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How can people not recognize badly corked wine?

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So we were having dinner at one of the widely recognized name place in Montreal. We had ordered white wine to go with the starters. By the time the mains came, we had finished the white and my better half didn't want to drink any more so I asked about reds they had available BTG. The server went over the options, after a bit of discussion, he brought over a glass and a bottle that was half empty. He poured some for me to taste. I took a sniff, then sniffed twice and then took a wary taste. It was corked. Badly. I told the server. He quickly went to get a glass, poured and tasted, then apologized profusely. Brought another bottle, opened it and it was fine. As I drank my glass, I asked my wife how it could be that I was the first person to notice the first bottle was corked. At least 2 or 3 glasses had been served to someone who didn't know enough to question the quality of the wine. Did they just think that was the way it was supposed to taste?

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  1. Some people are more sensitive to TCA than others.

    21 Replies
    1. re: jlbwendt

      Hi, jlb:

      It's actually worse than that... TCA is a compound that most people can train themselves to identify and discriminate in ever-smaller concentrations. Many would consider this to be a *good* thing, but I don't. Develop this ability to an extreme and you will be preternaturally inclined to bad experiences.

      One proven way to do this to yourself is to keep around a badly-tainted cork, and smell it regularly. Easy to kill the buzz if you hypersensitize yourself.

      Aloha,
      Kaleo

      1. re: kaleokahu

        Hmmmm, I'm with you. Not particularly sensitive to TCA currently and not sure how sensitive I'd want to be!

        1. re: jlbwendt

          You should be able to discriminate that a wine's flavor is off. You need know nothing more. You don't have to know WHY a wine tastes lifeless or without fruit or with muted fruit, or why it smells funky or moldy or musty, or why it smells like vinegar or pickle juice or nail polish remover, only that it does, and because of that you've purchased a flawed wine and need to take action.

          Even wines with subtle TCA don't taste or smell good. The fruit is diminished; the wine tastes flat and dull. TCA "eats" fruit in a way, like flesh-eating bacteria, leaving only the skeleton of the wine behind. Moreover, TCA usually shows up with other flaws that also make a wine taste off, and any one of those flaws makes the wine suspect.

          Sensitivity to wine's flavors and aromas, including flaws, is a good thing. As your overall sensory acuity in picking out flavors and aromas is sharpened, you'll pick up some flaws, sure. You don't want to be drinking those anyway. But mostly, your enjoyment of flavors and aromas will be exponentially enhanced.

          1. re: maria lorraine

            Amen.

            1. re: maria lorraine

              If a wine smells like wet cardboard, wet dog, vinegar, mold, or nail-polish remover, there's obviously something wrong with it.

              Some wines lack fruit and taste dull simply because the winery started with grapes that had little character and reduced the character further through fining, filtering, and so on.

              1. re: maria lorraine

                ML,

                With me, and my experiences, there are several characteristics to a "corked," or "tainted" wine:

                Higher perceived acid.
                Musty flavor/smell.
                Scalped fruit components.

                When my nose tells me that there is some level of TCA (or other, similar compounds), I test those aspects. It does help, if one knows the wine, regarding the "fruit" component.

                Hunt

            2. re: kaleokahu

              Sorry, but I disagree with you on this one.

              TCA is a problem, a flaw, and if one picks it up, that should never be a bad thing.

              That some tasters are much more sensitive to it, than others, is also not a bad thing.

              It is NOT an attribute to ANY wine, and should not be accepted, as such, like some levels of Bret can be, in other wines.

              When I encounter a "corked" bottle of wine, if I do not feel compelled to return it, I put it aside, to share with my chapter of the International Wine & Food Society, so that others can experience what a "corked" wine smells, and tastes like.

              Education is a good thing, at least IMHO.

              Aloha,

              Hunt

              1. re: Bill Hunt

                Hi, Hunt: "TCA is a problem, a flaw, and if one picks it up, that should never be a bad thing."

                Of *course* perceived TCA is a problem. But I worry that you missed my point. One can--by intentionally exposing one's self and students to TCA--lower one's perception threshold so low that otherwise enjoyable (not perfect) wine can literally turn the stomach. I have forgotten which treatise on sensory perception recounts the story of the wine academic who kept a bottle of TCA in his desk to use as a teaching aid and discovered this phenomenon.

                This hyper-sharpening one's sensitivity to TCA may serve the chemists, corkmongers and judges among us. But I don't think it serves others well at all. I say learn what corked wine tastes like, identify the flaw as TCA if you can, and move on.

                Perhaps you, Jason or Maria know... What is the analytical chemical lower limit of detection in wine, and how does that limit compare with the lower limit of TCA perception in professional tasters? My instinct tells me that the chromatograph printout can show TCA in low ppb, far below what even the most sensitive human palate can discern. In such a case, is the wine corked? And why, as a mere taster of the wine in front of us, would we care?

                Aloha,
                Kaleo

                1. re: kaleokahu

                  <<This hyper-sharpening one's sensitivity to TCA may serve the chemists, corkmongers and judges among us.>>

                  Not only them. It serves regular wine drinkers too, especially their right to get an unflawed wine for their money.

                  Knowing the smell means the wine-drinker rejects a wine with TCA quickly, and can quickly order another wine (if they're at a bar or restaurant) that's not flawed and that they'll really like.

                  Or, they'll know not to drink more of the bottle so they can return it to the store.

                  Once anyone "learns" the TCA smell, they can usually smell it at lower and lower levels, at fewer ppb.

                  Or they learn that TCA usually shows up as ONE of a GROUP of flaws. They recognize the PATTERN of TCA: borderline TCA smell, muted fruit, general lifelessness, VA or other flaws. This is what Bill Hunt has been saying all along.

                  Learning the TCA smell is similar to learning any smell that is distinctive and that conveys information: burning electrical wires, rotten potatoes, or singed hair. Once you KNOW that smell, you trust your perception of it and can detect it at lower levels.

                  <<My instinct tells me that the chromatograph printout can show TCA in low ppb, far below what even the most sensitive human palate can discern>>

                  Excellent tasters can sniff out TCA at 2 ppb -- I think that's the threshold of human perception. I've seen that done, in a testing environment. Below that, it's for the lab to pick out. Bear in mind that TCA shows up as the molecule itself (a haloanisole) and the EFFECTS of the molecule on the wine, so there are several ways to detect it -- again, this is the pattern of TCA presentation.

                  Here's another thread on this:
                  "Corked Sensitivity"
                  How sensitive are you to "corked" wines?
                  http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/862499

                  1. re: maria lorraine

                    <<Or they learn that TCA usually shows up as ONE of a GROUP of flaws. They recognize the PATTERN of TCA: borderline TCA smell, muted fruit, general lifelessness, VA or other flaws.>>

                    There have been many instances, where neither my wife, nor I, was 100% that a particular wine was tainted with TCA, and we are both very sensitive to that smell. When in that position, with a question mark floating above our heads, we do taste - the scalped fruit, higher acid levels (a flaw, common to TCA, IMHO), and a flat wine, are judged.

                    I cannot tell you the parts per anything, that I can normally detect, but it's probably pretty high, for that flaw. I must admit that I do miss some Bret flaws, that others pick up.

                    If the two of us cannot come to a 100% conclusion, I will often order a second bottle of the same wine, and offer to pay for both, should my suspicions prove wrong. Then, I do a 3-way tasting of both, with the sommelier/wine steward, and see how things go. I have never, in my years of being a wino, had to pay for both bottles - the suspect one has always been taken back, with agreement of all three of us.

                    I do not feel that I am doing a disservice to my guests, by tasting the wine, and either giving it a fail, or a pass. I take that to be my responsibility.

                    Many folk, who host me, will ask that I give the thumbs up, or down, on any wine opened, or poured, regardless of who ordered it, or who is paying the tab. I do the best that I can.

                    Hunt

                  2. re: kaleokahu

                    Some people can detect TCA at 1 part per trillion, though others can't detect it at levels ten times that high.

                    http://www.winesandvines.com/template...

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      Vinquiry's been administering the test for some time. I'd really like to take it to see just how big a ppm number I'd register.

                      1. re: Midlife

                        It's ppt (trillion), not million or billion.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                          My fault -- for some reason, I always type ppb w/TCA instead of ppt.

                          1. re: zin1953

                            Really? I never picked that up. Wow! In the article the last sentence is potentially revealing: ""People who do this every day at the winery are very good, often at 1-2 ppt, but on an off day they can't detect it at 6".

                            1-2 parts per TRILLION!!!! I guess you can't draw any conclusions without seeing stats from a widely varied group of people who've been tested, but that small a number suggests why lots of people can't detect what others find obvious.

