Tuesday, February 12, 2008

How do you know when your wine is corked?

A good question and one that I can't answer. Actually that's not entirely true. I can tell you the symptoms of a corked wine - the "telltale" wet basement, moldy, dirty sock smell that everyone writes about to describe wine gone "bad." I can even tell you that TCA (2,4,6-Trichloroanisole) is the the culprit that is corrupting your bad bottle of wine. TCA, which can be passed to the wine from the cork or the barrel, can also show up in water and tea. There are various estimates about the percentage of wine that is actually corked. Those in the cork producing industry have produced numbers as low as 1.7% of all bottles, while other wine experts say the percentage can range anywhere from 5-10%. There's obviously no clear answer here, but because I'm a "worst case scenario" type of person, let's say that potentially 1 in 10 bottles actually contains the dreaded TCA.
So how many bottles of wine have you consumed in your life? Or in the past year. Can you imagine that potentially 1 in 10 bottles of wine that you have ever consumed have actually been corked? If you are like me, you have probably not sent many (or even any) wines back at a restaurant. And if you are as frugal as I am, you probably haven't dumped much down the kitchen sink either.
There have been many times when I have suspected the presence of the TCA culprit. The wine has had an odd odor. "I smell our redwood deck after the rain." "I smell chlorine and wet concrete." I would qualify both of these odors as falling into the "damp and musty" category. But then I sniff and sniff and convince myself that these slightly off qualities actually add to the complexity of wine. Perhaps my desire for the wine to be good actually changes what I taste in the wine. Perhaps this phenomenon qualifies as a self-fulfilling prophecy - I paid for this wine, it must be good. Or, this wine was given to me as a gift, it MUST be good. And therefore mold becomes "earth," wet basement becomes "slate" and dirty socks become "brett."
I do look forward to the day that I can proudly declare, "this wine is corked!" But until I can, I guess I'll just be thankful for those other 9 bottles.

Tasting Notes:
Unbeknownst to us, Joe Bastianich was seated at the bar in front of our table at Babbo. His wine, Bastianich Vespa Bianco, a blend of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Picolit, was paired with Mario Batali's Lamb's Brain Francobolli (postage stamp shaped ravioli). The wine was rich and creamy. It had a delicious butterscotch finish. It was clearly NOT corked. The wine was complemented by the sage brown butter sauce that flavored the delicate pasta.


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