Monday, March 18, 2013

I drank corked wine -- and enjoyed it

Here's the image: a bottle of wine is served to a connoisseur. He pokes his prominent proboscis in it, frowns, summons the sommelier. "This wine is corked," he proclaims. The somm snaps her fingers and minions whisk the offensive bottle away, bowing as they exit.

Here's what actually happened last week, when I was served a corked bottle of Boutari Moschofilero 2012 at a taverna in Thessaloniki, Greece:

I drank it. I drank 2/3 of a bottle of it.

I didn't stop at 2/3 of a bottle because the taste of TCA had become unbearable. I stopped because I was tired and that was all I could drink.

Why didn't I send it back?

I won't say the wine tasted "perfectly good." I had had the brand before, but not that vintage, and thought to myself, "Isn't this usually more aromatic?" It was lean and lemony and had very little aroma.

This bottle was not corked
But it had sufficient acid, and once my food arrived -- grilled octopus, marinated local fish with onions, and roasted eggplant spread -- the wine went well with it. Its simplicity suited my mood: I had flown overnight from San Francisco, hadn't slept in more than 24 hours, and wanted something satisfying and uncomplicated.

I guess I can thank TCA for that. A few days later I tried another bottle of Boutari Moschofilero 2012 with the winemaker, and it was very different: floral, expressive, lighter mouthfeel. As soon as I smelled it, I realized the first bottle had been corked.

But I'm not going to go back and retroactively dislike the corked bottle. I drank it and enjoyed it. I didn't smell damp basement or moldy newspaper or wet dog or any of the other aromas expected to be produced by cork taint. The TCA suppressed the natural aromas of the wine, which I suspected, but not enough to make a stand on, as it was still quite drinkable.

I wonder how many people every day drink corked wine and enjoy it?

Moreover, I wonder if I enjoyed it more because I couldn't be sure about the TCA. What if I was? What if I insisted the wine was corked, but the taverna manager said, "This doesn't smell bad to me." The Moschofilero cost me less than $20 US. I had that confrontation in French Polynesia last year over a more expensive Chablis when I felt much more confident in my diagnosis, and it added tension to the meal.

I wonder how many people every day drink corked wine and don't enjoy it, but don't say anything because the conflict isn't worth it?

There's no sense in taking back past pleasure, but I do wonder how many other corked wines I've enjoyed. I think I'd rather not know.

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Unknown said...

Not that I disagree with the sentiment, having enjoyed corked wine myself, but given the simplified aromas symptom that you describe, wouldn't ethyl sorbate be a more likely culprit?

Fred Swan, said...

I've seen people enjoying even fairly hideously corked wine in tasting rooms. Something about being in the moment i guess.

I've also, consciously, drunk through mild cork taint on a number of occasions when the wine was so compelling that, even at 85% of what it should be, it was worthwhile. This is especially true with very old bottles where I can pretend that the TCA is just another tertiary aroma. And of course there's no way to return the bottle.

Speaking of which, I just had an interesting experience. I've had some corked bottles on my counter for a year and finally got around to dumping them. After having sat there with a little extra ullage for that long, the taint seemed to have disappeared — at least for the moment. I got a few very tasty sips in before disposal.

tom said...

A lot of people say that about Retsina. Rather vile on its own, but when paired with the right food, it becomes downright enjoyable. (A little water-thinned Ouzo also does the trick!)

Chaundra said...

It's funny because something similar happened to me, only at a tasting at my favourite wine shop. They poured one of that evening's featured Riojas (and a very expensive one at that) which no one in the room but the winery rep & the shop owners had tasted before.

A number of us had already started sniffing & quaffing by the time the rep & shop owner got their noses into their own glasses and realised the bottle was corked. When they poured the uncorked version, a number of us mumbled about liking the first version better. The wine rep wasn't impressed, but the shop owner was very interested in that feedback . . .and directed us to other wines.

Jonas Landau, everydaywineguy said...

There are different degrees of corked aren't there? I've certainly gotten through bottles that weren't too off. Other more affected bottles though I haven't. And I don't why a restaurant would fight a customer on a corked bottle unless it's old and/or rare. With current or recent releases, they're just going to get credit from the wholesaler-at least that's how it works here in Jersey.

Anonymous said...

I guess it depends on the degree of "corkedness" - I've been in the situations when it is so light that I'm really not sure, and then there are those where you perfectly know there is a problem on the first whiff. Then it depends also on where and when does it happen. At home, I had a few bottles just poured down the drain (honestly, just a few). I had a few encounters in the restaurants, and for all remember, I was successful in asking to replace the wine, but any type of "fight" in the restaurant really affects your whole experience, so it is always a tough choice...

Emily H. said...

@ Jonas In the States you probably won't have to put up too much of a fight, but other countries throughout the world do not have the same customer service standards that we enjoy in the U.S.

Courtney Richards said...

From a restaurant perspective, I know that it's much easier to not vehemently fight a customer on dissatisfaction (whether or not their diagnosis of "flaw" or "corked" is correct -- it could be that they tried something new, different, or rare, and didn't really understand what they were drinking). Find them something that makes them happy (and charge them for it!), and the staff can enjoy the "rejected" wine.

p.s. the word proboscis = 1,000,000 points!