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Jun 10, 2008 07:30 PM

Corked Wine At An Event

Not sure if this just did not post, or was deleted by the MODs, but it has not appeared, or disappeared without notice. I'll try again, and see where the problem lies. Usually, if something is considered off-topic, CH will notify me, via e-mail. If it is against the policy, I'll get notified too. If it's more appropriate elsewhere, either a "lock" on the post will appear, and/or a note as to where it was deemed more appropriate. With the problems with the CH server, I assume that it just never made it up, so here goes.

We had an interesting experience last night. We were attending an “event,” at a local resort – one with a very nice restaurant, complete with a very good wine list. That restaurant features a series of “wine-maker dinners,” throughout the year, and takes pride in doing so. The event was a non-hosted bar, prior to the dinner and the awards, etc.

I inquired about the Chardonnay, being poured, and was told that it was XXXX (without presenting the bottle). OK, it was their “house Chard,” and at US$9/3oz pour, not much of a deal. Still, I asked for two glasses, paid and tipped well.

As I handed my wife’s wine to her, I got a whiff of TCA. I checked my glass, and confirmed it. My wife handed back her glass with a whispered, “it’s corked!”

I returned to the bar, and quietly told the bartender that they were corked, and that the bottle should be taken out of service.

“That’s impossible, ‘cause they came from two different bottles,” he responded. “Fine, then you need to take TWO bottles out of service.” “No one else has complained,” he countered. “That does not indicate that the wine is not corked. Try it yourself,” I countered.

It did not help that the wine was ~ 40̊F and that the little glasses were filled to the brim, but it was unmistakable, that they were corked. He didn’t bother to even get close to them, and put them on a sideboard.

“Here, this is a new bottle,” as he poured two more glasses. Both were also corked. I can only assume that he’d just poured from the “second” bottle (if there really were two bottles used for the first two glasses). Both were corked, as should be expected. I returned these, as well. Both were placed on the sideboard too.

He opened a new bottle in front of me, and poured a glass for my wife, that I delivered to her, just a few steps away. When I returned, my glass was waiting for me. Hell, it was corked. The bartender had either mixed up his bottles, or had deliberately poured from the known corked bottle. I returned it, and said that I gave up. I ordered a glass of Ravenswood Zin and left the bar. In a few minutes, I looked back, only to see the four glasses of corked Chards were gone. I saw several ladies near the bar with glasses of Chardonnay, and felt that the bartender had re-sold our returned wines. Either that, or a bus-person had whisked them away, but I saw no one, except for the bartender, several patrons and the person taking money, at a table near-by. I also think that he was still pouring from the bottles, that were definitely corked.

What gets me, is that any good distributor will replace corked wines, especially for a resort of this size and level, considering the quantity of this one wine they buy. It is not a big deal! It also made me worry, that he’d possibly sold wines that had already been sipped from (in the case of two of the glasses).

This was a bartender at a function, and not a sommelier, or trained server in a wine-friendly restaurant, but it was one of most disgusting situations that I have been part of. Maybe next time, I need to proclaim to the whole room, that the Chard is CORKED!

Guess which restaurant we will probably not spend much time at, if this is an indication of the resort’s current wine program. I’ll also make my choices known, regarding to upcoming events.


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  1. Cringe. Sigh. Yuck.

    Not only the corked wine. Not only that the wine kept being poured from the corked bottles (yes, they are occur together, as bottles are sealed from the same batch of bad corks). But that the glasses that were sipped from were then re-served.

    Send the resort F&B director your post. Heck, you've already got it typed out.

    The problem is with the wine pourer's training: his inability to recognize TCA, and what to do when he cannot recognize it but a guest can.

    1. I am continually horrified at many responses from servers, bartenders etc. when having to deal with corked wines. This is more shocking knowing that I live here in food/wine centric San Francisco. Two weeks ago, I was at a "Top 100" restaurant and informed the waiter that the Bordeaux Blanc I was served was corked. He asked me, "Would you like a fresh glass from the same bottle OR a different bottle." Well, I had to pause, ... count to 10, and then responded with a cordial smile, "A different bottle would be wonderful." As soon as he walked away my husband applauded me for being calm and nice. Phew! Survived that one. But still, I WAS SHOCKED!! This is a place that even has a resident sommelier!!!

      When I dine out of the city, and happen to have a server that is unaware of what a corked wine is, I usually will take the time to explain and make them smell both (corked and new bottle). I have done this a dozen of times and it is usually well received. I will even explain to them that they need to return the questionable bottle to the distributor. It amazes me that staff are not trained properly. Oh well, I figure it is one more tilt at a windmill.

