Have you ever sipped a glass of wine and your Bordeaux Blend smelled more like eau de Basement? Before I started learning a little more about wine, I just assumed I rolled the dice and bought a dreadful bottle of wine. Now I know better. The wine was corked.
Corked wine (or cork taint) is easy to pick out. It smells like wet basement or rotten cardboard and doesn’t taste much better. It comes from a contaminated cork, which happens fairly often.. In the late 90’s, about 7-8% of wines were corked. Now, with the increasing use of screw topped bottles, that number has dropped to closer to 3%.
There is also another nasty condition called maderization – which can happen to wine that is badly stored or wine that has been kept too long. The signs are brownish tinge in the case of red or a darker orangey yellow for whites, and an oxidized taste (port-like but not in a good way). The smell is very obvious.
I have opened a few tainted bottles and you can usually tell right away that it is off. Sometimes it is so mild, that it is barely perceptible. Others are so strong there is no question something went terribly wrong. Luckily, the LCBO is always good about taking them back and giving you a credit.
It also happens quite often in restaurants, regardless of the quality. WIth more and more places offering wine by the glass, a bottle may have been sitting around longer than it should and the wine has become slightly oxidized, Again, wet basement is generally the most likely aroma.
I have yet to come across a waiter who complains when you send it back. That goes for both high end and lower end establishments. Trust me, they want you to be happy about your experience, so you will leave a good tip, and come back…with friends.
Now that doesn’t mean you can taste your way through the wine list until you find your favourite. But I have often found that chatting about your favorites and asking for their suggestions will often get you a try-before-you-buy sample.
Picking a wine from a menu or off the shelf is a pleasure. You have every right to keep that pleasure going in the glass.