the ‘corked wine’ situation is out of our hands. So the best advice is to take your time when tasting wine. Do smell, do examine and do give the wine some time on your palate. If it doesn’t taste right to you, send it back. If it is a wine you are familiar with, it should be easy to detect a bad bottle. Wait staff should be fully trained to recognize your complaint and deal with it. When ordering a second bottle of wine with your meal, insist on tasting it again. Often, wait staff tend to top up half glasses second time round – it may be corked! Wines by the glass, same story, send it back if you think it doesn’t taste right.
And whether you purchase a bottle from a supermarket, petrol station or specialty wine shop to enjoy at home, if you open your wine and it tastes bad, no matter what you have paid for it, pour the glass back into the bottle and return it for an exchange.
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For more information on how to taste wine and all other interesting wine facts & information, visit http://www.wineboard.ie/
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