Sometimes you just have to trust your instincts.
The moment when a wine is uncorked and you are asked to determine if it is fine or corked can be an intimidating one. Whether opening a prized bottle at home with friends or at a restaurant while the wine guy eyeballs your first sip.
Google “cork taint” and references of wet cardboard, musty, mouldy, wet hessian bag are what you’ll get told to look out for. I’m sure most of you have encountered a few of these wines that are very obviously full of the mouldy, wet hessian bag character. What if cork taint does not present itself so obviously? What if there are no apparent “corked” indicators?
Last weekend, I came across one such wine. Opened the highly regarded 2006 Craggy Range Sophia from Gimblett Gravels in New Zealand to share with some guests at home. Been in the cellar for a few years and I was really looking forward to seeing how it was going. Pulled the cork and noticed an ever so faint whiff of cardboard on the bottle opening. “Hmmm, better try it before everyone gets here”, I thought. Small amount in the glass and gave it a swirl. Nothing….. nothing much at all on the nose. Couldn’t detect any of that cardboard smell in the glass either. Maybe it needed some time in the decanter? So in it went for an hour.
It was time to share and drink. First whiff of the wine and I noticed it was still the same. Not giving much at all. Perhaps a whiff of cloves and pepper, but it was mute on all other fronts. There was a distinct lack of any fruit on the nose or palate. It was then that I remembered a winemaker friend had told me to look out for this in mildly corked wines.
I was told that sometimes, a wine can be slightly infected by cork taint. Just tainted enough to strip the fruit characters out and render it unenjoyable. But not corked enough to display the overt characteristics of a corked wine.
Back into the cellar and I opened another 2006 Gimblett Gravels Merlot based wine and poured that for my guests. Immediately the differences in the wines were obvious… fruit!
Few quick notes on corked wine.
No, it isn’t the retailers fault. I have heard a few people blame the retailer when a wine is corked. Huh? How would the chaps in the shop know the cork was bad?
A good retailer will replace the corked wine. Yep, good retailers know how to spot a corked wine. Bring in your bad bottle, let them check it. If it is indeed corked, most will be happy to replace or give a credit towards your next purchase. Handy if you bought the wine a few years ago and have been cellaring it since. This highlights the importance of building up a relationship with your wine store. Once they know and trust you, most will stop asking for a “proof of purchase” when you come in. Who keeps receipts nowadays anyway?
If some of the cork crumbled and fell into the wine as you were opening the bottle, referring to the floaty bits as corked wine is incorrect….. Unless the original cork was indeed corked. Some of you more experienced wine drinkers might laugh at this. Don’t. I’ve seen it happen before. Remember that we all have been novices once. It’s all a learning curve.
There is a difference between cooked wine (due to incorrect storage), oxidised wine and wine affected by Brettanomyces (brett). Perhaps the subject of another post.
If you wish to delve deeper into the subject, there is a wealth of technical information available online about cork taint and what causes it.