                            1. re: Midlife

                              That it's parts per trillion doesn't really matter. You can find similar 1:~10 variations in sensitivity for stuff where the lowest threshold is measured in parts per thousand.

                              1. re: Midlife

                                As I recall during the testing, we had about 10 identical glasses of wine in front of us. Some of the glasses were doctored with TCA in 2, 4, 6, 8, or 10 ppt. Some were not doctored at all. No indication which glass had what. We were to detect which wines had TCA and write that down. Then the results were revealed. I believe at the time I could detect 4 ppt but not lower, which means I marked the 2 ppt glass as not having TCA. Others could easily detect 2 ppt TCA. Then, we were tested for our perception of TCA vs TBA vs TeCA. This I did better with -- I could tell the difference. From that, I realized that I and most other people think TBA is TCA (they are very similar). TeCA is a toughie -- distinctive, but not often found.

                              2. re: zin1953

                                Me, too. My bad. Ppt it is.

                            2. re: Midlife

                              That would be interesting. As I have smelled TCA in a glass, passing behind me, on a tray, I would anticipate being in the upper range, but what do I know?

                              Hunt

                              1. re: Bill Hunt

                                That's pretty sensitive. I'd guess you could pick out TCA at a low ppt.

                          2. re: kaleokahu

                            Aloha,

                            I do not think that you have convinced me.

                            I feel that, since TCA IS a flaw, the better prepared that one is to recognize it, the better off they are as wine consumers.

                            To postulate otherwise is tantamount to saying that if one does not recognize a flaw, then there is no harm - no foul. That is not the position of any winemaker, who I know. They all fight very hard against TCA contamination, and are alarmed, when it shows up.

                            It is almost like saying that one should never expose another to the beauties of a great wine, as it might influence them negatively, when drinking their normal choices. I try to expose as many, as I can, and let the pieces fall, where they may. My pathetic little cellar has swollen to about 9,000 bottles. I will never live long enough to drink it all, and have no children to leave it to. Hence, one of my greatest joys is sharing it with others, and that includes those, who will appreciate the wines, as well as those, who might never have had the opportunity to taste such wines. I only hope that they enjoy them, as much as I do.

                            Going back to the winemakers, I know that I have recounted this tale on this board, but hope not in this thread (if so, I apologize). We arrived at a respected Central Coast, CA winery (outside of Los Olivos), early one morning. A group of four had arrived just before us, and were drinking the winery's Chardonnay (the first wine on the tasting list). The owner/winemaker poured our glasses. At that instant, I knew that it was corked, as did my wife. I pulled him aside and asked him to taste the wine. One whiff, and he agreed. He rushed to the other couples, and scooped up their glasses, replacing them with a fresh pour, from a new bottle, that he tasted, before he poured. He was devastated. He whispered to me, that the first bottle had been opened at the end of the previous day, by an employee, and two glasses had been poured. When he opened up, he had 100% trust in that employee, so never bothered to taste, or sniff. Yet, the other couples were not picking up on the TCA in that wine. Did they enjoy it? I will never know, but only hope that they enjoyed the fresh pour, though they probably never knew what happened.

                            Was I wrong to point out the tainted wine to the owner/winemaker? Was he wrong to quickly replace that tainted wine with a "good bottle?" I do not think that either of us did wrong.

                            Just my myopic way of thinking,

                            Hunt

                    2. Of course jlbwendt is correct. Beyond that, many people ARE unfamiliar with what a wine "should" taste like. If the wine doesn't taste totally"bad" to therm, they may conclude it's just not a wine they like. ...........OR it may be a reluctance to make a negative comment if they're a guest.

                      I can't begin to count the number of times I've sampled 10+ people from the same bottle and gotten responses all the way from "terrific" to "horrible".

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Midlife

                        True that.

                        1. re: Midlife

                          Along those lines, we were doing an early AM tasting on the CA Central Coast. We arrived after about 6 others, and the owner began by pouring his Chardonnay. I pulled him aside, and mentioned that it was corked. He sniffed and tasted, and quickly agreed. He ran through the tasting room, taking glasses for the patrons (who seemed to be enjoying that same wine, from that same bottle), and opening, sniffing and tasting a new bottle.

                          He came back to me, and quietly thanked me for pointing out the issue. He offered that the bottle, from which he had poured, had just been opened, at the end of the day, before. He had not questioned, as he trusted his tasting room staff, but they had missed a corked bottle. He was horrified, as he was both the owner, and the wine maker. The last thing that he wanted was others encountering bad wine, whether they realized it, or not, when his reputation was on the line.

                          Let's just say that he welcomed us, and we spent the next 5 hours digging deeply into his personal library. He cared!

                          Hunt

                        2. I'm only surprised that you're surprised . . .

                          1. I get the fact that many people don't know what particular wines are supposed to taste like. But this particular bottle was badly corked. I smelled it immediately and that one small sip I took was just awful. I guess if someone had already had enough to drink first you might not notice, but even then. If the food tasted spoiled would someone still eat it?

                            2 Replies
                            1. re: Bkeats

                              I rest my case.

                              1. re: Bkeats

                                You cite the major problem for the wine maker.

                                Some will NEVER tell what is the flaw, but will likely NEVER enjoy the corked wine. That reflects negatively on the winery, and is something that most will fight, at all costs.

                                Imagine a wine, that is high in perceived acid, has no fruit component, and tastes and smells like a damp hymnal in a Southern church. Would you like to drink that? I know that I would not, and return all such bottles, whether in a restaurant, at home, or in a tasting room. I want the wine, that the wine maker created, and nothing less.

                                Hunt

                              2. I'm very insensitive to TCA, a wine has to positively reek before I can pick up that wet cardboard smell.

                                If I'm familiar with the wine, I can easily recognize it by the characteristic muting, but if I'm tasting something made from an unfamiliar grape variety, especially in an oddball style, I can completely miss it.

                                53 Replies
                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                  You're making me feel better about my own fault fault (and that's an intentional repetitive wording).

                                  1. re: Midlife

                                    When tasting unfamiliar wines that seem over-the-top weird I'll often ask the bartender or server, "Is this supposed to smell like this?" Which often leads to a new glass from an uncorked bottle.

                                  2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                    I have a hard time discerning between TCA and Brett mostly because I've never had someone there when I've experienced bottles that were definitely "off" who could definitively tell me if it was one or the other. Could anyone explain the differences?

                                    I've always though TCA exhibits muted fruit and cardboard aromas while Brett smells like barnyard dung. Is that more or less it?

                                    1. re: Klunco

                                      The sorts of descriptions that are typically used for TCA are wet cardboard or wool, mould or must.

                                      I've only smelled one bottle that was certainly tainted with Brett, and it smelled exactly like Band-aids to me (it was amusing at the time, and a quick Google confirms that 4-ethylphenol was the culprit; confirmation that I'm not mad makes it doubly awesome).

                                      Faults are never ideal, but I wouldn't be overly concerned by them. For one, the incidence should be markedly lower than it once was (better hygiene, transport and storage, Stelvin closures, etc). More importantly, why not allow intuitive taste and smell be the ultimate arbiters in all cases, whether the wine is faulty or not? If you like it, it doesn't matter that it might be faulty. If you don't like it, being able to recognize a fault might assist in deciding whether to try other wines from that winemaker, but it doesn't seem crucial to an average drinker's enjoyment of wine - I have the impression that many of those who have actively trained themselves to recognize faults have done so more to demonstrate their erudition and palate than to enhance their enjoyment of wine.

                                      1. re: mugen

                                        <<I have the impression that many of those who have actively trained themselves to recognize faults have done so more to demonstrate their erudition and palate than to enhance their enjoyment of wine.>>

                                        With increased perception comes increased enjoyment, IMO. That's true for a great many subject areas.

                                        That is why I think your statement is backwards, from my experience and that of others I know. Increasing one's perception of wine aromas and flavors overall leads to increased perception of flaws as well. But the primary goal is always enjoyment.

                                        I do agree that flavor and aroma identification can be a game of acuity:
                                        What varietal is this, tasted blind? What kind of apple is this? Is this mango or papaya? French or American oak? Is this battonage or ML? What's the percentage of ML, tasted blind? How few parts per billion can you detect TCA? Is it TCA or TBA? Is this VA or acetone? In this game, flavor tells you the varietal or how the wine was made. Fun and so enjoyable.

                                        But all that matters is: Do you like the wine? If the fruit is muted even a little bit, if there are any off flavors, if you simply do not like it, don't drink it. There's no reason to drink a wine that's even slightly unacceptable to you. Get another wine you like.

