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Need help deciphering term in food review (Corked Wine) [moved from General Topics]

In today's LAT there was a review where I came across a term that I wasn't familiar with. I hope you Hounds can help.

The reviewer was talking about her wine. She was upset because when she sampled the wine that was just opened in front of her, she said it was obviously, 'Corked'. She called the waiter over, who sipped it, and declared it 'corked' as well.

Am I missing something obvious here? What was the reviewer talking about?


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  1. the cork in the bottle had dried out causing air to get in the bottle and cause the wine to oxidize.

    1. Basically it's rotten wine. Corks are natural material and hence can spoil and let air in and ruin a bottle of wine.


      1. Byrd,
        Your answer is way off base. I am sure it is well intended but incorrect. "Corked" refers to a wine that is tainted with TCA which gives it an aroma that frequently smells like wet cardboard. It has nothing to do with letting air in.
        It happens in percentage of wines, depending on who you believe, ranging from 4-10% of the time. This is the reason you are seeing many screwcap (Stelvin technically) and synthetic corks these days.

        6 Replies
          1. re: Winemark

            I thought the reason we are seeing screw tops and synthetic corks is because cork trees, which are predominantly from Spain and Portugal are becoming less available.

            1. re: jjb75

              Screw caps etc are in part a trend due to the over harvesting of cork forests. However talking to many winery owners they are recognizing Stelvin in particular as the best and most consistent way to keep their wines in perfect shape. This is a trend mostly for younger, short term drinking wines. The spread of this trend will take the heat off cork forests and allow them to return to producing high quality corks, which I believe, will always have a home in the top wines of the world.

              1. re: Winemark

                Why? Why is cork somehow superior? The only reason that cork is being used today is that there were no Stelvin closures in the 1800s.

                How would you feel if you opened a bottle of 61 Mouton that you'd paid big bucks for and it was corked? Why subject fine wines to inferior closures?

                Nothing personal here, your comments have been very informative, but I am always surprised at the attachment of knowledgable wine lovers to corks.


                1. re: Ed Dibble

                  Hi Ed,
                  Thanks for the nice compliment. I am not attatched to corks. I do feel the top wines will go with them as they are a known effective closure that allows minute amounts of air in. While this sounds bad the jury is still out on the aging issue. There is a school that believes stelvin will stall any aging and that wines need a slightly porous seal to allow tiny amounts of air in.
                  From a personal stand point I love Stelvin. I do think that the wine collecting world is not ready to accept Lafite in Stelvin which is why I finished my previous post with what may have seemed like a nod to Corks

                  1. re: Winemark

                    Randall Grahm says there is some oxygen exchange, comparable to a magnum or double magnum.


          2. Fully 5% (maybe 10%) of wine bottled with corks goes bad. This tainted wine is referred to as being "corked". There is a fungus that infects corks and it passes on an unpalatable flavour of old socks and moldy cheese to wines.
            This is the main reason that screw tops are becoming popular. They work and they mean lower production costs for the producer. We are now seeing high end wines with screw tops (they refer to them as Stelvin Closures). Check St Hallets of the Barossa Valley, Bonny Doon and many others.
            I must also acknowledge that the cork supply is unable to keep up with growing demand for wine. Once cork is harvested from the tree, it takes 10 years for the tee to recover enough to be re-harvested. Due to demand, the cork trees are being re-harvested at 8 or 9 years and the quality of the cork is becoming suspect. This is also contributing to "corked" wines.
            I must also acknowledge another problem: that of fashion conscious, status seeking, ignorant assholes who feel the need to send back a bottle just to be cool and impress their friend(s). This is a problem because no good waiter will argue with a customer about it. The risk isn't worth it especially if the customer is a food critic looking to establish their creds.
            For some fun and further information go to http://www.deathofthecork.com and then to http://www.bonnydoonvineyard.com/doon...
            for all the relevant information you need on this subject.

            9 Replies
            1. re: Da_Cook

              I agree with you totally. You discribe it better, to me it always tasted like moldy wine. ICK!

              1. re: Da_Cook

                It may seem like harvesting corks would be bad for trees/environment, but environmental groups actually support cork closures. Cork is a renewable resource and birds and animals can make homes in cork forests. When the demand for cork falls off, landowners have incentive to cut down the cork trees to grow something else, possibly destroying habitats for many creatures. Stelvin closures and synthetic corks use plastic i.e. fossil fuels!


                1. re: Winemark

                  >>Stelvin is aluminum not plastic.<<

                  The liner isn't plastic?

                  (Edit: The post to which this was a reply has been deleted. Either that or I've had too much to drink...)

                  1. re: Winemark

                    And doesn't the presence of the plastic liner make the aluminum for all intents and purposes unrecyclable? (Not a leading question; I really don't know the answer.)

