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Jul 9, 2007 08:10 AM

Screw tops (moved from DC board)

I am all in favor of screw tops--I havd bad arthritis in my hands and welcome the ease of opening. NZ wines are largely screw top as well. But if the cork tells me something I cant tell by taste, why dont they give it to you in Europe?And how am I supposed to see these things in a dark resto? And why do I never get a "corked" bottle--only 2 o3 out of the thousands Ive ordered over the years (granted, I never get '61 Lafitte)?

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  1. This really deserves to be split on to the wine board- I'm not sure why you're not getting it in europe, I've gotten it when I've dined in Europe (Italy, France, UK). Unless the restaurant is so dark you can't see your hand in front of your face you should be able to see discoloration.

    As far as corked bottles, I reccomend you go to your local wine shop (think local, think small) and ask them if you can taste a corked bottle and compare it with a non corked bottle- they should have plenty of corked bottles lying around. It's a distinct taste and smell and some people are better able to taste it than others, but should you taste it once or twice you'll start to notice it. About 1-2% of the bottles I order/buy have cork taint. They just go back for a refund or replacement. It's no skin off the seller's back- they get reimbursed for it.

    3 Replies
    1. re: jpschust

      Im willing to agree that I do not have a great wine palate, and that perhaps Im not agreesive enough with wines that do not measure up. But I have had very few wines that were "off" as opposed to not up to expectations. the idea of asking a wine store to give a sample of a corked wine is a good one; I'll give it a try.

      As for Europe I have been everywhere in all kinds of restos in Italy and France and dont ever remember being given the cork to sniff the way its done here. In fancier restos the server smells the cork and then ours the wine; in cheaper ones, the server just pours the wine and takes the cork with him.

      Which leads me to my final Q: does looking at the cork help you evaluate the wine? Could you get there by taste alone? Or if you see a dis-colored cork, does that make you think its an off wine, even if it might not be--in other words, a false positive?

      1. re: tartuffe

        It helps you evaluate whether the wine may be tainted and alerts you to potential issues you might be tasting. Is it that the wine's not ready or is it that the wine has gone bad due to poor storage? Evaluating these decisions is a key.

        Vin de Table doesn't usually come with a cork for you to smell- it's lower tier wine (though there's some great table wine out there). It's only in higher end bottles in Europe you're going to see the cork.

        One note- the cork isn't for sniffing, it's for inspecting. Smelling a cork generally is going to throw off your senses for tasting.

        If you want to refine your pallette for wine I suggest a combination of reading and tasting- for reading go pick up The Wine Bible and How To Taste- both easily available. All these issues are addressed in there in an easy to read and understand way.

        1. re: tartuffe

          The main reason for presenting the cork to the patron is show that it lists the same producer/vintage as the bottle. This used to be a greater problem, than it probably is now, though there are a lot of recent articles on counterfit wines making their way into the market, but usually for wines that are likely to be sold at auction.

          Now, if one suspects a problem with the wine, the cork can tell a few things about the wine, and can display some aspects of poor storage, or faultiness in the cork itself. Far more indication of a "corked" wine comes from the nose of the wine itself. Corks can have all sorts of smells, many/most of which are not found in the wine. One observation that I have made, is that a noticable number of corks of TCA-tainted wines seem dry, even though I had the bottles stored on their sides. The color at the "wet-end" of the cork also seems to be grey, not the natural cork color. This has not happened in all cases, but enough for me to look at the cork, when I'm doing the pulling. OTOH, I can usually pick up minute amounts of TCA across a room, so it, the cork, is not likely to tell me much, that the wine has not already done. Try the wine first, then maybe have a sniff of the cork, if you are getting something suspect.

          The presentation of the cork varies greatly. In more formal restaurants, it is often presented on a silver coaster, or hung from a rack on the wine bottle coaster. In less formal settings it is often not presented at all, unless the patron requests it - again, most often for verification of producer/vintage. If a restaurant tries to whisk the cork from sight quickly, you might want to take a peek at it, just to verify that it says the same thing as the bottle's label.

          I've found the presentation of the cork to be most common in higher-end, more formal restaurants, in US, UK and most of Europe. It's more about the setting and the training, than the geographic location.


      2. Don't know, you must be lucky bc the stats that i've always heard is that 1 in every dozen is tainted or oxidized to some extent. Personally, I've def encountered more than 2 or 3 corked/oxidized wines over the years, but then i also seem to be lucky enough to win local random competitions (for movie tickets) but never the lottery! go figure!
        Now, don't take this personally, since we've never 'broken cork' together, but i can def recall three social gatherings at various homes where the host has not been a seasoned or even regular wine drinker and has served bad wine. Not being wine drinkers, the host assumed the wine was supposed to 'taste' like that or worse yet claimed 'that's why I don't drink red, it just doesn't have that sweet taste that i like', huh?!
        So, the long and short...the degree to which the wine is 'bad' may depend greatly on the olfactory senses of the drinker.

