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18 March 2006


SmellyRecently I was invited to lead a group through a tasting of some Spanish and Australian wines.  As I opened one of the bottles, an Australian Grenache, my nose alarm was tripped: *Danger*Danger* Corked Wine Alert!  Eww.  My initial reaction was, “Shoot!* There goes that bottle."  But then, I improvised (bop, skitty, shoo-bop) and simply poured the tainted vino in a tasting glass at each place setting.

Once everyone was seated I asked the group to, “Take wine #4, close your eyes, stick your nose in the glass and take a big whiff.”  I observed numerous grimaces and a few perplexed expressions.  “What do you smell?” I asked.  The room fill with cognitive-dissonance.  The tasters felt as though they should like the wine they just sniffed, yet for most folks, it was obviously an unpleasant aroma.  Thankfully, one brave soul responded, “It smells like moldy forest floor.”  With that the flood gates opened:  Several others agreed.  Some indicated it smelled like wet newspaper and cardboard.  One woman offered a particularly colorful description, “It smells like a dirty swimming pool.”

This was a teaching moment.  I explained that the wine was corked, and that ‘corked’ is a simple way of saying that the wine had been infected by an unpleasant-smelling compound called TCA.  There were some scientific types in the audience, so we had a brief discussion on 2,4,6-trichloroanisole (and family).  However, what I found most interesting were the responses to the following two questions:

Have you heard the term “cork taint” before?
Have you ever smelled or tasted a corked wine?

About half of the group had previously heard of cork taint.  Yet, with the exception of a single person, no one else thought - or wasn’t sure - if they had ever experienced corked wine.  And it’s not as if these people are wine novices - I would peg most of them as regular wine drinkers.

Perhaps we who obsess about all things wine know exactly what corked wine smells like.  However, those around us may very well have no idea how to identify corked wine.  This is indeed a valuable skill.  For example, say you order a $150 bottle of wine at that fancy restaurant (perhaps you’re trying to impress sweetie).  If you take a sniff and detect the telltale scents of cork taint, you can confidently declare to your server that, “This wine is corked.”  Yet, if you haven’t matched this unpleasant smell to the specific term, you might be reluctant to say, “Umm, I don’t like this wine, I think something may be wrong with it.”

So as a Public Service Announcement to all wine lovers, and doing my best (?) Jeff Foxworthy impression, let me just say: “Your wine might be corked if….”

  • it smells like Aunt Edna’s swimming pool in late autumn
  • the scent reminds you of chlorinated feet
  • you have flashbacks of that nasty rainstorm, which flooded the basement and drowned your prized collection of Highlights magazines
  • you suddenly experience the urge to change your order to Diet Pepsi (you know, brown and bubbly)
  • Insert your own personal corked wine description here (via the comments)

If you drink wine, I urge you to channel your inner boy-/girl-scout and “do a good turn” by sharing your next bottle of corked wine with the noses of friends, family and neighbors.  Trust me; they’ll thank you - someday.

*I may or may not have thought, “Shoot!” But let’s keep this PG, shall we?

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