                                        1. re: maria lorraine

                                          ML,

                                          As mentioned in this thread, I actually try to educate many wine fans, of problems, and will save corked wines, rather than return them for credit, just to help others.

                                          Appreciation of wine is big, at least with me.

                                          Hunt

                                          1. re: maria lorraine

                                            ML, .......... and Bill as well.............

                                            My OCD side may show here, but................
                                            When you say "There's no reason to drink a wine that's even slightly unacceptable to you." I have to ask whether you are somehow suggesting that any flavor or aroma characteristics I don't like means that I not drink the wine? I may be over-simplifying your point, but how does that allow me to develop a 'taste' for wine varieties and blends I might not appreciate at first but may come to enjoy more over time?

                                            I probably wouldn't buy a second bottle of a wine I really didn't enjoy, but I also had to teach myself to appreciate coffee and scotch as a young man.............. so isn't there some case to be made for educating your palate this way.

                                            Just sayin'.

                                            1. re: Midlife

                                              <<how does that allow me to develop a 'taste' for wine varieties and blends I might not appreciate at first but may come to enjoy more over time?>>

                                              The difference to me is not liking a wine or a quality of the wine vs. not wholly liking a wine but still being intrigued by it.

                                              In either case, it's perfectly acceptable to reject the wine. Simply say you do not like it, and find another.

                                              In the latter case, you can reject the wine on one occasion and try another of its type on a future occasion. That will tell you if it's the varietal you don't like or an individual producer's version of the varietal.

                                              1. re: Midlife

                                                I would say there is a difference between "tasting" and "drinking."

                                                Taste EVERYTHING . . . but there *is* no reason to drink a wine that you don't like . . . .

                                                1. re: zin1953

                                                  Yep, that is what I do.

                                                  I attend all sorts of tastings, and sample everything that I can find. Some make MY "grade," but others do not.

                                                  I have seldom found a PG, that I enjoyed, but there have been a few exceptions. Still, I tastes PG's, in hopes of finding another of the really good ones.

                                                  The same thing happens with Chilean wines. I have encountered but two, that I enjoy, and would buy again. Still, I keep tasting them. Maybe the third is just around the corner?

                                                  Even with less than stellar experiences, I keep trying, and trying everything. That is one major reason that I love doing the "Sommelier's Pairings," with the "Chef's Tastings." I want to be exposed to wines, that are not in my cellar, and not on my radar screen. I want to learn.

                                                  Hunt

                                                2. re: Midlife

                                                  Hi, Midlife:

                                                  Aha! You put your finger exactly on the reductio ad absurdum of this position: if it were true, one could only enjoy a completely flawless wine.

                                                  This is not the way the world drinks wine, or ever has.

                                                  When we finally get around to testing this with brain scans, what I think we will find (a la the *price-perception* experiments) is that the "heightened enjoyment" that comes with hyper perception is more a function of self-congratulation, social sorting and aesthetic egoism than what's actually in the glass. In other words, whoever credits himself a premier critical taster is apt to flatter himself about how much more he enjoys wine than his lessers. I suggest there is a far more complicated relationship between taste perception and enjoyment, and that it is far less causal than is generally recognized.

                                                  In fact, I'll wager that there *is* a causal connection between shrewd flaw detection and pleasure--tasting from the "uncorked" bottle after sending the corked one away builds and reinforces more than the empirical.

                                                  Aloha,
                                                  Kaleo

                                                  1. re: kaleokahu

                                                    <<"heightened enjoyment" that comes with hyper perception is more a function of self-congratulation, social sorting and aesthetic egoism than what's actually in the glass.>>

                                                    Are you saying that those with heightened perception in a field are making it up? Or that those with heightened sensory skills with the ability to discern flaws have reduced sensory enjoyment? Really?

                                                    Are you denigrating people who can perceive something in wine that you cannot? Are those persons guilty of excellent perception or of expressing what they perceive?

                                                    Would you denigrate those in any other field in which sensory acuity was acquired as a result of natural gifts or training?

                                                    What if the field was astronomy or dermatology or music or any field in which sensory training contributed to expertise?

                                                    The astronomer sees meaning in faint smudges in the sky, smudges that you and I couldn't see unless we tried very hard. The astronomer not only sees things most of us cannot easily see, he is also able to interpret that visual information.

                                                    Dermatologists can differentiate between 50 different rashes at the glance of an eye. They were trained to recognize subtle differences between rashes, between even two nearly identical rashes that are often confused. To our untrained eye, most of the rashes look the same. But the trained eye sees subtle differences in pattern, size and color that differentiate one rash from another, so that a specific treatment may be prescribed.

                                                    The professional musician has hyper-perceptive skills in discerning pitch, harmonics/overtones, volume, timbre and numerous other subtleties of sound.

                                                    Because a musician has these hyperperceptive skills and you do not, are they being self-congratulatory or BS-ing when they express their musical perceptions? Do they enjoy music less because they perceive subtleties you and I may not perceive? Or is something closer to the opposite more likely?

                                                    Would you denigrate a musician's perceptive talent because you do not have it? Like you denigrate the winetaster with perceptive talent that might be different or more trained than yours?

                                                    One can never jump inside the head of another and experience taste or any other sense the way another does. Until one can, it's best not to diss another's perceptions or say something does not exist simply because you cannot perceive it.

                                                    << You put your finger exactly on the reductio ad absurdum of this position: if it were true, one could only enjoy a completely flawless wine. This is not the way the world drinks wine, or ever has.>>

                                                    No one is talking about rejecting all wines except those that are flawless.

                                                    The point was to not drink any wine that does not appeal to you or whose flaws *bother you* in any way. Some flaws like TCA I cannot abide; other flaws -- especially some reduction flaws -- are fine by me.

                                                    Each person is different as to what appeals and what doesn't. Many single-vineyard wines have barbs and glitches in their flavor, yet they are singular beautiful wines. Some might say those barbs and glitches are flaws -- I do not.

                                                    I urge wine-drinkers to not drink any wine they do not truly enjoy, and to move on to another wine whose beauty they do enjoy. Not a flawless wine, simply one with beauty.

                                                    BTW, the fMRI brain scans of skilled tasters while tasting?? Already done.

                                                    1. re: maria lorraine

                                                      I agree. There are many wines I don't really enjoy all that much, but not enough to walk away from. If it's off-putting enough I'll walk. I'm not sure this is any more complicated for me than food preferences. There's a point at which something is just too much 'work' than seems worth it. A wine doesn't have to be a 'life experience' to be enjoyed at some level, but 'really bad' is 'really bad'.

                                                      1. re: Midlife

                                                        I have what amounts to a six-point scale:

                                                        - finish the glass and order a case
                                                        - finish the glass and buy a bottle
                                                        - finish the glass and order another glass
                                                        - finish the glass
                                                        - don't finish the glass
                                                        - take one sip, spit it out, rinse my mouth

                                                        1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                          Like your scale. The glass that started this thread was a number 6.

                                                        2. re: Midlife

                                                          I agree - it is a matter of degrees.

                                                          That which others might tolerate, means nothing to me. I am the center of MY wine-universe, so only drink what I desire. If the wine is flawed, I WILL walk away from it. If it does not pair, as I had anticipated, then the staff gets it. If I just do not like it, then again, the staff gets it.

                                                          If it IS flawed, then I wish to exchange it, and in almost every situation, for the exact same wine, without the flaws.

                                                          Maybe it's just me?

                                                          Hunt

                                                        3. re: maria lorraine

                                                          Hi, ML: "Are you saying that those with heightened perception in a field are making it up? Or that those with heightened sensory skills with the ability to discern flaws have reduced sensory enjoyment? Really? "

                                                          No, of course they're not making it up, either in terms of enjoyment or discernment. I'm positing that the skilled tasters (and remember the context was hypersensitized tasters of TCA) can often have their enjoyment boosted simply by feeling good about their tasting acuity and other factors unconnected with what they're drinking.

                                                          We can prove most discernment differences empirically. I don't believe there is presently any way to empirically prove that your enjoyment of your all-time favorite wine is superior to a first-time taster's stem of Chateau Reggie. What we're starting to be able to do is A-B scan comparisons of the same taster that we *interpret* as comparable pleasure. Have there been scans done of experts specifically to determine the "enjoyment" aspects of TCA and other empirically-verifiable flaws? It would be interesting to design an experiment where the "enjoyment" of *reporting* perceived TCA is measured.

                                                          I'm not understanding why you think I'm denigrating anyone or their perception. I certainly didn't mean that. I was just expressing my opinions that: (a) we can train ourselves to a rather extreme degree of pickiness; and (b) the enjoyment we get is a complicated sum that is oftentimes boosted or floored for feel-good, not taste-good reasons. I believe everyone is subject to these things. Just as it was in the infancy of taste perception to take extreme pains to make tastings truly blind, neutral and repeatable, I think advanced tasters should acknowledge the possibility and bear this in mind.

