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Corked or Capped -- or Just Plain Bad


Joe Riley
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I just had a nice email exchange with Kevin Pike, Terry Theise's sales manager, and he confirmed sonething that I'd heard about one of his growers, Gaston Chicquet:

"We have a few Champagne producers who use a silicon disc to cover the bottom end of the Champagne cork—the thinking being the silicon won’t compress to be a smaller diameter than the cork and therefore the wine never actually touches the cork. Chiquet was our first producer to do it and Varnier-Fannière experimented with it also. "

This struck me as one of those, "Why didn't anyone think of this before?" kind of questions. I love the idea of this. Too many Champagne bottles are corked for anyone's comfort.

I post this so that consumers can be aware of this. I hope that it blossoms into a trend. Since Chicquet is a lovely little grower, that makes their Champagnes just that much more attractive to me.

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What's the protocol if you open a bottle, bought retail, and it's corked? Usually I just figure "luck of the draw" and toss it (especially if it's an inexpensive wine). A few questions:

Can a bottle be returned to the store you bought it at? Is this considered acceptable (or is it just considered your loss)?

Does the store then get a refund from the winery/distributor/importer?

What if it's a week before you can bring the bottle back to the store, at which time oxidation, etc. will have set in, possibly masking the corked nature of the wine?

How's this all work?

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What's the protocol if you open a bottle, bought retail, and it's corked? Usually I just figure "luck of the draw" and toss it (especially if it's an inexpensive wine). A few questions:

Can a bottle be returned to the store you bought it at? Is this considered acceptable (or is it just considered your loss)?

Does the store then get a refund from the winery/distributor/importer?

What if it's a week before you can bring the bottle back to the store, at which time oxidation, etc. will have set in, possibly masking the corked nature of the wine?

How's this all work?

Most stores will take back and replace corked bottles. Large distributors are pretty good about either replacing or giving credit to retailers (stores and restaurants) for bad bottles (corked, volatile acidity, poor storage). Small importers and distributors vary in their policies, especially for rare or older bottles.

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I know that Joe Riley at Ace Beverage has always told me that if there's a bottle I buy from him that's corked that I should bring it back. I'd hope waiting a week would not be a problem, particularly for stores you frequent. I'd like to think the retailer would trust you when you say it wasn't good. If that's not the case, I'd find a new retailer!

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I know that Joe Riley at Ace Beverage has always told me that if there's a bottle I buy from him that's corked that I should bring it back. I'd hope waiting a week would not be a problem, particularly for stores you frequent. I'd like to think the retailer would trust you when you say it wasn't good. If that's not the case, I'd find a new retailer!

Correct.

Since corks are an imperfect closure, we have to be able to stand behind them. I would request that the offending bottle be recorked and returned in as timely a manner as possible.

The larger problem has always been, wines that are purchased and laid down for extended cellaring. If that cork has failed years after purchase, it's more difficult for us to accept returns, because it calls into question the storage conditions and whether or not they contributed to the failure of the cork. It is a sticky issue that I hope will be an antiquated one in the near future with the greater acceptance and use of Stel-Vins and Vino-locks.

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How do you know when a bottle is corked. I drink lots of wine, but I am no expert and I am not sure I would be able to tell if a bottle is corked. Right now I am drinking the 2004 Soif De Jour Bourguiel, that has a really sour tast to it. Would this be corked, or a something I don't like about this wine?

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I have only returned corked wine to a wine shop once. That is because it'd only been a few weeks since the purchase and all three of the same bottle of wine I bought were bad. They took it back no questions asked.

Now, my main issue is that I tend to buy wine and hold on to it for later consumption. While much of the consuming public buys wine in order to drink it that day or certainly within the upcoming week, I do not. So trying to return a bottle that is corked a year or two or three later is just not likely to happen or work, so it's my loss.

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Fact or fictioin? "Corked" wine is not necessarily caused by corks. It is caused by a chemical called TCA (2,4,6-Trichloroanisole). The contamination can happen at the winery. I think BV had a big problem with it a few years ago. So, even wine with a screw cap can be "corked" when the contamination happens at the winery.

But with the understanding that a bottle without a cork is far less likely to be "corked."

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Yes, TCA can come from wineries (one of our farms blew up their cellar and re-started after an infestation several years ago). But when ten bottles of a case sing, and two taste like Saturday morning's Post, well...

