Oenophile – Screw Cap Or Cork?

It’s been several years since we saw the first marketed premium wine with screw caps. Though it’s not the norm, in an industry still very affectionate for the traditional cork top, the sale of screw capped wines is increasing, while the little darling of the wine world, the cork, holds greatest court.

Do you remember cheap twist cap jug wines sold in the 1970’s? That’s one of the problems. Unfortunately, too many of us still associate screw capped wines with the cheap, undrinkable wine from an era long gone. Fast forward to 2008, and the bad taste in our mouth is starting to diminish, at least for some of us.

To the screw caps advantage, a bottle of wine sealed in this sterile manner, relieves the ever-present threat of opening a corked bottle of wine. This happens when bacteria Trichloroanisole, or TCA, carried by the cork itself infects the wine and causes it to develop a mild off-taste or downright unpalatable flavor (do you smell grandma’s basement in that bottle?).

Many restaurants have begun including screw capped wine citing that corked wine is a nagging and expensive problem. For both the industry and consumer greater acceptance of wine with screw tops is taking hold. Some vineyards, like Bonny Doon, make nearly all their wines with screw capped closures.

Where does that leave wine with corks? For now, don’t toss aside your corkscrew. In fact, the enjoyable aspect of cork is that it is derived from nature and harvested from the bark of the cork oak. More pleasure indeed can be found upon opening the bottle. For good pop and sound, there is nothing better than the traditional cork screw, the kind that folds up and has the squiggly metal piece designed to pierce and tug the cork out of the bottle. Though this one takes brute strength and adds time to the process, higher-tech corkscrews made with lever pulls streamline the process making both brute strength and time a thing of the past.

Corked Wine and How to Avoid It

Having the right wine on the table on a special occasion can really enhance the importance of the day and can make any gathering more pleasurable, but when a wine is noticeably corked it can disrupt your guest’s palates and leave a foul taste in their mouths.

Take note here of the word “noticeable” because it is estimated that 3-7% of all wines are “corked” or contaminated with TCA, in other words “corked” which comes from the corks themselves for the most part, but can also come from the barrels or the wood from the cellars themselves. The fact is that most people cannot detect the TCA in their corked bottles and relatively few of these bottles ever get sent back or refunded in the stores. When the bottle does get sent back it is frequently because the levels of TCA are high enough to be detected by the taster the result of which is a wine that comes with musty aromas and flavours. Even when the levels of TCA are not high enough to be noticeable to the taster, the aromas and the flavour of the fruit can be subdued, compromising the full potential of the wine.

Although a lot of time and effort has gone into preventing corking in the wine industry they have not yet come up with a completely fool proof method of preventing it happening so far.

Some of the following tips can help you though if you are trying to avoid it at the moment.

One of the first really useful tips to mention is never boil your corks or soak your corks. This can ruin your wine. Another thing to watch out for is the distance between the stopper and the wine. This will need to be a minimum of 15 mm to allow for the wine to expand when the temperature increases. When you cork a bottle you should leave the bottle standing for about a week to allow any leftover gas that is inside to escape and if you want to do your utmost to keep your wine from being corked you should also check the cork devices regularly and make sure that they are well maintained.

Following the tips outlined above can go a long way towards preventing the unpleasant experience of having your wine corked and you will maximise your chances of enjoying a full flavoured wine.

Is This a Bad Wine? Know When to Return a Bottle in a Restaurant

“The sommelier presented a bottle in front of me. All the eyes were on me. Not really knowing what to do, I nodded with a fake confidence. The sommelier opened the bottle and poured me a glass. I drank it and said the passwords “it is good”. He smiled and started serving my guests. I felt like I pass the test, but I wasn’t sure if the wine was really good.”

Sounds familiar? Many of us have done this at least once, if not repeatedly. We cringe because we didn’t know what to look for or what to do.

The good thing is, we won’t have to feel intimidated again. It is actually a simple task. We can master it in 3 simple steps –

1) When the Sommelier presents the bottle, check to make sure it is the wine you ordered.

How:Check the name of the producer, the region, and the vintage (year of harvest). If all is good, you can nod and ask him/her to open the bottle of wine.

2) When the Sommelier pours you a glass, check if the wine is good.

How:Give the wine a gentle swirl, making sure you are going in one direction (either clockwise or counter-clockwise, just not both). Then take a good sniff.

There are two common wine faults — oxidization and corked. Oxidization is when the wine has been spoiled by exposure to oxygen. The wine would smell like vinegar or sherry. The color may also be brownish, losing its brightness.

Corked is when the wine has been affected by bacteria. The wine would lose its fruity aromas. In its place would be notes of wet cardboard boxes or newspaper.

If you spot such off aromas (vinegar or cardboard boxes), tell your sommelier that this is a spoiled bottle or ask him/her to double-check if you are not sure. Be specific, ask if he/she spots notes of oxidation or corked notes. That way, you will taken seriously.

3) Taste a generous sip and consider the serving condition.

