Monday, February 20, 2012

Is This Wine Corked?

By Stelio Kalkounos 

Occasionally, this question gets asked even in the finest restaurants and bars all around the world.  At times people who aren’t experienced with wine might sense an off aroma and assume a wine is bad. My first experience with a Gevrey-Chambertin from Burgundy elicited the same response from me. Pinot Noir from this region can be extremely “earthy” with the ever popular “stinky feet” used as a descriptor by the novice nose. I have now come to appreciate such distinct characteristics in wines just as well as the other tastes often described as lush berries, clean fruit, molasses, and bitter cocoa. Other aromas that may cause some wine drinkers concern are tar or flint, which are common with wines like Amarone or aged Bordeaux.

A truly “corked” wine is a wine that is contaminated with TCA (Trichloroanisole). This element can create a musty, wet charcoal aroma or flavor to a wine. TCA contaminations usually come from corks that have been exposed to this, hence the name “corked”. TCA can also be caused by other methods of wine production including the barrels and other wood sources found within the winemaker’s cellar. Many industry experts estimate that up to seven percent of wines have detectable levels of TCA contamination. This also means that the TCA may be present, just not as noticeable in some wines. Most individuals can detect TCA in quantities as little as five parts per trillion, though some can detect it at even lower levels. The more experienced wine connoisseurs seem to have extra sensitive pallets.

Often, other elements in a wine’s handling and storage may negatively affect aroma. Wines that have been stored in warm and moist areas tend to oxidize more frequently. This is often referred to as a “corked” wine. There tends to be no body left in the wine’s overall impressions in the mouth and much of their finishes are usually tart or sour. Only experienced retailers, restaurants and bars will handle their wines properly. Fine dining establishments such as The Five O’Clock Steakhouse in Milwaukee, WI use cellar space that is temperature and humidity controlled. Several daily measurements are taken to ensure that a bottle will be served in the best possible condition. The Five O’Clock Steakhouse keeps its red wine cellar at about 65 degrees Fahrenheit and tries to maintain at least 55% humidity, ensuring guests will receive their wines in the ideal state. It is perfectly acceptable for a guest to request that an experienced staff member analyze their wine in case of contamination.

Young wines, (less that 2 years old), or old wines, (10 years old or more) often benefit from decanting. Decanting gives a wine its full chance to present itself. After several minutes of aeration, many wines reveal new aromas and begin to unveil themselves. Particularly older wines that have been potentially exposed to more temperature and humidity fluctuations over time benefit from decanting. If you suspect that your bottle is corked don’t hesitate to ask the restaurant staff or retailer for his opinion. If in fact it is corked, you may be given credit or a new bottle of wine.

The various aromas of wines are to be learned and appreciated by wine lovers. Not all apparently "off aromas" are in-fact corked wines. Reliable wine sellers will provide you with guidance and suggestions based on your taste that will lead to an enjoyable experience in trying a variety of wines.

Stelio Kalkounos, knowledgable food and wine expert and restaurant management consultant, has operated some of the Midwest’s most successful establishments including Five O’Clock Steakhouse, Gibson’s Steakhouse, Hugo’s Frog Bar and Gino’s East Pizza.  His expertise on all areas of operations, from menu and wine list development to cost controls and vendor relations and have been effectively implemented in some of the world’s finest establishments from Athens to California.   More than two decades in the industry has taught Kalkounos that a restaurant should not just be a place to eat, it should feel like home and serve a space to savor life’s finer moments with family and friends.

Stelio's Cellar - Monthly Wine Article - I Always Thought Corked Wine Was a Good Thing?