Stelio’s Cellar - Monthly wine article


“Is This Wine Corked?” By: Stelio G. Kalkounos



Occasionally, this question gets asked even in the finest restaurants and bars all around the world.  At times people who aren’t experienced with wine might sense an off aroma and assume a wine is bad. My first experience with a Gevrey-Chambertin from Burgundy elicited the same response from me. Pinot Noir from this region can be extremely “earthy” with the ever popular “stinky feet” used as a descriptor by the novice nose. I have now come to appreciate such distinct characteristics in wines just as well as the other tastes often described as “lush berries”,  “clean fruit”, “molasses” , “bitter cocoa”. Other aromas that may cause some wine drinkers concern are “tar” or “flint”, which are common with wines like Amarone or aged Bordeaux.


A truly “corked” wine is a wine that is contaminated with TCA (Trichloroanisole). This element can create a musty, wet charcoal aroma or flavor to a wine. TCA contaminations usually come from corks that have been exposed to this, hence the name “corked”. TCA can also be caused by other methods of wine production including the barrels and other wood sources found within the winemaker’s cellar. Many industry experts estimate that up to seven percent of wines have detectable levels of TCA contamination. This also means that the TCA may be present, just not as noticeable in some wines. Most individuals can detect TCA in quantities as little as five parts per trillion, though some can detect it at even lower levels. The more “experienced” wine coinneuseus seem to have extra sensitive pallets.


Often, other elements in a wine’s handling and storage may negatively affect aroma. Wines that have been stored in warm and moist areas tend to oxidize more frequently. This is often referred to as a “corked” wine. There tends to be no body left in the wine’s overall impressions in the mouth and much of their finishes are usually tart or sour. Only experienced retailers, restaurants and bars will handle their wines properly. Fine dining establishments such as the Five O’clock Steakhouse in Milwaukee, WI and Fox River Grove, IL use cellar space that is temperature and humidity controlled. Several daily measurements are taken to ensure that a bottle will be served in the best possible condition. The Five O’clock Steakhouse keeps its red wine cellar at about 65 degrees Fahrenheit and tries to maintain at least 55% humidity, ensuring guests will receive their wines in the ideal state. It is perfectly acceptable for a guest to request that an experienced staff member analyze their wine in case of contamination.


Young wines, (less that 2 years old), or old wines, (10 years old or more) often benefit from decanting. Decanting gives a wine its full chance to present itself. After several minutes of aeration, many wines reveal new aromas and begin to unveil themselves. Particularly older wines that have been potentially exposed to more temperature and humidity fluctuations over time benefit from decanting. If you suspect that your bottle is “corked” don’t hesitate to ask the restaurant staff or retailer for his opinion. If in fact it is “corked” you may be given credit or a new bottle of wine.


The various aromas of wines are to be learned and appreciated by wine lovers. Not all apparently “off” aromas are in-fact “corked” wines. Reliable wine sellers will provide you with guidance and suggestions based on your taste that will lead to an enjoyable experience in trying a variety of wines.


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