                                                          I am *not* glorifying lesser perception, either, so your rhetorical questions about other fields are inapposite. This thread segued off into hedonics, and someone suggested an equation between hightened perception and heightened pleasure in wine tasting. If you searched long enough and smart enough, you would find, I believe, professionals at the top of their fields (dematologists, musicians, astronomers, etc. as you identify), whose perception is exemplary, but whose *enjoyment* is lower than it was when they started out or even lower than their novitiates'. This *despite* their elevated powers of discernment. To borrow your musician analogy, think of a music critic with perfect pitch and hearing, who from the back row can identify every note the least bit off. This critic may consider the performance flawed by a single clunker no one else can identify, much less one that would reduce "enjoyment". That critic--being human--would be tempted to feel self-satisfied at his/her ability to discern the flaw, and that might lead them further down the road to perdition by confusing their heightened perception with heightened enjoyment.

                                                          I do stand by my reductio: Train/educate/think oneself into the ability to discern all flaws at any concentration, while insisting on avoidance of flawed wine makes for something very like Diogenes' personal Hell. IMHO, training oneself to discern ever-smaller levels of TCA (especially TCA) is a step in that wrong direction. With TCA--at any perceptible concentration--critical tasters are going to make a binary Corked/Not decision. And if, like you, they've further trained themselves not to accept TCA at all, ever, once it's perceived at the hypercritical level, well I think that proves the reductio.

                                                          Aloha,
                                                          Kaleo

                                                          1. re: kaleokahu

                                                            I think your notion of "hypercritical" palates is a fantasy. The more you learn about wine, the more you enjoy it. People who don't know much about wine may enjoy slightly flawed wines as much as unflawed wines, but that's because they're not tasting them very clearly.

                                                            There's no reason anyone should ever drink corked wine. Even if you don't smell the TCA per se the wine is not going to have all the aroma and fruit that an uncorked bottle will have.

                                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                              Hi, RL: "The more you learn about wine, the more you enjoy it."

                                                              I'm interested in empirical proof of that. If you take the anecdotal evidence from people with real skin in the game, fine, that's what they *say*. It's just as categorical--and unverifiable--to say the finer the wines you taste regularly, the *less* likely you are to like what you are served by others.

                                                              If the acquired ability to sensitize one's self to ever-lower TCA levels is a fantasy, it's one I share with Profs. Amerine and Roessler, and is demonstrated in this very thread. According to them, sound wines contain 2-8 ppt (ng/l), with 10 ppt being the threshold and--for them--corked wines contain 2--370 ppt.

                                                              And here, in this thread, we have self-confessed palates who have, by dint of training, "achieved" the ability to discern 2 ppt and would push the stem away.

                                                              I will look for my remembered reference to the academic who unwittingly did this to himself. All I remember is that he kept a vial of tyrene in his desk as a teaching aid. If you think this is a *good* thing, The Wine Trader in Carson City used to sell them for $2. Have at it.

                                                              Aloha,
                                                              Kaleo

                                                              1. re: kaleokahu

                                                                I suppose there may be people who grew to like wine less as they learned more about it, but I've never met one. The people who are trying to become more sensitive to TCA are winery employees who have professional reasons to be able to recognize it at levels consumers would mostly not.

                                                                The <2-8 and 20-370 range comes from the 1982 paper, "Identification of 2,4,6-Trichloroanisole as a Potent Compound Causing Cork Taint in Wine," by Buser et al. Those ranges simply describe the wines in the study.

                                                                "There is no conclusive evidence that wines that exceed any one particular level of TCA will result in detectable negative taste characteristics for any significant portion of the wine-drinking population. Many award-winning wines contain levels of TCA that are detectable by instruments but not by consumers. Therefore, there is no single, fixed level of TCA that distinguishes a 'good' wine from 'bad.'"

                                                                http://www.wineinstitute.org/initiati...

                                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                  Hi, RL: "The <2-8 and 20-370 range comes from the 1982 paper, "Identification of 2,4,6-Trichloroanisole as a Potent Compound Causing Cork Taint in Wine," by Buser et al."

                                                                  Actually, it was Tanner and Zanier. And if you read Amerine closely, the ranges are not reported as found by others. Regardless of the origin, as late as 1983, these academics considered wines at 2-8 ppt TCA sound.

                                                                  I think your quote from the 2003 Wine Institute Fact Sheet is a sensible statement. As is another of their facts: "The research literature indicates that the existence of minute traces of TCA in award-winning wines does not impair product quality."

                                                                  Aloha,
                                                                  Kaleo

                                                                  1. re: kaleokahu

                                                                    "Regardless of the origin, as late as 1983, these academics considered wines at 2-8 ppt TCA sound. "

                                                                    You've got it backwards. They tested both flawed and sound wines, and the latter group had TCA levels from under 2 to 8 ppt. One should not extrapolate from that all wines with 8 ppt or less will have imperceptible levels of TCA, since perception is affected by the presence of other compounds in the wine.

                                                                2. re: kaleokahu

                                                                  <<If the acquired ability to sensitize one's self to ever-lower TCA levels is a fantasy>>

                                                                  No one doubts this. Why are you arguing like someone is disagreeing with you?

                                                                  <<And here, in this thread, we have self-confessed palates who have, by dint of training, "achieved" the ability to discern 2 ppt and would push the stem away.>>

                                                                  Here's what you don't get:
                                                                  They SHOULD push the stem away.

                                                                  For two reasons:
                                                                  First, it's an insurmountable flaw to THEM.
                                                                  Second, that 2 ppt TCA is showing up with other flaws, so it's not only the TCA that is disagreeable to the drinker, but other off-flavors as well.

                                                                3. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                  >>"........Even if you don't smell the TCA per se the wine is not going to have all the aroma and fruit that an uncorked bottle will have."<<

                                                                  I think the issue is simply whether or not a person is able to determine the difference. I find that wines of supposedly similar variety or blend vary very widely in their aroma and fruit, even if from the same general sourcing area and vintage. I THINK I find that, but perhaps it's because I can't recognize flaws as well as others. But......... if that's the reason, then I would have to conclude that more than half of the wines I taste through work or other exposure are flawed. Not any easy conclusion to reach.

                                                                  1. re: Midlife

                                                                    "I find that wines of supposedly similar variety or blend vary very widely in their aroma and fruit, even if from the same general sourcing area and vintage."

                                                                    Which areas are you talking about? Wines, particularly whites, that are shipped around the world without temperature-controlled storage can lose much of their fruit without displaying any blatant flaws.

                                                                    When I moved from Italy to California in the late 80s, it was almost impossible to find an Italian white wine that had the fresh and fruity character typical of its DOC.

                                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                      Just a general observation meant to attempt explain how I sometimes find it difficult to distinguish between real faults in wine and differences in their (for want of a better word) quality of aroma and flavor relative to my personal tastes. I simply mean that I'm often not sure whether a wine I find to be lacking in flavor and/or aroma us flawed or just not a good wine. I kinda have to feel as if a lot if people have the same difficulty.

                                                                4. re: kaleokahu

                                                                  <<I'm positing that the skilled tasters...can often have their enjoyment boosted simply by feeling good about their tasting acuity and other factors unconnected with what they're drinking.>>

                                                                  That's not a boost of sensory enjoyment, though. That's a boost of ego that has to do the psychological makeup of the individual. That's not at all related to sensory enjoyment.

                                                                  << To borrow your musician analogy, think of a music critic with perfect pitch and hearing, who from the back row can identify every note the least bit off. This critic may consider the performance flawed by a single clunker no one else can identify, much less one that would reduce "enjoyment". >>

                                                                  Again, this has to do more with the psychological makeup of the individual critic, in this case, someone who is curmudgeonly rather than celebratory. This is not the nature of the appreciative wine-drinker or music critic, the sensualist or hedonist.

                                                                  It's also a problem of scale: When the curmudgeon gives greater weight to the small number of negatives than to the far larger number of positives, the math is off due to the individual's psychological issues.

                                                                  <<I was just expressing my opinions that: (a) we can train ourselves to a rather extreme degree of pickiness; and (b) the enjoyment we get is a complicated sum that is oftentimes boosted or floored for feel-good, not taste-good reasons.>>

                                                                  But a picky person is not a sensualist or celebratory. You keep referencing individuals with issues -- the picky person, the curmudgeon, the insecure ego in need of glory -- implying that pickiness or an inability to drink anything but flawless wine is the inevitable outcome of sensory acuity, that the ability to detect flaws will overwhelm all the positives of wine. This is simply not so.

