Cork Taint


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Last month on pay day I bought an extra-nice bottle of red Burgundy.  Not exactly DRC, you understand, but a bottle that was a cut above average on my budget nonetheless, to reflect that a long, difficult yet relatively successful month’s hard work was over.

I can’t tell you how much I was looking forward to this bottle.  I was even cooking a lovely meal that would perfectly complement it.   Having felt under pressure to cut down on alcohol at the turn of the new year with most of civilised society, (seriously, what’s that about?) January had been a pretty dull month. 

I uncorked the bottle and tipped it gently into a decanter (well, a jug.  Who am I kidding?).  After a few minutes I leaned over the jug to take in the smell.  Even though it would still have some opening up to do, I hoped to get a sense of what aromas I could look forward to. 

The cork taint was really faint and I wasn’t sure at first – Pinot Noir can really stink when you first open it, especially Burgundy, and it wouldn’t be the first time that I had encountered a sulphuric stench that wouldn’t take long to disperse.  But something wasn’t right.  The more I smelled it, the more convinced I was that this was a corked bottle.  I poured a little into a glass and confirmed my suspicions.

The thing about a corked bottle is it will start to deteriorate as soon as the air hits the wine, so even if you can only detect it very faintly at first, if you have any doubts at all that your bottle is in good condition, give it some time and try smelling and tasting it again.  If it is corked, it will probably smell and taste slightly worse than it did when you first opened it.  If it is just a crap wine, it will taste the same.

I lamented my corked bottle more than a rational person would have done and then pondered some possible solutions – could I put the dinner preparations on hold, and race back to the wine merchants before they closed at 7?  I knew that I would be cutting it fine, and that there was a good chance they would sneak off early to start enjoying their own Friday night.  I had no doubts they would simply replace my bottle for me, but that wasn’t the point, I wanted it there and then and all the grumbling in the world couldn’t make it happen.  So, I executed Plan B, and shuffled round the corner to the local Co-op to buy an infinitely inferior bottle that would never replace the one I had been looking forward to but that would at least get me sufficiently inebriated that I would stop complaining.

There are a lot of statistics flying around as to what percentage of wines are corked – I think ‘approximately one in twelve’ is what most people seem to agree on at the moment.  Personally, although I suspect I am just unlucky, I would estimate that about one in seven bottles I open is corked.  Now, I don’t have the world’s most sophisticated palate but sniffing out corked wines is something I have a knack for.  So it is entirely possible that there are other unlucky people like me who simply don’t realise their bottle is corked, but instead just they are drinking a wine that they do not really like. 

It got me thinking though – my bottle was relatively inexpensive – but there must be a great deal of considerably more devastated rich people out there who are the ultimate owners of the most expensive wines that have changed hands many, many times without anyone ever knowing their little secret – namely that through no fault of the producer or any of the subsequent owners – they were already ruined.  What happens then?

The truth is, I don’t know – a wine that has been in the cellar for many years cannot be replaced as easily as my bottle was by my wine merchant the following day.  Just who do you complain to if the ’61 Latour you bought from a broker in 1998 which was originally sourced from a wine merchant that no longer trades is corked?  I’m not sure anyone will be queuing up to replace it for you, if anyone even could.

But the investor is laughing either way – after all, they are just a link in the chain.  The fact that the wine they bought from a merchant and sold on might be ruined by an undetectable bacteria is neither here nor there, for that is someone else’s problem.  Harsh, but true.  As long as they have done their bit to make sure the wine has been stored in the right conditions for the duration of its life in bottle, the investor makes money either way. 

Plan C.  Invest in some fine wine.  And a few cases of screw capped wine (I will make my peace) to drink while I am waiting to get my revenge on cork taint.