How:Two questions to ask:

i) Is this the optimal serving temperature? Sparklings need to be served chilled, roughly 43-47°F. Different types of wines have different optimal temperature. For example, a sauvignon blanc (white wine) should be served at a lower temperature than an oaked burgundy white wine.

ii) Would the wine benefit from aeration (“breathing” in a decanter)? Most young wine would benefit from aeration as that would soften it up. When in doubt, ask the sommelier if he/she would recommend aeration.

The above are what to look for. Even when you are not sure, just ask the sommelier. Knowing what to look for and how to ask so that you will not be stuck with a bad bottle of wine.

Last but not least, the sommelier may place the cork in front of you. I know we have watched people sniffing the cork… the only thing sniffing the cork does it that it gives away the sniffer is not a savvy wine pro. The cork does not tell you if the wine is good or not. Save your nose to smell the wine.

The Fine Five – 5 Basic Tips For Storing Wine

Proper storage of your wines can go a long way to ensuring a pleasurable taste experience when you are ready to enjoy a glass. Here are five tips to get you on the right track for preserving your fine wines.

“Turn Out The Lights, The Party’s Over…”

Those who are old enough to remember Don Meredith in the early years of Monday Night Football will recall him singing that famous line near the end of most every game. It was basically a sign that the winner of the game had pretty much been determined.

Well, turning out the lights is also a good sign for your wine. Light is an enemy to the preservation of good wine. Being subjected to direct light will speed up the aging process, causing the wine to mature too soon.

Many wine bottles today feature UV filtering qualities, however, it is most often not adequate enough to fully protect your wine. To assure the best flavor, store your wine away from light sources, especially direct light.

To solve the light problem, you might consider investing in a small wine cabinet. If you do so, be sure to check the doors for a good, light-tight seal when it shuts. Place a flashlight (turned on, of course) inside the wine cabinet and close the cabinet door. Check around the edges of the door for light escaping from the wine cabinet.

“A Bit Of Nip In The Air”

Years ago, in late fall, the weather would start to change and the temperature would begin to drop a bit. You could always count on my granddad to say, “I feel a bit of nip in the air.” That’s also what your wines need to be able to say.

Wine needs to be kept cool. There seems to be universal agreement that, ideally, the best storage temperature for wine is 55 degrees Fahrenheit. Wines that are subjected to high temperatures start to undergo oxidation, which results in speeding up the aging process. And, of course, accelerated aging is not desirable for fine wines.

Equally as treacherous as high temperatures is fluctuating temperatures, especially when the variations are extreme. This is more applicable to corked wines. To avoid these situations and provide the most advantageous control of temperature, a wine refrigerator will be quite handy, if your budget allows for it.

“It’s This Darned Humidity”

If you have ever had the pleasure of enduring summer in one of the southern states (United States), you may have heard this expression. And if you have ever tasted fine wine that has a bit off an “off” taste, you may be able to say the same thing about it.

Humidity, like temperature, is another factor to be considered in storing wine. A good humidity level for most wines is around 70%. As with temperature extremes, excessive humidity, particularly for corked wines, can lead to rapid aging through oxidation. Some humidity is necessary for corked bottles to ensure the cork doesn’t dry out and shrink, allowing oxygen to seep into the wine. This isn’t a factor for bottles using screw-type caps.

A good wine cooler unit will have a control for humidity as well as for temperature, allowing you to set it for optimal conditions.

“Think I’ll Go Wet A Cork”

My granddad was an avid fisherman. To “go wet a cork” was fishermaneze for “I’m going fishing.” It’s a good clich to have in mind for wine storage, as well.

This isn’t relevant for bottles of wine with screw-type caps. But for corked wines, it can be very helpful to keep the cork wet. When cork material gets dry, it begins to contract or shrink. When it shrinks too much, it can pull away from the lip of the bottle, creating an airway through which oxygen can seep in. The simple solution is to keep the cork damp.

This is the reason for the need for humidity discussed above. Storing wines in the proper humidity will keep the part of the cork that is on the outside of the bottle moist. But, what about the part of the cork that is on the inside of the bottle?

To keep the inside part of the cork damp, it is recommended that wine bottles be stored on their side. This will allow some of the wine to be in contact with the cork, maintaining its moistness and assuring an airtight seal.

Now, some folks argue that, since the wine is a liquid, the humidity inside the sealed bottle is always going to be around 100% and therefore, it isn’t necessary to keep the bottle on its side. There may be some merit to the argument however, why take the chance? My theory is – if in doubt, wet a cork.

“I Want You To Be Still!”

The sound of my mother’s stern admonition while sitting on a hard pew in church still echoes in my memory. She wanted me to be still. It’s what you want for your fine wines, also.

Vibration is your wine’s adversary. It keeps the wine agitated which prevents the wine’s sediment from settling. The constant movement of the molecules inside the bottle might also create a chemical reaction that can speed up the aging process.

If you are considering a wine cooler for storage, be sure to confirm that it has good insulation to protect your wine from the vibrations caused by the motor and compressor.

“That’s It In A Nutshell”

These are the five basics for good wine storage. If you don’t have the budget or space for a wine cabinet or wine refrigerator, consider putting your wines in a less often used closet. But, unlike the famous motel, try to leave the light out.