      But Bill, the reselling of the wines crosses the line... YECK! From your various posts I'm sure your gentlemanly behavior prevented you from saving the other people from their corked doom. I think your judgment is wise not to return to this venue.

      7 Replies
      1. re: WineUnleashed

        Your experience mirrors one of the few bad "sommelier" experiences, that I have had. In that case, he asked, what I would like to replace the bottle, that I had rejected. "A good bottle of the same will do nicely," was my response. It was delivered, but with a lot of "Hurumping," and sighing. That one episode cost that restaurant 3 more "candidate dinners," that were running about $4K per dinner. We have yet to go back, but I did note that they lost their WS "Grand Award" status, soon after.

        That, however, was the sommelier. This was the server.

        I do agree with ML, that a letter to the Food & Beverage manager would be well within order. This is especially true, as this organization does the same event year, after year.


        1. re: Bill Hunt


          Your story, WineUnleashed's and other corked wine stories drive me crazy.

          I am sensitive to TCA, but once I smell it, I cannot ever overlook it. After I point it out to the server, the response that drives me the craziest is the sunny "It smells fine to me!"

          It takes 10 extra seconds per bottle for it to be smelled before it is served. But it has to be smelled by someone who knows what to look for and has a reasonable sensitivity to TCA. Beyond that, it's all training, and the two words are: new bottle.

          Here's a recent story. At a wine event, a Stag's Leap District Cabernet with some mustiness is served -- slight TCA, I think. I mention the wine is possibly corked, but receive only a "Hmm, we don't smell it" from both the pleasant server and assistant winemaker(!). The server continues to pour wine from the same bottle. I cringe. I have to turn away -- watching the server pour more of this wine is like seeing a crime being committed. Not only against the drinkers -- the winery, too.

          In waltzes a famous wine writer, brilliant palate, who is then poured a glass of the same wine, sniffs it, and *loudly* proclaims "CORKED!!"

          It was one of those Woody Allen/Marshall McLuhan "Annie Hall" moments, if you know what I mean. It felt so terrible; it felt so good. Was the assistant winemaker asleep?

          By the way, many bottles in succession of this same wine were corked, so I suspect a bad batch of corks, or a TCA/TBA-infected cellar, like that suffered by Bealieu, Hartwell and Montelena.

          1. re: maria lorraine

            Loved the Woody Allen comment... too funny.

            1. re: maria lorraine

              Everyone's ability to detect TCA is different so it's really not that shocking that someone, asst. winemaker or not, didn't detect the tainted bottle.

              In fact, some wineries hire a third party to conduct TCA threshold testing of their employees so the winemaker can use these employees to "sniff out" tainted product.

              I do feel for you ML and your keen nose because like others have mentioned, pointing out to someone at a restaurant, etc. that a wine is tainted seems to create more frustration and problems than solutions.

              1. re: vinosnob

                I have recently discovered I may be a TCA sniffing dog.

                I recently spent an ill-advised evening drinking a corked Brunello. I had drunk this wine previously, and it was wonderful. This bottle was mildly corked. There was a mild whiff of TCA, but the wine itself was still drinkable. The taste of the TCA was mild, and the TCA had a more pronounced effect of dulling all the other flavours of the wine, rendering it a blah, insipid beverage one step down from powdered grape juice. Sigh. I wouldn't let my guests drink it, but I was too cheap to throw away the bottle, so I drank it all night. Well it turns out that was very educational! I certainly became very familiar with the smell and taste of TCA!

                Well, the benefit is that I am now pretty quick to detect TCA in wines! And I seem to be sensitive to pretty small amounts of TCA. One trick to help convince others that a wine is corked: I find if you pour the glass and leave it, over the course of the evening the TCA becomes much more prominent. So if you are getting a lot of attitude from the resto about a wine not being corked, you could just leave the glass at your table, and revisit it later. Usually, it will declare itself to the point that it will be clear something is really wrong with the wine. Of course, this presumes that the resto has someone on staff who understands TCA and is able to recognize it...

                1. re: vinosnob

                  I have found the same variation with oxidation. I know someone who has a very serious sensitivity to oxidation such that he can almost always tell when a wine has been open for more than a day or two, even though the bottles are "argon-ed" and refrigerated daily. There's no way he is familiar enough with each wine he's done this with to be comparing to memory of a 'fresh bottle' in each case. He is just able to taste the beginnings of oxidation at levels where the vast majority of people would not be aware of it. He may also be able to detect other elements that degrade quickly, but he says it's oxidation.

                2. re: maria lorraine

                  Some years back at a trade event, I attended a seminar, "Reserve vs Regular, What's the Difference?" The wine being poured was from a noted Napa producer. I happened to have arrived a few moments early, and one of the family members of the winery, the director of marketing, was doing the pour. I grabbed one of the front seats, and sniffed my first glass. It was a Reserve Chard. All was fine. He went about pouring the rest of the room, which was filling up. He had the last bottle, and "topped up my glass." "That bottle was corked," I whispered to him. He sniffed the nearly empty bottle and made a face.