                                                                  It's odd that you choose to speak repeatedly of people with personality issues rather than the far larger number of wine-drinkers who have an uncomplicated, positive approach to wine, including those with perceptive palates.

                                                                  <<I don't believe there is presently any way to empirically prove that your enjoyment of your all-time favorite wine is superior to a first-time taster's stem of Chateau Reggie.>>

                                                                  This shows a pattern of conflating or confusing enjoyment (from first-time discovery, or from ego) with enjoyment derived from sensory perception.

                                                                  <<I'm not understanding why you think I'm denigrating anyone or their perception. >>

                                                                  Because your words so obviously communicated that, and reeked of resentment.

                                                                  1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                    Hi, ML:

                                                                    No, if your exquisitely trained palate detected a reek of resentment, that's an area you might work on improving. There was 0.0 ppt resentment.

                                                                    Perhaps you know better, but my understanding of the results of the brain scan experiments on tasters is that the increased pleasure (in one case from being tricked into believing they were tasting more expensive wine) was *actual* and very real. In contrast, when they tasted the very same wine under the mistaken belief that it was a different, less-expensive wine, the pleasure centers of the brain did not light up nearly as much. This is not a "personality disorder".

                                                                    Based on this experiment alone, I think you are out on quite a limb to distinguish so vividly a distinction between the "enjoyment derived from sensory perception" and the other "joys" of wine. I think they are so inextricably twined, it is nearly meaningless to talk about them as different things.

                                                                    There is also the meta-issue phenomenon to consider. People love being in love, some poor fools to the extent that the beloved matters less than the feeling of being in love. With all due respect, I think a similar thing can happen in wine appreciation. Accomplished tasters can take more satisfaction from demonstrating their accomplishments than they do from simply loving their wine. That it's still *actual*, real pleasure is acknowledged.

                                                                    I appreciate that what I have posited may be apostasy here. But please don't taste resentment where there is none.

                                                                    Aloha,
                                                                    Kaleo

                                                                    1. re: kaleokahu

                                                                      Triangle taste tests can tell you whether what you're tasting is in the glass or your imagination.

                                                                      1. re: kaleokahu

                                                                        You've thrown out a bunch of things that don't apply to the question: Does sensory acuity lead to sensory enjoyment?

                                                                        <<Accomplished tasters can take more satisfaction from demonstrating their accomplishments than they do from simply loving their wine. That it's still *actual*, real pleasure is acknowledged.>>

                                                                        You're bringing up the old ego gratification argument again. I've already explained why an "ego boost" is not the same thing as sensory enjoyment. Your saying those two things are the same, or difficult to separate, is off-base. They're not even remotely the same thing, not experientially, not physiologically.

                                                                        <<Perhaps you know better, but my understanding of the results of the brain scan experiments on tasters is that the increased pleasure (in one case from being tricked into believing they were tasting more expensive wine) was *actual* and very real. In contrast, when they tasted the very same wine under the mistaken belief that it was a different, less-expensive wine, the pleasure centers of the brain did not light up nearly as much.>>

                                                                        I know of no such test that used brain imaging while tricking tasters into thinking they were tasting an expensive wine when they weren't.

                                                                        Even if real, that test would be meaningful to this discussion only IF the activity of the brain's pleasure centers was correlated to the activity of the brain's taste and olfactory processing centers. That would show a relationship between the amount of sensory input and the amount of pleasure.

                                                                        I do know of a test that measured impressionability and gullibility in non-skilled tasters who rated a wine higher when they were told it was more expensive. But it wasn't a scientific test; it wasn't a test of skilled wine tasters who would quickly have called BS; and it wasn't a test of sensory enjoyment based on actual sensory perception. So this test has no bearing on the question either.

                                                                        <<But please don't taste resentment where there is none.>>

                                                                        Your words betrayed you, denial notwithstanding.

                                                                        1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                          Hi, ML: "I know of no such test that used brain imaging while tricking tasters into thinking they were tasting an expensive wine when they weren't."

                                                                          Well, there's this one from Cal Tech in 2008: http://www.caltech.edu/content/wine-s.... Which may be related to this one: http://www.gsb.stanford.edu/news/rese...
                                                                          And then there are those cited here, in Wine Business International: http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&amp;rc...

                                                                          Aloha,
                                                                          Kaleo

                                                                          1. re: kaleokahu

                                                                            You really want to argue this.

                                                                            The first and second articles are not valid to this discussion for reasons already explained.

                                                                            But the conclusions from the study by Castriota-Scanderberg said much the same as what a number of us have been saying:

                                                                            "Experts and novices were having quite different experiences. Both groups showed activation in the areas that integrate taste and smell sensations. But the experienced sommeliers showed activation in regions implicated in high level cognitive processes such as working memory and selection of behavioural strategies, suggesting that experienced tasters perceive wine in a different way to novices."

                                                                            1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                              Hi, ML:

                                                                              No argument. You had just said "I know of no such test that used brain imaging while tricking tasters into thinking they were tasting an expensive wine when they weren't."

                                                                              And there it was, circa 2008!

                                                                              FWIW, I'm *shocked* that brain scans of sommeliers showed that they were thinking more about the metrics of what they were tasting than novices--that's astounding. And perish the thought that professional tasters could ever be fooled into describing and enjoying differently for the same wine. Perhaps you're also unaware of the food coloring experiment?

                                                                              At its core, I find the whole "I enjoy more than you because of my acuity, knowledge or experience" thing quite solipsistic. I thought we were past all that. See, http://www.langtons.com.au/Magazine/W...

                                                                              "You really want to argue this." No, but it's fun, and this board is usually a little boring. I haven't had this much fun here since the Great Big Vegan Sommelier Dustup.

                                                                              Aloha,
                                                                              Kaleo

                                                                              1. re: kaleokahu

                                                                                NONE of the studies are relevant to sensory input correlated to sensory pleasure, though. None of them have anything to with what's being discussed. They're all irrelevant.

                                                                                And yes, I knew about the studies except for the one authored by Castriota-Scanderberg, but didn't know that fMRI was a component of the price experiment.

                                                                                1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                  Hi, M L:

                                                                                  I thought they were PET scans, and I consider them relevant.

                                                                                  Not all knowledge is within your (or my) house.

                                                                                  You enjoy, now.

                                                                                  Aloha,
                                                                                  Kaleo

                                                                    2. re: kaleokahu

                                                                      As one, who often orders the wines, I do not pride myself in rejecting any wine. I do, however, pride myself in saving any guests, and myself, from being poured flawed wines. It is as simple as that. When a flawed wine IS encountered, I reject it as quietly, as I can, and ask for the same wine, but without the flaw, especially TCA, et al. My guest might know that a second bottle has arrived, and is being tasted, but little more.

                                                                      For my International Wine & Food Society meetings, I only want to share my sensitivity to many flaws with them, to help them improve their perception. It is a learning experience, IMHO. To fully appreciate fine, to great wines, I feel that there might be a slight learning curve. I will bite the cost of a corked bottle, that I could get credit for, to help educate them. I see nothing wrong, or conspiratorial with that, but maybe others will.

                                                                      Hunt

                                                                5. re: Midlife

                                                                  Well, sort of, but in a refined sense.

                                                                  If I encounter a wine that I ordered (maybe totally new to me), that is not flawed, so that I can detect, then it is my buy. Now, I might not drink it, but that is my decision.

                                                                  If the sommelier chose that wine, say to pair with the ____, then I discuss that choice with them. We might negotiate that wine, but I am not likely to drink it.

                                                                  If I find a flaw, and can define it, then I feel that it is incumbent on the establishment to replace it, and if I ordered the wine, with the same exact, un-flawed (or so I hope) bottle, that was ordered.

                                                                  In my cellar, I have a little plaque, that a friend gave me, when I christened my cellar in AZ. It reads, "Life is short. There is no reason to drink bad wine." That is how I feel.

                                                                  If I order it, and it just does not suit me, or pair with the dish, I pay for it, and perhaps order something else. Otherwise, I need to speak with someone. In all cases, I very seldom drink any wines, that I do not enjoy.

                                                                  As you suggest, I try to educate myself to not order THAT wine again, at least not with that, or a similar dish.

                                                                  My list of "do not order" wines, is almost as big as my "oh gosh, I love this wine" list. I seldom forget, or mix the two up.

                                                                  Hunt

                                                                  1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                    "Life is short. There is no reason to drink bad wine."

                                                                    That's it. Love this. Live by this.

                                                            2. re: Klunco

                                                              Wet cardboard vs. barnyard sounds about right to my nose.