Edit: TCA is (usually) the product of the interaction of a naturally-occuring mold in cork and the cleaning environment.

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From what I've read about corked wine (so take it with a grain of salt), it's caused by TCA, which can be present at the winery (similar to brett). So even Stel-Vin enclosures can be corked. However, cork is the primary source of the TCA which is why it's much more prevalent in cork enclosures as compared to screwcap enclosures.

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From what I've read about corked wine (so take it with a grain of salt), it's caused by TCA, which can be present at the winery (similar to brett). So even Stel-Vin enclosures can be corked. However, cork is the primary source of the TCA which is why it's much more prevalent in cork enclosures as compared to screwcap enclosures.
Very insightful.
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From what I've read about corked wine (so take it with a grain of salt), it's caused by TCA, which can be present at the winery (similar to brett). So even Stel-Vin enclosures can be corked. However, cork is the primary source of the TCA which is why it's much more prevalent in cork enclosures as compared to screwcap enclosures.

It's true that an entire winery can be contaminated by TCA as well as Brettanomyces. The TCA can get in the bottling lines, barrels, on the walls of the winery itself. I believe BV had this problem a few years ago and yanked an entire vintage off the market. Same with Domaine Mangien in Burgundy. The interesting thing about TCA sensitivity is that some people are far more able to notice it than others. We're talking about parts per billion here. Obviously, there are varying degrees of corkiness, as well, from only slightly to super-stinky.

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A couple of years ago, I bought three bottles of St. Cosme CDR at Calvert-Woodley. We opened one and were overwhelmed by the smell of horse-poop (brett). My husband, with the super-sensitive nose, was utterly repulsed and insisted that I pour the remainder of the bottle down the sink. I took the other two bottles back, and told Pepe what the problem was. He cheerfully gave me a refund, telling me that he had customers who would love to buy the two bretty bottles of St. Cosme from him.

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A couple of years ago, I bought three bottles of St. Cosme CDR at Calvert-Woodley. We opened one and were overwhelmed by the smell of horse-poop (brett). My husband, with the super-sensitive nose, was utterly repulsed and insisted that I pour the remainder of the bottle down the sink. I took the other two bottles back, and told Pepe what the problem was. He cheerfully gave me a refund, telling me that he had customers who would love to buy the two bretty bottles of St. Cosme from him.
I had heard about this supposed "barnyard" smell that certain wines had and I never understood what it was until someone explained that I should imagine a nice steaming pile of freshly depostied manure. I took another wiff of the glass in my hand and exclaimed "ah ha." Now I understand that those who use the "barnyard" adjective are just being polite.
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I had heard about this supposed "barnyard" smell that certain wines had and I never understood what it was until someone explained that I should imagine a nice steaming pile of freshly depostied manure. I took another wiff of the glass in my hand and exclaimed "ah ha." Now I understand that those who use the "barnyard" adjective are just being polite.

Savvy tasters can differentiate between cow, horse and chicken poop. :)

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Earlier this year I overheard a salesman in a top-rated wine retail shop arguing with a customer who had purchased a bottle of wine a few weeks before and was bringing it back because the wine had gone "bad". The salesman took the cork out, sniffed the cork, and looked at the customer and said the cork smelled fine, obviously the wine had gone bad due to improper storage!! He would not give the customer a refund.

I've had a similar experience in a "quality" dining establishment downtown that when I said to the server (they had no sommelier/wine professional) that I thought my wine had gone bad ie corked. The server looked at me aghast when I asked her to sniff/taste it, she said that was against company policy! So I asked for another bottle of the same wine -- and she wouldn't do it - she said that if I didn't like the wine, she would get me something else!! And she charged me for the new bottle - Ben Giliberti of the Post once wrote that if a restaurant isn't willing to spend money on a wine professional in their restaurant, then if you send a wine back, you should get the replacement bottle at no charge!! Makes sense...

Conclusion: it's embarassing and awkward to return wines that have gone bad - and to make matters worse, there are no set rules for handling this in stores and restaurants, Buyer Beware. My vote is for Stelvin or non-cork closures - it should reduce the embarassment significantly!

On a side note - has anyone tried the new "quality" boxed wines - I'm not joking - I'm starting to see them at stores, would like to see if box is a good closure?