        1 Reply
        1. re: aussiewonder

          In a CA Central Coast winery tasting room early one morning, the owner poured me a glass of his Reserve Chard. Instantly, I knew that it was corked and whispered to him. He sniffed, and nearly fainted. He quickly gathered up about 8 tasting glasses, that others were enjoying and replaced them - instantly! He confided in me that this bottle had been opened, but not poured the evening before, and he'd just grabbed it, assuming that the tasting room personnel from the day before, had tasted it. They had not. He was also half asleep, and did not taste it, himself. The other folk in the tasting room were sucking it down, and did not realize that this Chard should have heavy fruit, light to medium acid, and no "mustiness" at all. They all got an eye opener, when the got the good stuff. Far too many folk do not know what a TCA-tainted wine smells, or tastes like.

          When serving, the server must always do all that they can to make sure that the wine is not tainted. That was what those cute little cups were for - the ones that sommeliers used to always wear around their necks in days gone by.


        2. I think also the odds of getting a corked bottle in a restaurant are much lower - generally these wines are much newer and haven't been around long enough to become corked. However if you buy wine that is older from stores or whatnot, the odds are higher because the wine has been around that much longer.

          I don't drink thaaat much wine but think that identifying a corked bottle is very easy - its smell and taste is just way off, easily not what it's supposed to be.

          17 Replies
          1. re: laurendlewis

            Politely disagreeing, Lauren. Cork taint is not something that develops over time, meaning a bottle that is stored awhile in a resto or store has no more likelihood of being corked than a new one. The wine may develop some other storage problem but not cork taint.

            The latest scientific news is that cork taint isn't caused by the cork! Cork taint is developed in the winery, before the wine is ever bottled or sees a cork. It's the result of chlorine cleaning products or wood preservatives interacting with airborne molds. The compound that is formed (TCA, TBA, TecA, or PCA) then merely *enters* the wine through the barrel or cork.

            The cork isn't presented to you to sniff: Don't do it. Sniffing doesn't tell you anything. If the cork smells bad, but the wine is good, then you drink it. If the cork smells fine, but the wine is bad, the cork hasn't offered you much information. Sniffing the cork does not determine cork taint.

            The cork is given to you for visual inspection, but even so, it's not necessary to spend more than a brief glance on this. If the cork is dried out, the bottle may have been stored upright, an error. If the cork is saturated through and through, leakage or another form of contamination or oxidation may be a problem. But you still have to taste the wine to determine if that is so.

            Further, no visual inspection will give you info about winemaking flaws that affect flavor, like being over-oaked, having too much Brett, low acidity or volatile acidity -- or, most importantly, about whether or not you personally like the wine. Tasting is the only way.

            So Tartuffe, your instincts are right: looking at the cork or sniffing the cork doesn't help you evaluate the wine.

            The current percentage of corked bottles is rather high: 1 in every case. That number may be dropping because of new preventative practices being employed now by wineries: no chlorine cleaning products and no use of the wood treatment called TBP.

            And, by the way, a screw top is no insurance against a corked wine, since the wine can become corked in the barrel at the winery. Interestingly enough, screw-tops are now developing their own set of problems,

            For more info, please see this Chowhound post about all things corked:

            1. re: maria lorraine

              "If the cork is saturated through and through, the problems may be leakage, another form of contamination, or oxidation."

              It can also be a sign that the wine is cooked (heat-damaged).

              1. re: maria lorraine

                Perhaps my opinion has been formed by my experiences - the corked bottles I've experienced have been older bottles, but I've never come across a new or young wine that has been corked. Good to know.

                1. re: maria lorraine

                  Maria Lorraine,

                  Please take a look at my very general observations on corks from TCA tainted bottles, elsewhere in this thread. I've encountered this grey, dry cork situation in too many cases to totally dismiss it, but have never heard anyone else comment on it.


                  1. re: Bill Hunt

                    Yes, I did read it and I was fascinated. I had never noticed this before, but I think it's something that should be added to the constellation of signs (below). We could develop the "Borderline Corked Test"! Does it smell musty? Does it taste off? Does it not have much fruit? Is the cork dry or grey? More yesses, and Ladies and Gentleman, You've Won Yourself a Bottle of Corked Wine!

                2. re: laurendlewis

                  TCA-contanimation happens at the winery. It has very, very little or nothing to do with how old the bottle is or where its been stored.

                  There are also levels of cork taint and individuals have different levels of sensitivity to it. TCA can be below the threshold of perception and still affect the wine. See

                  1. re: carswell

                    Carswell and his linked post make a good point: the wine may be corked but the amount of cork taint may be below your level of perception. In which case you simply won't like the wine -- It'll taste flat, not have much fruit, be lifeless and uninteresting.

