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Aug 16, 2013 05:10 PM

Bad bottle or naive palate?

I like wine, well, I like white wine (after discovering that red gives me hang overs) but have wondered about this for awhile.

Some 15 years ago, while I was still trying to learn to drink reds, I bought myself a bottle of French Burgundy. I don't remember anything else about it other than it was about $25.

What I do remember is an unmistakable taste and aroma of musty, old books. You know, like when a basement floods and the wet books dry up after the water recedes.

Is that normal or did I have the bad luck to get a rare bad bottle of wine? If it was a bad bottle, is "musty" a normal sign of it?


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  1. It's not rare. It was a probably "corked" -- infected by something called TCA that makes wine smell exactly like musty, old books. Bill Hunt likes to say the smell reminds him of musty old hymnals. I concur.

    Mustiness from TCA is just one way a bottle can go bad. It's probably the most common way.

    Good smell memory.

    5 Replies
    1. re: maria lorraine

      Wow. That bottle was the beginning of the end for me in even trying red wines. For the longest time I thought it was me!

      Good to know that Burgundies certainly do not smell/taste like that.

      Shame that I can't drink them at all now, though. But maybe I'll sip a bit here and there!

      Also, if I encounter that again, I'll be able to speak from a place of knowledge. :-)

      1. re: Violatp

        As for the issues, Pinot Noirs (the red grape of Burgundy) can cause some headaches, but those can almost always be countered with a couple of glasses of water, per each glass of wine.

        We drink a lot (please do not tell my insurance agent), and while I love PN's, if I do not do my water, then I can suffer the next morning. Similar with young Cabernet Sauvignons - older ones do not dehydrate me to the same level.

        Try a Pinot Noir, BUT do drink an 8 oz glass of water, for eah 4-6 oz glass of PN.



        1. re: Bill Hunt

          Thanks for the hint. Good to know. It's always struck me as bizarre because I can drink my weight in white wine or vodka or pretty much most anything else (that I like to drink) but the only thing that sends me back to bed, keening in misery, was red wine.

          Your secret is safe with me. :-)

          1. re: Violatp

            A few years back, I went through some phase where red wine gave me a near instant headache. Seriously, I'd order a glass with dinner and by the time dessert came 'round, I'd have a splitting headache.

            However, this seems to have passed. As far as I know, nothing else changed in that time, so I have no clue what happened.

            So it might be worth trying a small glass now and again, just to check if it's still affecting you.

          2. re: Bill Hunt

            BIll, our favorite restaurant here is threatening to close because the owners want to move to Florida (yeeks!). So they've pared back their wine list to local stuff, but they keep one bottle of Aloxe-Corton on hand for us.

            And I have to drink lots of water after three lovely glasses of Dubreuil-Fontaine?

            Uh, I don't think so!

      2. With red Burgs, there CAN be some "somewhat odd tastes," but "musty" should not be one of them.

        As ML mentions, that is most often caused by some TCA contamination - basically a bacterial interactions from the wine, with some chlorine, used to cleanse the cork.

        For me, there is first the "mustiness," and then a higer, than normal acid level, plus a "scalping" of the fruit. However, the latter two might not be at all helpful, unless one knows the wine, or has a good bottle, to do an A-B comparison with.

        Again, as ML comments, if one has ever attended a church service in the Deep South (denomination does not matter), the the smell of the hymnals will bring back memories of a TCA/TCB contaminated wine.

        On a good night, I can pick that smell out on a tray, passing 15' behind me, and know that at least one glass is "corked." To date, I have never been wrong. OTOH, there can be degrees of contamination, and luckily, my wife is as sensitive, as I am - if I question, she will either verify, or pass on a good wine, with other aspects, that might have confused me. Between us, not one corked bottle has ever made its way to our guests.

        From the descriptions, that is NOT how a red Burg should taste - other things? Yes, but not "musty."


        3 Replies
        1. re: Bill Hunt

          Thanks, Bill!

          It quite traumatized me against giving most reds a chance for a long time. And then of course when I started again, I realized the hangover connection.

          But, I'd be willing to give the red Burg another try on a sipping level. If nothing else, then to see what I taste now vs what I remember smelling and tasting.

          1. re: Violatp

            You're missing out of the very best food wine of all!

        2. DEFINITELY not bad palate... could have been bad bottle, bad year, not decanted, bad storage, bad cork, bad fill on that particular bottle, or just plain a perennially "bad producer"...

          but ALWAYS ALWAYS trust your palate, that's the one thing that's never wrong.... NEVER think you have to like something (or dislike something) because everyone else including the "experts" says so.

          FWIW, "red burgundy" encompasses such a wide range of producers as to be impossible to respond to. It's like saying "I had a bottle of Napa cabernet once"... just way way too broad an area to even comment on, really.

          1 Reply
          1. re: TombstoneShadow

            Well, it was 15 years ago! :-)

            And I remembered it was French!

          2. I admit I am a red wine only gal, even with fish, and even in summer. White wine to me is like drinking decaf coffee. That smell, is classic corked, bad wine! I have drank more wine than biblically allowed, and I have only had one bad corked bottle, and it was unmistakable in it's grossness, like licking the pages of a book found in the attic at grandma's

            1. Headaches from red wine are a common enough phenomenon that it has a name, though it's not well understood.


              I've found that people who are sensitive to red wines sometimes have less of a problem if the wine is lighter, more delicate, and/or older.

              2 Replies
              1. re: Robert Lauriston

                In the past few months, I've read a couple of medical articles that confirm what had been suspected for years -- that Red Wine Headache (RWH) is mainly a reaction to tyramine. I'll dig out the articles if I can.

                Luckily, this is threshold reaction, so if you consume less overall tyramine at a meal (omitting salami, cured meats, aged cheeses, smoked fish, other foods with tyramine), you might be able to tolerate the tyramine in red wine. Depending on what your individual threshold is.

                I wrote about this on Chowhound long ago. Here's one long post that goes into reasons for headaches after drinking wine:

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  Interesting! I'm not one to get the headache right away, though. It was definitely the next morning at the expected hangover time.

                  I think you're right on the rose front, now that I think about it.