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Earlier this year I overheard a salesman in a top-rated wine retail shop arguing with a customer who had purchased a bottle of wine a few weeks before and was bringing it back because the wine had gone "bad". The salesman took the cork out, sniffed the cork, and looked at the customer and said the cork smelled fine, obviously the wine had gone bad due to improper storage!! He would not give the customer a refund.

I've had a similar experience in a "quality" dining establishment downtown that when I said to the server (they had no sommelier/wine professional) that I thought my wine had gone bad ie corked. The server looked at me aghast when I asked her to sniff/taste it, she said that was against company policy! So I asked for another bottle of the same wine -- and she wouldn't do it - she said that if I didn't like the wine, she would get me something else!! And she charged me for the new bottle - Ben Giliberti of the Post once wrote that if a restaurant isn't willing to spend money on a wine professional in their restaurant, then if you send a wine back, you should get the replacement bottle at no charge!! Makes sense...

Conclusion: it's embarassing and awkward to return wines that have gone bad - and to make matters worse, there are no set rules for handling this in stores and restaurants, Buyer Beware. My vote is for Stelvin or non-cork closures - it should reduce the embarassment significantly!

On a side note - has anyone tried the new "quality" boxed wines - I'm not joking - I'm starting to see them at stores, would like to see if box is a good closure?

They charged you for both bottles? Or just the one? Seems like a reasonably fair compromise if they asked you to change, though perhapse not ideal.

I've more than once gone up against a server who swore the wine was fine -- bottles and glasses -- but nonetheless replaced my selection without charge. I think it's always worth an inquiry if it tastes off. And I also know (this is not a shot at tastedc) that the way to go about this is not to declare "this wine is off," because too many know-nothings take that approach, but to go at it from a "can you smell/taste/take a closer look at this" approach. Your server almost always wants to take care of you. They'll give you an honest opinion and make right.

Taste: perservere! I think you're just having a run of bad luck. Send the swill back. And regarding the boxes, I recently spent a few weeks in france living on smelly cheese and cheap (but swell) wine that would be perfect boxed up and sold by the gallon. Given how crappy and expensive so much American wine is, the thought of inexpensive but tasty boxed stuff is quite tempting, even though previous venures into boxhood have been unsatisfactory.

I was actually in a well-regarded restaurant tonight and the glass of white Loire tasted just off -- a bottle that would unmistakably (to my palate) be bad in six months. The sommelier clearly -- though subtly -- disagreed with my diagnosis and after re-tasting it I was almost tempted to say that he was right, despite the funny color of the wine and the aftertaste that shifted from tart to gym socks after a minute.

Nonetheless, he swiped the glass away in an instant said, in so many words, "let's not worry about whether this was any good, let's bring you something you like." Very classy.

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Earlier this year I overheard a salesman in a top-rated wine retail shop arguing with a customer who had purchased a bottle of wine a few weeks before and was bringing it back because the wine had gone "bad". The salesman took the cork out, sniffed the cork, and looked at the customer and said the cork smelled fine, obviously the wine had gone bad due to improper storage!! He would not give the customer a refund.

Smelling the cork does not tell you that much, but can give you a clue. The real test is smelling the wine and a taste. I would think that a decent sales professional could tell if the wine was off due to improper storage as the identifiers are much different that corked wine. Does not sound like the salesman went that route though.

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On a side note - has anyone tried the new "quality" boxed wines - I'm not joking - I'm starting to see them at stores, would like to see if box is a good closure?
Tetra-pak (the same packaging as the aseptic pacakges you see for commercial chicken broth) is a wonderful packaging. It keeps light out, it doesn't break, you can stack it much higher, and you have a flat surface to allow for more elaborate brand presentation. Makes all the sense in the world to me.
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Tetra-pak (the same packaging as the aseptic pacakges you see for commercial chicken broth) is a wonderful packaging.

Or perhaps they were referring to bag-in-a-box packaging that has begun to expand beyond plonk?

I have a tube of the 2004 DTour Mâcon-Villages that I was going to bring to the fall picnic, except that I won't be attending the fall picnic due to prior committments, unless it moves to its rain date. It's still not widely distributed; I believe the only retailer south of New Jersey is somewhere in Baltimore. Since the interior bag eliminates the airspace problem after pouring, the wine is supposed to remain good for at least four weeks once opened. I'd like to test this theory. If I can find a volunteer wine-nut (Jake? Chris?) to taste, store, and haul it to the picnic, maybe we can drain a couple of glasses the first week of October (while I'm still in town :) ) and then have the remainder of the three liters retasted at the picnic...