                                                              1. re: Klunco

                                                                >>> I've always though TCA exhibits muted fruit and cardboard aromas while Brett smells like barnyard dung. Is that more or less it? <<<

                                                                In short, yes. Wet cardboard/wet dog versus typical barnyard aromas/horse manure.

                                                                A problem with "muted fruit" can arise in wines with VERY low levels of TCA (and keep in mind that human beings are sensitive to TCA in parts per billion!) -- often the only detectable note *is* muted fruit, and nothing else. In cases like this, I find it absolutely impossible to tell whether a) the wine is simply "low" in fruit, or b) the fruit is "muted" due to TCA. The only way to tell is to open a second bottle, and that's not always feasible in non-competition situations.

                                                                1. re: zin1953

                                                                  Thank you all for your replies. It makes sense that for an average consumer in a non-competition setting (or a setting without multiple bottles) that lack of fruit shouldn't be a non-starter.

                                                                  In my limited experience with off bottles (luckily I haven't encountered too many) I've never thought something had TCA based on lack of fruit. It's always been wet cardboard and THEN realizing there was no fruit and assuming it was corked.

                                                                  1. re: Klunco

                                                                    "lack of fruit shouldn't be a non-starter"

                                                                    IMO, it should be.

                                                                    1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                      ML,

                                                                      I agree completely with you.

                                                                      However, that aspect can be tough to judge, if one does not know the wine, or have another bottle to do an A-B comparison with. When it comes down to that aspect, I just buy a second bottle, and ask the sommelier to do the A-B. They have never refused, nor have they questioned me again.

                                                                      Hunt

                                                                  2. re: zin1953

                                                                    "keep in mind that human beings are sensitive to TCA in parts per billion"

                                                                    Sensitivity varies:

                                                                    http://www.winesandvines.com/template...

                                                                  3. re: Klunco

                                                                    Without concentrating on Bret, that is "intended," or "common to ___," there ARE major differences, just on the nose.

                                                                    Bret is more "heavy barnyard," where TCA is more "wet hymnals in a Southern Baptist church.

                                                                    Both are not good, but totally different, at least to me.

                                                                    Hunt

                                                                    1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                      Barnyard is the most characteristic Brett smell, but Brett can also smell like Band-Aids, burnt plastic, sweaty gym socks and even smoky-sweet bacon. That last group is the only beneficial Brett aroma I know.

                                                                      1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                        ML,

                                                                        I agree. Beyond the "normal," that "vinyl smell," can be part of the profile.

                                                                        Now, "sweaty gym socks" has not been in my experience, but I will never doubt you.

                                                                        Hey, there was once a time, where I would not have admitted to "cat pee-pee" in some SB's, but then, I found those notes - for the better, or the worse.

                                                                        Now, the "bacon notes," are something that I often find in PN's and Syrahs (New World and Old World), and a "positive" to me. Most often, others miss those notes, and even laugh at me, until the second, or third taste.

                                                                        Hunt

                                                                        1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                          Thanks for this Maria Lorraine. Burnt plastic is an interesting one, since I distinctly remember a bottle about two years ago that had a fault I couldn't identify. At first I thought it was too much sulfur but this was a darker and sharper smell, although I couldn't put my finger on what exactly what it was, I just knew that the wine was quite obviously flawed.

                                                                          Are there regions or grapes that are more Brett prone or where Brett is used purposely? I know Hunt mentioned Pinot Noir and Syrah below. How about Gamay or other varietals or places? Also, is it ever purposely used in whites?

                                                                          1. re: Klunco

                                                                            Seems to me like some wineries e.g. Rayas seek a controlled level of brett:

                                                                            http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/373505

                                                                            Beer brewers certainly do. Try a Russian River Sanctification.

                                                                            1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                              Yes please!

                                                                            2. re: Klunco

                                                                              <<Are there regions or grapes that are more Brett prone or where Brett is used purposely?>>

                                                                              You find Brett often in Rhone wines, but it's a problem worldwide. Rarely does Brett contribute anything positive to a wine -- the sweet-smoky bacon/pepperoni strain of Brett is the only one I know that adds anything good.

                                                                              Brett occurs with a lack of sanitation. Once a winery is infected, EVERYTHING has to be disinfected or discarded, as it grows like a cancer and cannot be controlled.

                                                                              While low levels of some Brett strains can be part of a wine's personality and not bothersome, the winery can never control which strains of Brett it will get (or has), and how virulent the strain will be. It stays around in wineries because it is thought to contribute to the wine's personality or because the winery cannot afford the massive sanitation effort required. I've also noticed winemakers who have Brett in their wines and are no longer able to detect it -- it's as if they've become inured to it.

                                                                              The thread Robert linked to just above is helpful in terms of which wine regions have more Brett than others. But the problem can occur anywhere.

                                                                              1. re: Klunco

                                                                                Now, and at a much lower level, I often find notes of "caramelized sugars," with some Pinot Noirs, and a few Syrahs. They are not at the level of "burnt plastic," as I have smelled burnt plastic in my youth. Some might not be engaged by those notes, though I am.

                                                                                Same for notes of "bacon," that I find in many of the same wines. I do not consider them flaws, in any way, though the could well be produced by flawing elements at some point.

                                                                                Hunt

                                                                        2. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                          Robert,

                                                                          I, and my wife, are the absolute opposite. We can often pick it up, three tables away.

                                                                          Still, I have no issue with that.

                                                                          Hunt

                                                                        3. Perhaps a better question is why would the restaurant allow bad wine to be served to guests? Seems to me that the staff should be trained to notice off or tainted wines while pouring if the scent is so obvious. As others have said, people often try wines they don't know BTG and may just assume that the wine is not one they like. Descriptions of wet cardboard mean nothing unless one has some real comparisons. It took having two bottles of the same vintage and varietal with one being fresh and one being dead for me to get the idea, but that does not happen always.
                                                                          Should not the restaurant be as responsible for serving fresh wine as they are fresh food?

                                                                          4 Replies
                                                                          1. re: budnball

                                                                            There are two separate issues here, not to mention a difference in levels of service within restaurants. There is also a matter of the way things SHOULD be done and, given human nature, the way things actually ARE done . . .

                                                                            Example A -- bottles: If you are at, say, Olive Garden, Outback, Red Lobster, Applebee's, or similar level of restaurant (chain or not; that doesn't matter), I'd expect the level of staff training when it comes to wine to be far below what I would expect at a restaurant like Gary Danko, Le Bernadin, The French Laundry, or even Morton's (despite the fact the latter is a chain). So having a corked bottle served to me at Olive Garden, etc. would not surprise me in the least. On the other hand, I would expect those establishments with a full-time sommelier -- and even those with a well-developed wine program yet no sommelier per se -- to check the cork when opening the wine and (perhaps) detect an off-note. In some places, a sommelier will actually pour him- or herself a small taste to verify the wine is sound prior to offering a taste to the person who ordered the bottle for their approval. Even so, I've caught corked bottles that the sommelier/server missed . . . again, some people -- as you can see from this thread -- are less sensitive to TCA than others.

                                                                            Example B -- by the glass: Certainly ANY restaurant, regardless of its price point, target market, etc., should be checking bottles as they open them for service by the glass to make sure they are not flawed in some way. That said, in most establishments that serve wines by the glass, it is the bartender that pours the glass(es) of wine. He/she doesn't check the vodka or the gin when opening a new bottle and, human nature being what it is, he/she may simply forget to check the new bottle of wine when opening it. Also, when the bartender is swamped with orders -- just like as public wine tastings like ZAP, for example -- the bartender may just "pop & pour" as he/she is in a hurry to get those orders out as fast as possible . . . the cocktail orders are backing up! . . . and the bartender is going to get a tip from that couple sitting at the bar, as opposed to that table the waitress is serving . . . .

                                                                            So the short answer to your question -- "Should not the restaurant be as responsible for serving fresh wine as they are fresh food?" -- is:

                                                                            Of course, but don't hold your breath -- nobody's perfect!

                                                                            1. re: zin1953

                                                                              I guess I am reacting to the OP blaming the customer. It is, as we know, easy to identify flat beer and most hard liquors are pretty stable, taste-wise. Wine is such a different animal with flavor being subject to many variables. I get the realities of the restaurant biz, and my strategy is to ask for a taste of the BTG wine I may be choosing before committing.

                                                                              1. re: zin1953

                                                                                Jason,

                                                                                My two "sommelier" issues were at restaurants, that, while not at the French Laundry level, were not far behind. They should have known better, but the sommeliers did not, and "paid the price."

