Ordering wine in a restaurant can be stressful. You don’t want to look dumb in front of your guess or the wait staff so there often seems to be a lot of pressure to make a good decision. This of course is compounded if union the first taste the wine doesn’t seem right. How can you tell if it’s corked? This time in Wine Around the World we have all the answers.
The fact is corked has become a catchall phrase for bad wine, but in reality there are 4 main reasons a bottle of wine may have gone bad and it is appropriate and expected to send back the wine in each of these cases.
A wine that is “corked” or that suffers from “cork taint” is one that has been in contact with a cork contaminated with TCA (2,4,6- Trichloroanisole.) While people’s sensitivities to the smell of TCA may vary, at higher levels, the odor is quite distinct. Anywhere from 3-7% of wines sealed with natural cork suffer from this and are recognized by a must, wet cardboard odor. On the palate, the wine will lack in fruit, have a raspy finish and will be quite astringent. Many people believe that by smelling the cork, signs of contamination will reveal themselves. In fact, doing so will give you no indicator of cork taint, as it will still always just smell like cork!
As a natural enemy to wine, air exposure can cause the wine to become oxidized. A wine may become oxidized if it is stored upright. A way to determine this is to touch the cork. If it is dry, it had been improperly stored, has most likely dried out, shrunk and exposed the wine to oxygen. An oxidized wine will be flat, dull and may taste excessively like vinegar. A major sign that a wine has been affected by this is that it may take on Sherry like aromas. (Unless, of course, you are drinking a Sherry!)
A maderized wine is one that has literally been baked by heat. This can happen in the wine’s transportation in cargo ships during the summertime. This wine will have flavors of almonds and candied fruits, which may at first thought seem appetizing, but are not desirable qualities in a dry table wine. A hint that the wine has been maderized is a cork that is partly pushed out of the unopened bottle. This is due to expansion from the heat within the bottle.
In rare instances, in a bottle of wine, the residual yeasts may reactivate and go through a second fermentation after it has already been shipped. This would create a fizziness to the wine which, while expected in champagnes and sparkling wine, is not appropriate for table wine.
Next time you go to a restaurant and order a bottle of wine, taste it looking for these qualities. If it has any of them, don’t be hesitant to send it back, as restaurants expect a small percentage of their wine to be defective. And if it tastes and smells delicious, enjoy!.