The primary tenet of Thirsty Thursday’s libation reviews has never been about absolutes or attempts to convince you the reader why you should imbibe in said beverage. Rather the goal has been to present a basic understanding of the unknown…an accurate description of a bottle or can’s mysterious contents, allowing you to determine whether the libation is something that appeals to your palate or in some cases thirst.
However, while conducting “research” a few weeks ago it occurred to me that perhaps I haven’t been sharing everything with you about wine. For although I may write descriptively about a particular vino, there is always a chance that when someone samples said wine, it falls short of resembling anything close to my words. The same can happen when tasting any wine that is recommended by reviewers like Robert Parker or Wine Spectator’s team of winos. Expectations are not met and one is left to wonder whether it’s them or the reviewer that has erred.
The simple truth is the fault might actually lie with the contents of the bottle. What I mean is that there is always a chance the wine in question is “corked.”
Traditionally, the term corked was used to describe wines that had been corrupted by corks tainted with the chemical compound TCA (2,4,6-trichloroanisole). Corked wines expressed strong or subtle off-putting smells such as mold, must, vinegar, and/or a corkiness rendering a particular bottle undrinkable…that is unless you enjoy tainted fermented grape juice. Over time the term has become synonymous with all wines that are spoiled or slightly off do to contamination or mishandling. Regardless of whether the wine bottle is sealed with a natural or synthetic cork or even a screwcap, all bottled wines have the potential of being corked.
The actual number of corked wine bottles on the market is a debated subject, but based on my experience working in the industry and those of my friends, up to 12% of wines sold are corked. Plus or minus 1 out of every 10 bottles represents a fairly substantial number, especially if you’re purchasing wine on a regular basis.
Yet the majority of wine consumers are only able to identify around 2-6% of wines tasted as being off. Meaning at least half of the time people don’t realize they’re drinking a corked wine and instead believe a review misled them, the wine stinks, and/or “that was the worst 20 bucks I’ve spent on an enticingly labeled wine.”
If you’ve never tasted or have trouble identifying a corked bottle of wine don’t feel bad. Even seasoned industry people and serious winos can find it tricky to identify a wine as corked or irregular, and often the main reason they can is because of their familiarity with a particular varietal, style, vintage, etc.
The point I’m trying to make is 1) be aware that corkage does happen, 2) just because signs of corkage aren’t overtly present doesn’t necessarily mean a wine isn’t spoiled, and 3) know your rights in dealing with corked bottles.
Whether it’s a $10 or $100 bottle…if the wine fails to live up to expectations, seems amiss from descriptions you’ve read, or actually displays signs of corkage realize that you can remedy the situation.
If the bottle was purchased from a retailer or winery, simply return the bottle (corked wine and all) for an exchange or full refund.* Retailers shouldn’t take the hit, as the cost of the corked bottle is transfer back to the distributor and then the winery.
If you’re at a restaurant have no fear in declining any bottle or glass of wine served because of corkage and have the confidence to ask for a replacement or alternative. Remember the reason establishments offer you samples from a bottle of wine before filling your glass is they’re asking you to confirm whether or not the wine is acceptable.
So don’t fear corkage…just keep on sampling, exchanging (if necessary), imbibing, and enjoying the wonders of fermented grape juice.
- Have you ever encountered a corked bottle of wine?
- Do you return or decline wine that you suspect is corked?
*Though I can’t speak for all retailers, those in America should accept the return of corked wine bottles. Some may initially balk, but be persistent and make sure your receive an exchange or your refund.
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