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Tetra Pak Blogsite

Just found this - pretty cool - bag-in-a-box in 1 liter sizes!! Seems Canada is ahead

on this one, will Americans give it a try? I predict if this introduced in the US it will

be a Huge Hit - Americans love cool packaging - and you can do alot of graphic design

with this. "Allegedly" the packaging is more environment-friendly - that's a BIG marketing

point now-a-days.

But will Joe carry this stuff :) ??

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Last night we opened a bottle of Ommegang Rare Vos. Once poured, the nose was pure metal. After awhile this disturbing scent dissipated, but the beer tasting nothing like what it should.

I'd guess that one of every four or five bottles of Ommegang Witte that I open tastes strangely sour.

So, bottles of beer that you know should be good just taste funky or skunky: what's going on? Poor storage conditions?

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My understanding of the metallic taste (from my homebrewing days) is that it comes from hops that are past their prime (either the hops themselves at the brewery or from the bottled beer sitting around too long). Not sure if it's possible for a beer to be metallic tasting by being "capped" somehow (I thought Ommegang uses corks, though? Maybe it was just corked?). Skunking (also caused by the hops) is due to exposure to light (hence brown bottles). As for sour beer, it could be age or it could just be high bottle variation (poor quality control at the brewery?).

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Last night we opened a bottle of Ommegang Rare Vos. Once poured, the nose was pure metal. After awhile this disturbing scent dissipated, but the beer tasting nothing like what it should.

I'd guess that one of every four or five bottles of Ommegang Witte that I open tastes strangely sour.

So, bottles of beer that you know should be good just taste funky or skunky: what's going on? Poor storage conditions?

Having visited Ommegang in the past and observed the operation, I'd say it's most likely poor and overlong storage. In upstate NY, Ommegang moves off the shelves much more quickly than it does here. It's been too long since I've had one, so I can't recall if the bottles are date stamped or not.
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So, bottles of beer that you know should be good just taste funky or skunky: what's going on? Poor storage conditions?
My opinion: for good bottled beer, not at the source, one of two possibilities must be present.

Either it's a popular beer so it's constantly being replenished with fresh beer from the source.

Or it's stored by people who are as religious about proper storage as acolytes taking care of stone idols.

We tend to have good results with beer from Total Beverage but never as good as beer from a brew pub.

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How can I tell if a wine is simply not to my liking or if there's something chemically very wrong with it?

More specifically, what is wrong with THIS wine:

Dolcetto d'Alba 2005 Lodali

It wasn't fizzy, but it had a texture like there were soap bubbles in it. Speaking of soap, there was a slight film on top of what I poured into my glass, and it TASTED a bit like soap. I'm not talking like "it had quiant overtones of soapy spring freshness with a mellow oak finish," I mean it tasted like someone had put soap in it.

Several quick pours into several clean glasses confirmed that it wasn't the glass I was using (I'm not stupid), but clearly the wine itself.

So what's going on here? Was this just a poor choice of a wine, or did something bad get into the mix? I don't have particularly discriminating tastes and rarely pay more than $10 a bottle, and am usually quite happy with my selections.

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It's quite possible there was something wrong with the bottle - if you haven't poured it out (or drunk it), try taking it back and talking to your retailer. You will probably get a credit towards another wine.

I haven't encountered a soapy taste such as you describe, but the textural, almost fizzy aspect is quite common, especially among inexpensive reds. Some sommeliers here might be able to explain it better, but it stems from a technique of winemaking that I believe is called 'reductive' - it attempts to seal out all exposure to oxygen during fermentation and the initial stages. It helps boost color and up front fruit flavors, but it is artificial and can give the wine an almost sulphurous aroma and a prickly feel on the tongue (no guffaws, you perverts! :) ). I've found this most often in inexpensive reds from southern France, Spain and Italy, and have decided that I really don't like it and that it represents a flaw in winemaking.

ETA: Oh, so THAT's how you get the emoticon up top!

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Several quick pours into several clean glasses confirmed that it wasn't the glass I was using (I'm not stupid), but clearly the wine itself.