                                                                                Regarding a single bottle of corked wine, after the sommelier commented that "the chef will cook with this, as it's perfect," I commented, loud enough for the entire restaurant to hear, "So, the chef would cook with an obviously tainted wine?" That sommelier disappeared within the month. Not sure why, but it could have been because he knew nothing.

                                                                                Hunt

                                                                              2. re: budnball

                                                                                You pose a great question.

                                                                                Many would NEVER serve a tainted wine, and a really good sommelier should pick up on that.

                                                                                OTOH, some restaurants do not care, even though their distributors will replace a tainted bottle, at no cost.

                                                                                Often, a person in the role of "sommelier," or "cellar master," has no clue, and assumes that all bottles from the restaurant's cellar must be perfect.

                                                                                I have encountered a "push back" for a sommelier, in a few instances, but only a few.

                                                                                If a restaurant really cares about their patrons, and their wine program, they will stand ready to sample any, and all wines, that a patron has an issue with.

                                                                                That said, some patrons are not good judges of the possible flaws in a wine, and have their own, and different agendas. That needs to be considered.

                                                                                Still, a restaurant might have folk serving wines, who know zero about that product, and that can be the problem.

                                                                                Hunt

                                                                              3. Some people are just not sensitive to TCA (and similar), where others are.

                                                                                I have been seated at a table, when a waiter passed behind me, with a tray of B-T-G wines, and I have picked up TCA.

                                                                                When it comes to tiny amounts, I have asked my wife, also sensitive to TCA, to verify. We have never been wrong.

                                                                                I have been in situations, where people were drinking an obviously corked (to me) wine, and never noticing.

                                                                                Hunt

                                                                                27 Replies
                                                                                1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                  "I have been in situations, where people were drinking an obviously corked (to me) wine, and never noticing."

                                                                                  It is one of my goals in life to have my senses deteriorate just to the point where I will never notice a bottle of corked wine. :-)

                                                                                  1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                    More than once I've been at the dinner table with friends, realized that everyone was drinking a corked wine, and gone around taking away their glasses, only to have some of them object. So I opened a second bottle, checked that it was sound, and poured them glasses of that so they could compare.

                                                                                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                      Robert,

                                                                                      Yes, that will often turn "light bulbs" ON for many - an A-B comparison of a tainted wine vs an untainted wine.

                                                                                      Some feel that a high-acid, low-fruit, musty wine, is how it should be, but others, thankfully, know the difference.

                                                                                      Hunt

                                                                                    2. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                      I am sensitive to TCA which I generally think of as a musty taste or smell and discover that I sense it sooner than others. By the way is the musty taste I sense in every miniature carrot I have tasted similar or unrelated to TCA?

                                                                                      1. re: baltimorejim

                                                                                        Wow. We do a lot of miniature carrots, but I have never, never noticed it there.

                                                                                        Now, in Phoenix, AZ, I find that the water seems to have TCA contamination, but ML explained that to me.

                                                                                        Interesting,

                                                                                        Hunt

                                                                                        1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                          Bill, I have almost never had a miniature carrot that didn't reek of TCA or some very similar compound. In fact, I use them to teach people how to recognize the smell. easier than saving a corked bottle. Once had a customer return a bottle of corked Grey Goose that I kept and used for a long time.

                                                                                          1. re: jock

                                                                                            "A corked carrot? When taint extends far beyond wine"
                                                                                            San Francisco Chronicle, April 8, 2011:
                                                                                            http://www.sfgate.com/food/article/A-...

                                                                                            1. re: jock

                                                                                              Guess that I just must not do that many miniature carrots, or at least not from certain sources. Will have to pay more attention in the future.

                                                                                              Thanks,

                                                                                              Hunt

                                                                                              1. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                                You must not fly coach very often,

                                                                                                1. re: jock

                                                                                                  Jock,

                                                                                                  No more often, than I can help to avoid. One reason that we are both 1K's on United, and then Chairman's Level on US Air (not sure how THAT will work out, but we will see.)

                                                                                                  However, much can depend on WHERE one is flying, at any level.

                                                                                                  On UAL, their miniature carrots do not seemed "corked," but maybe I have had too much wine, by the time they are served?

                                                                                                  Hunt

                                                                                              2. re: jock

                                                                                                Corked vodka?

                                                                                                1. re: pikawicca

                                                                                                  It's the cork that matters, not the liquid, and some liquors are sealed with "T" corks.

                                                                                                  1. re: jlbwendt

                                                                                                    Not quite. A cork or any closure isn't needed to produce TCA. TCA is often produced in the air of a winery or manufacturing facility as an interaction between chlorine compounds and airborne fungi. This is called cellar taint instead of cork taint. In this case, the liquid (wine, vodka, water, etc.) becomes tainted with TCA whenever it is exposed to air. Vegetables washed in tainted water also become tainted.

                                                                                                    And, of course, corked wine can result from corks infected before they reach the winery. But it's incorrect to assume "cork taint" is always from corks.

                                                                                                    TBA is much like TCA -- but it's formed from wood preservatives and airborne fungi. It's the same "corked" smell but with a slight slimy green vegetable note. Same method of transfer -- it's airborne and can affect liquid or even some solid substances. If the smell is "corked" with a decayed "green" smell also, it's probably TBA.

                                                                                                    1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                      The water that comes out of my bathroom sink is corked. Only that faucet in the entire apartment- it drives me nuts. I have to brush my teeth in the kitchen.

                                                                                                      1. re: plaidbowtie

                                                                                                        <<The water that comes out of my bathroom sink is corked. Only that faucet in the entire apartment- it drives me nuts. I have to brush my teeth in the kitchen.>>

                                                                                                        Change to non-chlorine cleaning supplies to sanitize your bathroom. A lot of wineries made this switch to eliminate TCA -- many wineries have strict rules against the use of any cleaning supplies that contain chlorine anywhere in the winery. Tri-Chloro-Anisole = chlorine + fungi. Good luck, plaidbowtie.

                                                                                                        1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                          Plaidbowtie,

                                                                                                          Have you ever noticed that water from a garden hose tastes corked? In that case, it's the chlorine in the water binding with phenols in the plastic to form TCA.

                                                                                                          So I wonder if something similar is happening with the PVC pipe in your bathroom -- maybe an interaction between the phenols in the PVC pipe and the chlorine in the water or cleaning supplies to form TCA or another similar compound? Dunno, this is a guess.

                                                                                                          1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                            I've always used all natural cleaning products, and the one for my bathroom doesn't have any chlorine in it. I live in a 20 unit apartment building so honestly there's probably not much I can do about it. The roommate says he doesn't notice it but it's annoying!

                                                                                                        2. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                          Does Grey Goose not use a cork closure? Occam's Razor in action....

                                                                                                          1. re: jlbwendt

                                                                                                            I love references like Occam's.

                                                                                                            Sure, if we'd been talking only about TCA taint of vodka, the maxim of Occam's razor -- between two competing explanations of equal validity, the simplest explanation is usually the better one -- would apply. So you'd be right -- the Grey Goose cork is the most likely agent of infection, more than the water used to dilute the vodka to a precise proof, more than any airborne TCA.

                                                                                                            But the recent discussion had been of a variety of tainted beverages (wine and water, etc., in addition to vodka) stoppered with a variety of closures (some of which are not cork), and even some foods, produced in a huge variety of manufacturing facilities. Meaning, with that number of variables and level of complexity, no one simple or single explanation of taint can be correct for all those beverages, foods and environments, so Occam's maxim cannot be applied. At least that's the way it looks to me.

                                                                                                            1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                              Agree. But if a cork is in the bottle be it Grey Goose or wine it will be the culprit 99% of the time. Therefore, given the closure options available today 99% of TCA in wine could be eliminated with the additional benefit of a reduction in cost.

                                                                                                              1. re: jock

                                                                                                                99%??

                                                                                                                Oh golly, I really wish that were the case, but that's not accurate by a long shot.

                                                                                                                The cork has truly been unfairly blamed for a massive amount of cellar taint or barrel taint. Which isn't to say some corks aren't infected.

                                                                                                                1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                                  I'm with you here. 99% of tca taint coming from cork is wildly inaccurate.

                                                                                                            2. re: jlbwendt

                                                                                                              OT thread drift, once got a bottle of Greg Goose that smelled and tasted of some sort of petroleum product. Haven't purchased their product since.

                                                                                                2. re: Bill Hunt

                                                                                                  Hello Bill,

                                                                                                  Every time I attend a major tasting I find at least a couple of truly corked wines being poured to attendees. I don't fancy my palate the sharpest on this plane, but corked is corked.

