Friday, May 29, 2009

The true cost of corked wine

Last night I brought a bottle of 1996 Bert Simon Serrig Herrenberg Spatlese Riesling that I had been sitting on for the better part of this decade to Mission Street Food, where it sat waiting for its star turn.

We didn't quaff badly in the interim, as my friends brought a bottle of 2001 Trimbach Cuvee Frederic Emile Alsace Riesling, which was rippling with acidity, making the tongue cry, "Feed me!"

Riesling is always a good choice with Asian street foods, which MSF was featuring. We felt a little sorry for people at the nearby table who had brought a moderately pricey Napa Cab that wasn't emptying very fast. I wish I had a chance to tell them beforehand, "Those spices are going to make that wine taste hot and unpleasant." People have to live and learn.

But speaking of hot and unpleasant -- my own long-anticipated bottle smelled of cork taint even before we got the cork completely out. I think James Laube could have smelled the TCA from the kitchen. Wow, what a bitter disappointment.

The funny thing, though, is that the wine didn't taste foul. In fact, I deemed it drinkable (though we didn't; I didn't want to have that memory of the wine.) And I don't think the TCA actually smelled foul -- if you didn't recognize it, you might think it was another form of "minerality," though with a plasticky edge.

That's the true problem with corked wine. I suspect that very few corked bottles are poured down the drain. Most people would have just drunk the bottle and thought, hmm, Bert Simon Riesling isn't very good. Or maybe that aged Riesling isn't very good, or even all German Riesling isn't very good. I have a friend in Florida -- a place where you really need to drink Riesling -- who believes this, and I can't help wondering if she was influenced by a disappointing bottle just like I had last night.

Fortunately, my friend ran to his car for a half bottle of Champagne that he just happened to have on hand to save the day (and our Charred Five Spice Chicken with mint, cilantro, baguette and young coconut juice.) But how likely are most people to have an emergency Champagne split? (I like the idea of packaging it on a utility belt with a Velcro fastener -- Never fear, Champagne Man is here!)

Moral of the story: A corked wine costs the consumer, but the greater longterm cost is for the winery.

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