Did you wash all the glasses the same way? You really need to rinse them in plenty of hot water to get rid of all the soap.

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No soap in the glass. I tried several which I cleaned right on the spot (and, as a last resort, a swig from the bottle). The cork was a real wooden cork sealed with foil.

I know how to wash a glass, people. :)

dmwine - I think you hit the nail on the head. This was definetely Italian and it definetely had that prickly feeling. The color definetely seemed darker and purpler (purplier?) than what it should have been, but there was no taste or odor of sulphur.

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In my experience, if you can't tell if it's a bad wine or it's wine gone bad (ie, spoiled), it's probably the former. Gone bad red wine generally tastes like a cinderblock wall in a musty basement, or maybe fermented sweat socks. Think evil mold. Bad white wine tastes like cheap Madeira, probably swiped from a stew bum who left it sitting on a radiator for days and weeks, and then spit in it. Also, it tends to be kind of khaki-colored.

Of course, things don't go bad all at once, so it can take a couple of sips to tell. But once it's turned the corner, there is no mistake.

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In my experience, if you can't tell if it's a bad wine or it's wine gone bad (ie, spoiled), it's probably the former. Gone bad red wine generally tastes like a cinderblock wall in a musty basement, or maybe fermented sweat socks. Think evil mold. Bad white wine tastes like cheap Madeira, probably swiped from a stew bum who left it sitting on a radiator for days and weeks, and then spit in it. Also, it tends to be kind of khaki-colored.

Of course, things don't go bad all at once, so it can take a couple of sips to tell. But once it's turned the corner, there is no mistake.

I'm not talking "gone bad" like "Sir, this wine has turned," I'm talking gone bad like the vinter accidentally upended a can of acetone into the barrel. :)
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In my experience, if you can't tell if it's a bad wine or it's wine gone bad (ie, spoiled), it's probably the former. Gone bad red wine generally tastes like a cinderblock wall in a musty basement, or maybe fermented sweat socks. Think evil mold. Bad white wine tastes like cheap Madeira, probably swiped from a stew bum who left it sitting on a radiator for days and weeks, and then spit in it. Also, it tends to be kind of khaki-colored.

Of course, things don't go bad all at once, so it can take a couple of sips to tell. But once it's turned the corner, there is no mistake.

This sounds like a corked red wine and an oxidized white. Different problems, but same result, especially if you just bought the bottle - take it back! :)

Though Dan, I have a suspicion that with your original bottle, another one of the same wine might taste similar. It sounds like a "manufactured" wine, where the winemaker forgot the old maxim that "winemaking starts in the vineyard" and tried to do it instead in the winery lab.

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This sounds like a corked red wine and an oxidized white. Different problems, but same result, especially if you just bought the bottle - take it back! :)

You are correct. A question, though: does it ever happen the other way around? Are there corked whites and oxidized reds? Or, like unhappy families, is each type of wine unhappy in its own way?

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You are correct. A question, though: does it ever happen the other way around? Are there corked whites and oxidized reds? Or, like unhappy families, is each type of wine unhappy in its own way?
I have had oxidized red wine.

ETA: it's a wholly different kind of bad than corked red. Still nasty though.

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According to Jean Lenoir of Le Nez du Vin, "soapiness" is a flaw that can occur in wine and fortified wine. "Some fatty acids produced by yeast during vinifcation ca turn up in the wine as salts: these are called "soaps." Caprylic acid salt (decanoic acid), is a good indicator of the soapy taste that can sometimes be perceived in wines, especially white wines, as soon as they are casked." I had a bottle of Martel Cognac VSOP a long time ago that tasted soapy to me. To this day I can't drink Martel.

There is a problem with most wine consumers and many wine professionals. They don't know about all the different flaws that can occur in a bottle of wine, and they certainly don't know how to recognize the various flaws. To remedy this, I'm developing a wine party kit that includes a game to help learn how to detect a flawed bottle of wine. Contact me directly if you'd like to learn more.

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Could always be corked somehow just like a wine... never heard of it happening in vodka but I would guess that it's possible? I've had a bottle of Three Olives Vanilla, which also has a cork, on my bar for 4-5 years now (maybe someday it'll be gone?) and no sign yet of off-smells.

I guess that Brett can be on the cork of a vodka bottle just as it could be on a wine bottle.

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