                                                                                                  Been skimming Chow for years but have rarely had the time to 'dive in', as such. Anyway, I keep running into your balanced, informed comments and wanted to say "Good man (or whatever) ya are!" We concur on many things. By the way, my sweetie shares my sensitivity to TCA as well...

                                                                                                  Anyway, I was prompted to write by your Brett comment. My palate seems to share your palate's ambivalence to it. After happy, profound experiences with a number of wines such as Beaucastel's Châteauneuf-du-Pape Hommage à Jacques Perrin (and other wondrous 'animal' wines) I can't always say it is a fault.

                                                                                                  This is at odds with maria l's comment (who has, from my perspective, many 'spot-on' rebuttal comments here).

                                                                                                  Today I found the following article (and, considering your voluminous output, I checked comments there before copying it here!)

                                                                                                  If, indeed, you haven't seen it, you may feel somewhat vindicated:

                                                                                                  http://palatepress.com/2013/01/wine/r...

                                                                                                  I know I do...

                                                                                                  Best regards,

                                                                                                  taocrasorm

                                                                                                  1. re: taocrasorm

                                                                                                    The new Brettanomyces Aroma Wheel is fascinating. I've linked to a downloadable photo of it below. Linda Bisson at UC-Davis identified 83 strains of Brett, and has turned her findings into the Brett Aroma Wheel.

                                                                                                    In prior years, I had loosely classified about 21 strains of Brett into about five flavor/aroma families for easy identification. The only group that seemed to contribute something positive to the wine was what I called the sweet-smoky group, the 4-EG group, which gave a pepperoni, bacon or smoky flavor, often with a saccharine (bittersweet) component, to the wine.

                                                                                                    But Bisson has found that some other positive flavors/aromas from Brett that show up in wine -- roses, cola, cigar and some spices. Those flavors can have other origins, too, so their "appearance" in a wine cannot be solely ascribed to Brett.

                                                                                                    The overall issue I have with Brett is that it takes over a winery, and the winery has no control over what strain of Brett it has. It's impossible to "court" the good strains of Brett and kick out the bad strains, like a bouncer at a bar. So if a winery is infected with Brett, chances are it will not produce good flavors.

                                                                                                    Over time, a small Brett infection in a winery can easily turn into a huge Brett infection. A winery may make a Cabernet with a small amount of Bretty leather, and that small amount of leather adds something to the wine's texture and complexity. But that small amount of leather one year can easily (and usually does) turn into an overpowering amount of leather in subsequent years, killing both the wine's flavor and potential profits.

                                                                                                    The only solution with a pervasive Brett infection -- and it grows in *everything* in a winery (barrels, tanks, hoses, fittings, drains) -- is an expensive eradication.

                                                                                                    Even after a wine is bottled, Brett can become more dominant. Again, a little leather (or other flavor OK in small amounts), turns into an unpalatable amount after a few years of aging.

                                                                                                    Taocrasorm, thanks for your post. I agree with your nice comments about Bill Hunt. He is such an informed enthusiast, a gentleman, and always a pleasure to read.

                                                                                                    1. re: maria lorraine

                                                                                                      Here's the Brett Aroma Wheel from Linda Bisson at UC-Davis:
                                                                                                      http://palatepress.com/wp-content/upl...

                                                                                                    2. re: taocrasorm

                                                                                                      I have not had such misfortune, BUT did attend a trade-tasting some years ago, with the title of "Reserve vs Regular - What is the Difference?" In that break out session, a US wine maker posed the "Reserve" wines vs their "regular" offerings. Unfortunately, at a point in pouring the side-by-side wines, a bottle, of the Reserve, that was badly corked, was introduced.

                                                                                                      I happened to have arrived early, and one of my "test wines," the Reserve, was topped up by that bad bottle. I quietly pointed this out to the representative (a family member, and Director of Marketing). The response that I got was, "well, many in the room will not get what I have to offer." Bogus! The site of that tasting offered both of their wines, on the list, and a replacement(s) could have been received in moments. Still, that representative was not in favor of that. As it turned out, half the room was trying to follow along with a corked version (the Reserve) vs the "regular." That was the very last time that I bothered to ever order that producer's product. If the Director of Marketing, and a family member, did not care enough to replace the bad example, then they do not deserve MY $.

                                                                                                      As for Brett, there can be good examples, and also bad examples. So very much will depend on the specific wine, and its characteristics. In the right place, and in limited quantities - OK. Over do it, and all is not good.

                                                                                                      Hunt

                                                                                                  2. i think most people who order wine by the glass are not really that into wine. it's a drink. sometimes it can be very difficult to tell if a wine is corked unless you are familiar with the wine. some barnyard off smells are correct. i once had a wine at a restaurant that was not only corked but brown. they didn't want to take it back until i made a scene. no wine steward and they just cared about the $. last year i went to le bernadin and the wine steward tasted the wine and went to get another bottle. when i asked him if the first bottle was corked, he said yes. i asked to taste it, a learning experience, and it tasted fine. a second taste showed a tiny off flavor. i never would have noticed it. i told him that 19 out of 20 people would not notice anything, he said probably 99 out of 100.
                                                                                                    once i ordered an aglianico, never had it before, and it smelled like a barn but tasted terrific. i asked the waiter if that was right and he asked the bartender. there was no wine steward. he said yes and i drank the wine. i enjoyed the taste but the smell was off putting. was it bad? was it corked? i've had many aglianicos since and none have smelled like that so i think it was a bad bottle. but it was drinkable.

                                                                                                    3 Replies
                                                                                                    1. re: dock

                                                                                                      Barnyard smells do not indicate a corked wine. TCA smells like wet cardboard.

                                                                                                      1. re: dock

                                                                                                        When I have a wine BTG, its not because I'm not into wine. Its often because I don't plan on drinking an entire bottle as I originally pointed out. I think people who are having wine BTG may actually be even more into wine. If I order wine BTG, I can change wines with my courses rather than ordering one bottle and having to drink it with every course that comes to the table. I do that plenty of times, but its quite nice to be able to change wines as the food changes. But I get your point.

                                                                                                        1. re: dock

                                                                                                          Well, I AM deeply "into wines," and do B-T-G, when it fits with the meal. If not, then I do half-bottles.

                                                                                                          I still feel that all patrons should have a flawless wine, regardless of their level of expertise, knowledge, or the pouring by the house.

                                                                                                          Guess that I am just naïve, and that patrons should just beware.

                                                                                                          Hunt

                                                                                                        2. Did you ever complain to a waiter that the wine was corked, only to have him or her tell you it can't be because they just opened a "fresh? bottle? It amazes me!

                                                                                                          6 Replies
                                                                                                          1. re: wincountrygirl

                                                                                                            I have heard all sorts of crazy things in restaurants regarding TCA. Once I was entertaining business clients and the bottle I ordered was clearly corked. The waitress informed me that it could not be corked because the wine was too old. She told me cork taint was only a recent problem and was never an issue with wines made over five years or so ago.

                                                                                                            Ok.

                                                                                                            1. re: Fowler

                                                                                                              Slightly OT but..

                                                                                                              I had a really long discussion one day up at Hirsch with Ross Cobb about theories behind the origins of TCA. He told me us one that was quite interesting- Apparently back when the Spanish flu was raging, they found out that it was being spread through sheep's dung, and that if sprayed with a chlorine based liquid, it could help prevent the flu from spreading. Those sheep happened to habitually congregate in the shade of the cork trees, chlorine spray on the cork tree activated the TCA compound and here we are.

                                                                                                              I have no idea if this is actually true, but it seems plausible and is a darn good story to tell.

                                                                                                              1. re: plaidbowtie

                                                                                                                That's nonsense, both historically and scientifically.

                                                                                                                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                                                                                                                  that's a strong statement to have without any back up

                                                                                                                  1. re: plaidbowtie

                                                                                                                    Ok, I'll have a go at it even though I'm not positive as to exactly what you're hypothesizing.
                                                                                                                    There is not just one fungi that can produce TCA. There are at least a dozen. These are naturally occurring fungi present in soil, wood, etc., etc.. Wherever they occur (barrels, corks, pallets,cartons), if exposed to something like chlorine, they can produce TCA. They do so as a nature defense mechanism. So no one sprayed some sheeps dung thus creating TCA which then reproduced like a virus. Likewise sprying some dung didn't create the fungi that are found in cork, or wood etc.. In the case of corks a lot of the taint historically came from corks from trees that possessed the fungi which is not out of the ordinary, and were exposed later via cleaning etc.. It's believed that in the case of corks that are harvested with tca present that something like pestacides present in the surroundings leads to the creation of TCA.

                                                                                                              2. re: Fowler

                                                                                                                So much for the staff having a clue.

                                                                                                                Hunt