                    1. re: maria lorraine

                      Not only may the TCA level be below your level of sensitivity, but you may have had a "cooked" or otherwise damaged wine an only thought it was just a wine you didn't particularly care for. Many wines are damaged, usually by heat from improper storage, that are not so noticably bad so much as they are just kind of blah. They don't have the fruit that they should or did when undamaged. I have gotten wines, both from wine lists and from wine shops that were just not right for what they should have been. I generally put it down to improper storage rather than being corked. Screwtops won't protect a wine from being "cooked" . On the other hand, if a wine is badly "corked," you will know it right away, it smells like wet cardboard and tastes about the same.

                      1. re: dinwiddie

                        If a wine's lost its fruit, that's usually due to bad storage resulting in oxidation.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          Politely disagreeing:
                          TCA (or any of its cousins) causes the fruit to dramatically drop off. It's one of the telltale signals that a wine is corked, along with low acid, if the a wine is borderline corked (meaning, if the amount of TCA ppt is near your perceptive threshold). Other common reasons for diminished fruit: thin fruit to begin with (underripe, etc.), a wine that is overoaked or subjected to any winemaking process that eclipses the fruit, a wine that needs more aging, as well as well as poor storage.

                          1. re: maria lorraine

                            All true enough, but I was talking about variation between palates.

                            This typically comes up when tasting some obscure Italian, Croatian, or Savoie white from a new-to-me varietal. If the wine at its best is extremely fruity and low in acid (common characteristics among those wines), it being slightly corked doesn't always bring it so far out of balance that I recognize a problem, even though the people I'm sharing it will pick up on the trace of corkiness on the first sniff.

                            In contrast, I'm often the first taster to call the problem when a wine's oxidized from poor storage, closed due to being opened too young, or going through a dumb phase.

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              Your palate sensitivity to oxidation may cause you to think fruit falls off mainly because of it. It's common to wine drinkers -- a selective sensitivity then becomes the world.

                              Love that "going through a dumb phase" line.

                              I absolutely trust my ability to pick out TCA, even at very low levels. If I ever wonder whether or not a wine is corked, I look for a constellation of signs and that always nails it one way or the other.

                              It's terribly uncomfortable when I know without a doubt a wine is corked, and another person insists the wine is fine. There's not much I can do in that case, especially if another uncorked bottle is not available. This gets particularly awful at winery tastings, when a staff member doesn't have a good sniffer for taint. I gently point out that a wine is corked and ask for a pour from a new bottle, only to sometimes see later that the corked bottle is still being used to pour tastings. I cringe, and have to walk away.

                              1. re: maria lorraine

                                I don't confuse low levels of TCA with oxidation, I miss them entirely. "Hey, this Schmengentino's pretty interesting, really unusual fruit." "Interesting? Dude, that's corked! Here, try some from this clean bottle."

                                "Dumb phase" is standard jargon, nothing original:


                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  You see, I thought you were being completely original! As in Schmengentino wine.
                                  I'm going to steal that, as in "pass that bottle of S----!" Sounds like a Bart Simpson wine.

                            2. re: maria lorraine


                              I agree completely. Though I am very sensetive to TCA, I've had some wines, that just did not give me enough to know for sure. However, the muted fruit and higher acid (easier if one knows the wine) are the clenchers.


                            3. re: Robert Lauriston

                              Maria is exactly right -- TCA, at very low levels, is quite difficult to detect. There is no overt "wet dog" smell. It is only due to the wine's lack, or subdued level, of fruit that one may suspect TCA, and it's generally only confirmed when a second bottle is opened.

                      2. re: laurendlewis

                        This is a misconception. If there is TCA in the wine, it will be there from day one. Now the bacteria, which has reacted with the chlorine in the bad cork, or elsewhere in the winery, might increase the level over tiime, but if it's there, just the time to ship will allow the level to get to noticable levels.

                        I've had more corked bottles of young wines, than older ones. I know that I'm dodging a bullet with my older Bdx, Riojas, Cabs, etc., but have only had one corked Hermitage in all my years, and no other older red, or older white, for that matter.


                      3. If you've drunk thousands of wines and noticed only two or three were corked, you're probably not very sensitive to it.

                        I'm not, particularly for someone whose palate is fairly well trained and in most other respects sharper than average. If I'm not familiar with a wine, I may not recognize that it's slightly corked, might even be enjoying the wine and making favorable comments when someone else pronounces it corked.

                        If the bottle sits around, the aroma seems to get more pronounced.

