Monday, February 18, 2013

Cork Taint

Friday night at our tasting one of the wines on the table was noticably tainted and should have been promptly removed from the lineup.  That's my job.  David Rimmer, our presenter, and I had just met one week earlier and our uncertainty in our business relationship as much as anything resulted in that wine being left to be tasted all evening by the assembled flock.  Saturday morning I called David, we  discussed what happened, and he replaced the tasting bottle with a fresh one for Saturday which doesn't change the fact that nothing was done on Friday.  Mea culpa.

Here are three points about that tainted bottle before moving on:

1.  There are degrees of taint in wines with minimal taint being open to a "how much is too much" discussion.  This particular bottle was "too much", although we still sold several bottles that night.

2.  Taint in wine has a way of dissipating for the taster with ensuing sips (olfactory habituation) unless the degree of taint is "too much" and in this case I, personally, couldn't get past it.

3.  There is such a thing as systemic taint in wineries where the contamination is widespread in the winery environment making all bottles sourced there tainted which is why opening a second
bottle is very important to ascertain the extent of the problem.  This time the second one was fine.

So what is cork taint?  Eighty percent of all taint is caused by a chemical compound called TCA or 2, 4, 6-trichloroanisole, which most often infects the cork but may just pass through the cork from an infected environment.  Unfortunately, it cannot be detected until after the wine is made, in the bottle, and sealed. 

In contaminated wine the taster first gets an aroma of moldy newspaper, wet dog, or damp basement before tasting what one can only imagine an infected cork would taste like, maybe musty and moldy.  Sorry, I can't describe it any better.  The wine is literally spoiled by its presence, but on the positive side, cork taint is harmless to our health.

Cork taint is also largely a product of our modern times.  Natural airborne fungi come into contact with chlorophenols which are industrial pollutants in pesticides and wood preservatives which, in the presence of moisture, convert into chloroanisole.  Since we're talking about an airborne vehicle, systemic contamination is understandable.  The attachment to cork localizes and presents the effect to the wine.

How much is too much?  Since two to five parts per trillion TCA is humanly detectable in wine, perhaps the screwcaps really are the way to go afterall.

Please join us on Friday February 22nd from 5 to 7pm when we taste another round of interesting new wines, and I promise, no cork taint!  And if you like what you read here be a "follower" of this site.        

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