                    1. re: carswell

                      Not exactly sure but the essence of the first post was that it is a plastic product. I am just dissapointed that they felt it necessary to delete a fairly benign post

                      1. re: Winemark

                        >>the essence of the first post was that it is a plastic product<<

                        In kenito799's defence, s/he said "Stelvin closures and synthetic corks use plastic," which is entirely accurate.

                        The recyclability issue bugs me, but not nearly as much as opening a bottle I paid $30 or $40 for 15 years ago (meaning I can't return it) -- and that would cost six or seven or, in a few cases, 20 times as much to replace today -- and finding it obscenely corked.

                        1. re: carswell

                          While you are correct I find it to be splitting hairs given the amount of plastic used in Stelvin closures. The inference here is that Stelvin is plastic.

                          1. re: Winemark

                            Stelvin closures are not plastic, but they do use plastic, not a lot of it, obviously. I doubt it hinders recyclability of the bottles, but whether glass recycling makes much environmental impact (apart from reducing litter) is debatable; collecting and reprocessing glass uses energy i.e. usually fossil fuels.

                            But to restate the environmental argument for corks, they create a demand for the maintenance of cork forests, which serve as wild habitats. Removal of cork forests for other agricultural use may result in destruction of already sparse European forest land, critical habitat for threatened bird and other animal species.

              2. This is the reason that sommelieres present the cork to the person who ordered the wine: You're suppoesed to look at it -- not smell it. If the cork looks shriveled or corroded, the wine is definitely "corked" (vile tasting).

                2 Replies
                1. re: pikawicca

                  Not to be a jerk here but a perfect looking cork can have a TCA taint. Hugh Johnson MW explained once that corks were presented as a sign of authenticity. When Phylloxera ravaged Europe the enormous amount of counterfit wine shipped in from North Africa and labeled as Bordeaux made top chateau brand their corks which would then be presented to the diners as a sign of authenticity. Proper Soms of the old school frequently will not present corks at all as they are supposed to taste the wines before they are brought to the table. It is their job to ensure good wine is presented not the consumers.

                  1. re: Winemark

                    "perfect looking cork can have a TCA taint."

                    It's also worth pointing out the opposite: that an ugly cork does not necessarily indicate corked wine or any other flaw. Corks can get old, crumbly, stained, etc. when they get old. While seeing this should alert the consumer that there may be problems with leakage, oxidation, or other issues (so pay close attention when you are given the sample by the server), it's entirely possible that the wine will be perfectly fine.


                2. I'm not sure if this is the same problem, but...

                  At a company dinner many years ago, a woman at our table rejected a bottle of wine as corked. She actually had to argue with two wait staff, and a second person at the table backed her up. She had us keep all our glasses and when a replacement bottle arrived, we got second glasses for comparison. All I could say after that was that the first wine was "dead." It had limp body, no complexity to the bouquet, and the flavor never developed on the palate. I would have just thought it was a terrible wine, rather than being a bad specimen of a good wine. That's what makes it tough for the customer.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Jefferson

                    It is tough for the general consumer. That being said TCA ot Trichloranisole is a very definite and detectable thing. Caused by the affects of Clorine on wood or cork it gives a very detectable moldy / wet cardboard smell. Some tasters will say the wine is slightly corked in some cases but that is like slightly pregnant it does not exist. A wine is either corked or not. It is always TCA for a corked wine, nothing else.
                    There are other wines that are spoiled, it could be oxidized (too much oxygen)or a wine could be "cooked" which gives it stewed vegatable aromas and flavors, typically from exposure to heat either during transport or storage.
                    Corked however is very specific

                  2. There are several compounds that can contribute to the aroma most often associated with TCA, and cork is not always the culprit - can get into a winery via wooden pallets, cardboard, etc. The level does indeed vary, and in many cases is below human threshold for recognition.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: Sam B

                      Sam B I agree with you and and noted the wood issue in my post, though I have never heard it associated with anything other than corks and barrels. I think the point I was getting at is the term "Corked" as it is used in the business and its direct association with TCA rather than it being wine spoiled by oxidation or heat etc.

                      1. re: Winemark

                        Andy Perdue, editor of Wine Press Northwest, reported on his blog here http://community.winepressnw.com/node... that at a blind tasting of a few days ago, they opened a second and then a third bottle of a wine due to TCA. They were all corked. He noted that it could have been a bad batch of corks, but a few years ago a couple of wineries had to clean up their entire wineries due to TCA in the pipes, etc.

                    2. Anyone else have a problem with corked wines particularly coming from France? I love French wines but it seems like one out of every three or four bottles I get -- over a wide range of regions and grapes -- is corked.