                        9 Replies
                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          Well-aware of your palate, Robert. I'd like to suggest, if you're interested, in participating in a wine flaws workshop. You'll be exposed to TCA at an extremely obvious level, and then to lower and lower levels to see how low the TCA ppt can go and have you still pick it out. It's done completely blind -- you have no idea which wines are doctored and which are not. Just about everybody can get 15 ng/l but when the level gets down to 8 ng/l or 5 or 3, it can get very interesting. Then the low acidity and fruit and aroma fall-off become key tips that the wine has TCA.

                          The other flaw you will be exposed to is TBA, very very similar to cork taint but with a slight vegetal smell -- fun learning to differentiate the two. (At least it’s a little fun for me—I realize it’s arcane, but the way I look at it flavor and aroma perception is a game.) I can barely pick out TeCA and have never apprehended PCA. Also fascinating are the ethylphenols (the *three* families of smell that Brett creates-- not merely barnyard), pyrazines, lactic acid contamination, and the sulfur/mercaptan family of flaws.

                          Once you smell a compound in a high enough concentration, it becomes much easier to pick it out and identify it at lower levels. The last group of interesting smells is what happens when wine flaws are over-corrected -- say when a sulfur compound is overcorrected with CuSO4 -- then the over-correction becomes an error and a predictable smell occurs. Contact one of the wine labs (like ETS) if interested. I'm guessing you're eminently trainable.

                          1. re: maria lorraine

                            Yeah, I've thought of that. Those workshops just aren't usually held at a time and place convenient to me.

                            In my book, brett's not always a flaw.

                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                              Agree that it's not always a flaw. Certainly at low levels it can be complementary, but there are some varietals in which Brett has no place.

                              Then again, Brett smells like a lot of things I never knew it smelled like (and I have a pretty good sniffer) before I took one of these workshops, and you just may surprised.

                              If the workshop is not of interest, that's fine. Perhaps it's worth a brief glance to see when they are being held before you rule out the idea completely.

                              I only say this because I've read a lot -- a lot -- of your CH SF Bay Board food posts. I know you're specific, and dialed in, and attuned to flavors/aromas. That's why I've recommended it. But certainly, it's your choice -- do what you want.

                              1. re: maria lorraine

                                I'm not ruling it out, just haven't heard of one that was practical.

                                They ought to sell DIY kits. Maybe someone does?

                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  There are a couple on the market, but so far as I know, only one source for TCA . . . and I don't *think* that source supplies TBA and TeCA. If you're interested, I'll see if I can dig it up.

                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                      There was one source in the US that used to sell vials of 2,4,6-trichloroanisole, but apparently they no longer exist. Sorry.

                                      And Le Nez de Vin does NOT include TCA in its "Flaws" kit.


                                      1. re: zin1953

                                        Probably put out of business by all of the TCA found "wild." [Just kidding]. Someone recommended asking their wine merchant for a sniff and a taste of a returned bottle. I second that, as once one gets a whiff and a taste (especially if they can also do an A-B comparison with a good bottle of the same wine), they are not likely to forget it.

                                        I just hate to think of the number of folk, who have been turned off on a varietal (my use of the word), a winery, or even a region, because they were served a cork-tainted wine, and did not know that it was a fault/flaw in that bottle (most likely, but not necessarily), rather than the flavor profile of that wine/winery/region.

                                        I've spent many hours listening to winemakers, basically crying over the same thing. All have done a lot to address the problem, and with the use, and acceptance of, Stelvin, and similar, it seems that some of the problem may be behind us. I still miss my corks with a lot of wines, but I'll get over it - "old dogs; new tricks... " comes to mind.

                                        Any serious wino needs to expose themselves to TCA and imprint it into their memory. Lay odds, that deja-vu will set in, and the lightbulb will begin glowing, "Oh, now I know why I hated THAT Charodnnay!"


                            2. re: maria lorraine

                              Ooh a wine flaws workshop, that sounds so cool! What a great opportunity to learn something useful. Where do they give those?

                          2. OH I WISH . . . .

                            . . . I only had your palate's insensitivity to 2,4,6-trichloranisole.

                            Tartuffe, I have no doubt that you have had dozens if not hundreds of bottles of TCA-tainted wines in the thousands you've tried . . . but never noticed. It's both a blessing and a curse, I suppose, and in all seriousness, I'd rather have my own palate, but in a way, I do envy your lack of sensitivity.

                            And, BTW, "1961 Lafite" has nothing to do with it, either in origin (Bordeaux) or in age (1961). Indeed, there are dozens of 2004 vintage California wines or Chilean wines or South African wines which are corked, just as there are dozens of French, Italian or Spanish wines that are tainted with TCA.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: zin1953

                              Where is whiner in this discussion? His better half has one of the most discerning palates I've ever seen and she often was able to identify a corked bottle of wine that others at the table just though were dumb or blah. I don't think that age has much to do with TCA, it most often happens early in the winery or when the corks are being processed, but I might be wrong.