                  When the seminar started, he allowed as how many in the room would not be able to follow along, as one bottle was badly corked. Mine was now only mildly corked, but it was a wasted hour of my time.

                  Now, this venue had the Reserve Chard in three of its restaurants. The director of marketing had only brought enough of each wine for the attendees. A quick call to the sommelier for the resort (they actually had four) would have yielded any number of bottles of this very wine.

                  That was the last time that I ever had anything from this winery, as it showed a lack of concern and lack of pride. No bottle should ever be served, without someone checking it out.


            2. My personal favorite TCA moment came at one of those god-awful overpriced Disney restaurants in Orlando, FL. We were served a bottle that tasted as though it had been decanted from a puddle in the basement that the dog had been lying in. I quietly let the waiter know that the wine was corked. He called over the sommelier, who proceeded to argue with me, claiming that a "slight earthiness" was part of the wine's flavor profile. The wine sat untouched for about fifteen minutes before the waiter brought another bottle that "the sommelier believes might be more to your liking." Arrrgh.

              2 Replies
              1. re: alanbarnes

                My story is very much like yours Bill. Ordered a Pinot Grigio in a restaurant, took one sniff...corked, got the servers attention and she quickly and calmly wisked it away and returned with another glass. Took one sniff....corked. Got the servers attention again and asked, "Is this from the same bottle?" to which she replied with a smile, "Yes"..."Uh yea, it is still corked." She just didnt know but at least she didnt argue with me about it!

                1. re: bubbles4me

                  That's a good one, but really similar to what I was going through - 3-Glass Monte! "Watch the hands. Can you find the glass of 'corked' wine? Remember, watch the hand... "


              2. You know, this entire story just gets me riled up. If you are waitstaff, or worse, a sommielier or wine staff, you need to respect the customer regardless of what your personal opinion is. There is such a big difference between "I don't like this, can I have something else" and "this is corked, please open a new bottle". At the very least, they should have offered to replace your wine with a different one entirely and if they really gave it to those poor girls, my sympathies!

                When will restaurants learn 99.9% of the time, the customer really IS right.

                1 Reply
                1. re: Vinquire

                  That was part of what happened to me. However, I do not think that, either I did not make my self clear, or the server did not understand what I said, vis-a-vis the "corked" wine. Now, I do admit that I had my conversation in private with him, so as to not "yell fire," in a crowded hall. He did pour from a new bottle, and my wife got one glass of that. However, he kept pouring from the bad bottle, and (I think) even passing off our returned glasses to the next people to order Chardonnay. Like he said, "you're the only ones to complain. Everyone else has liked the wine."

                  In my situation, I do not now believe that the server had any clue, about that, of which I spoke. I buy a fair amount of wine from my local Costco, and have to return a couple of bottles per quarter. The folk at the Returns counter, always ask about the wine, that I am returning. I explain that it is "corked," and they usually ask, "what's that?" I give a quick, none chemical explanation, and they always comment, "Yuck!" No more questions asked. Quick return. All distributors know about corked wines, and all, that I know, offer complete return from a client, especially a good client.

                  There are, however, just too many folk, who do not get it. Like the rest of the guests at this event - the ones, who had not complained about the wine. "Oh Marge, do you detect the subtle moldy cardboard notes on this Chard?" "Yes, it has the essence of my Lab, when he's still wet from the bath."

                  Tale told before: tasting room at a Central Coast winery, some years back. It was early in the AM, and the winemaker/owner was staffing the tasting room. We arrived to a full house, and started with the Chardonnay. It was corked. I whispered to the owner, who immediately smelled it. Corked! He ran along the tasting bar, and collected all of the glasses of Chard, replacing them with a fresh bottle, that he'd just opened and tasted. When his frantic run was complete, he came back over and thanked me. It seems that the tasting room staff, the evening before had opened the bad bottle, and poured about one glass, without testsing it. He assumed that if the bottle was opened, and pumped, it was OK, and did not bother to try it himself. I imagine that the staff meeting on the next Monday was a sight to behold. At the tasting bar, no on else had complained. That said, I wonder how many of them would have invested in a bottle of the Chard, either there, or at their retailer, based on the TCA wine, that they were drinking.

                  Normally, I can pick up TCA, from a waiter's tray behind me, going to another table. Lately, I am not as sensitive, as I once was. Maybe it's those cigars, that find their way into my luggage from the UK? Luckily, my wife also has a great nose for TCA, so if we get 2 hits, we KNOW that it is corked.