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Sunday, December 3, 2023

Deciphering the Mystique of ‘Corked’ Wine

CultureDeciphering the Mystique of 'Corked' Wine

The term “corked” often conjures up images of broken, crumbling corks or fragments floating in our cherished glass of wine. However, the reality is far more nuanced. Even with an immaculate appearance, a wine may bear the subtle, undesired influences of a tainted cork, leading the drinker to wonder if something is amiss or if they simply don’t fancy that particular wine.

Ernst Büscher, a renowned expert from the German Wine Institute, emphasizes the importance of the olfactory sense in determining whether a wine is corked. More often than not, the first hint isn’t what you taste, but what you smell. If something seems awry, it’s crucial to trust your nose first.

Wines, especially white and sparkling varieties, can be highly susceptible to cork’s influence. Ideally, white wines should evoke sensations of pristine fruitiness and zest. For instance, a pinot blanc might elicit hints of citrus, while pinot gris might lean towards a pear scent. However, if the aroma emanating from your glass is flat and evokes images of damp cloth, it’s a tell-tale sign that the cork has left its mark on the wine. This lackluster quality doesn’t manifest abruptly but emerges over time.

Initially, the wine’s vibrancy diminishes, akin to a picture being dulled by a gray veil. Such wines often come across as uninspiring, leading many to believe they simply don’t resonate with that particular variety.

Detecting cork influence in red wines can be an even trickier endeavor. The robust aromatic profiles of reds, characterized by berry undertones or the smoky scents from oak barrels, paired with pronounced tannins, can often mask off-flavors. Even seasoned wine aficionados can sometimes miss the subtle signs of a corked red wine.

If you’re dining out and suspect the wine served isn’t up to par, politely request the server to take a whiff. Inquire about the wine’s sealing method — was it a traditional cork or a more modern screw cap? If it’s the former, kindly ask if another bottle could be opened for comparison. Often, the contrast between a fresh bottle and a corked one becomes immediately evident.

Interestingly, the cause behind the “corked” taste is linked to the bleaching process of the corks, which produces an incredibly pungent aroma. Fortunately, advancements in quality assurance by cork producers have led to a significant reduction in such instances. Yet, perfection remains elusive. It’s worth noting that even wines with screw caps aren’t immune. For instance, if caps are stored adjacent to cardboard boxes, they can imbibe undesired flavors.

In the unfortunate event that you encounter a corked wine, it’s best to discard it. Such wines aren’t just unpleasant for drinking but are also unsuitable for culinary uses.


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