                      5 Replies
                      1. re: Mr. Cookie

                        A high percentage of French and Italian whites I try are either corked or, more often, oxidized to the extent that there's no varietal character. The latter's a common result of unrefrigerated shipping.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          Yeah, I'm talking TCA, not oxidation. And I tend to drink more reds than whites. I guess it could be coincidence/bad luck, but whatever it is, I've noticed it for several years now.

                          1. re: Robert Lauriston

                            All the more reason to buy your French and Italian wines from Kermit Lynch!

                            1. re: Husky

                              I've long been impressed with Lynch's selections, but I'm not aware of any outlet in L.A. that carries his stuff regularly -- are you? Buying from the Net results in some pretty hefty shipping charges.

                              1. re: Mr. Cookie

                                I've seen some of his imports at Woodland Hills Wine Co. ( http://www.whwineco.com/ ). Incidentally, the reason I like to buy his wines (besides his amazing palette) is that he is one of the few that ship all of his wines from Europe in refrigerated containers. His sales office ( 707.963.8293 ) could point you in the right direction in L.A.

                        2. if you want to sound like a serious wine snob, use the french term: "bouchonne" (boo-SHON-eh)

                          1. Some people are much more sensative to TCA than others. Often a corked wine doesn't smell corked, but is just listless and flat. It depends on your sensativity and experience as to whether you will recognize it as corked or just think it is not a good wine. (As Sam B noted.) And TCA can get into a winery's production facility and create an problem for all the wines. BV had a big problem that cost them a bundle to clean up a few years back.

                            4 Replies
                            1. re: dinwiddie

                              Listless and flat (stripped of varietal character) often indicates mild oxidation or heat damage.

                              1. re: dinwiddie

                                I am among the sad population of folks who are VERY sensitive to corkiness in wines. I've been in the wine and/or restaurant business for most of my life, and I've tasted tens of thousands of wines. It really is nearly 10% of wines that are corked. The level of TCA varies a LOT. What is really sad to me is that TCA can be present so minimally that all one detects is squashed fruit and "dead" wine. TCA is the culprit, but you don't get an obvious wet cardboard smell. As a sommelier, I really wanted a way to check every wine myself, as I am so sensitive, and I want my guests to get the best always. I guess the question that I'm getting to is how do I check every wine without offending the guest? I'd like to at least smell everything, but in the States, it's not usual, and I don't want to be seen as trying to sneak a taste of your expensive wine. I just really want to make sure you are getting what you're paying for. Any feedback on what kind of helpful intrusion you would tolerate? I have been troubled by this for a while.

                                1. re: monday

                                  Where do you work? Where I live (SF) I've found it to be more common than not these days, especially in a mid-range to upper range spot, for the sommelier or server to smell the wine right after opening; it is done inobtrusively, but I always appreciate it when I see them doing it: why do you think that would be offensive? I've never thought they were trying to 'sneak' a taste: just checking my investment so to speak. OTOH, if the server asked if they could have a small taste to check or try the wine, that wouldn't bother me at all either: again, I'd be pleased at the concern. (thought the later has only happened to me once or twice in recent years).

                                  1. re: susancinsf

                                    Of course, they might ask to taste the wine more often if I ordered higher end bottles...for the most part I tend to choose from the lower to mid-range end of the list when dining out, and dine more at mid-range than upper range places, as I spend too much disposable income on food and wine anyway... :-)

                                    One of the exceptions (times when the somm did taste) was at Marinus in Carmel Valley (where he tasted every wine, opening and, if memory serves, also decanting each bottle and then keeping it at his station, something I saw fairly regularly in Paris. Come to think of it, the other times might all have been in Paris.....)

                              2. Whatever happened to the tasting cup that the sommelier wore on a chain around his neck? I've never seen it, and it may be ancient history by now - I don't get to frequent the high-end spots - but isn't that cup the essence of what a sommelier is supposed to do when opening, checking, and presenting the wine?

                                2 Replies
                                1. re: Steve K

                                  Exactly. A formal Wine Steward should always taste every wine before it is poured. There is nothing even slightly awkward about this though it has fallen out of favor.

                                  1. re: Winemark

                                    It should fall back in to favor! To susancinsf, I am not currently working as a sommelier, but have worked in some of the best restaurants in SF. You turned my question on its head, and I appreciate that. I guess that if I had treated the tasting of every wine as natural, my guests would have seen it as such. Maybe I was imagining offense where there might have been none. That said, I don't see somms tasting or checking most wines, and I am eating in very fine restaurants in the City.

                                    The tasting cup is called a tastevin (appropriately). I never wore one, because I could not figure out how to use it without dripping wine on my suit! That said, I will be more proactive in the future offering my expert nose/palate when I can.