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Is My Wine Corked?

It takes ten minutes scrutinizing the wine list just to pick a suitable wine that won’t break the bank. The Somm comes over with said bottle, shows it to you, and proceeds to un-cork. Pressure’s on. Do I need to swirl it? Smell it? I have no idea what I’m smelling for. Smells o.k. to me. Tastes fine… I think. Why am I doing this in the first place? Does anybody ever send it back? Answer: “It’s great!” (But is it great?)

Let’s break down this whole tasting charade. Technically, you are smelling to make sure the wine is not corked or otherwise faulty. The most common flaw is cork taint which is a presence of a chemical compound called trichloroanisole (TCA). It can be present in the cork and will ruin the wine, making it smell musty and killing all the fruit flavors. Other possible flaws are that a wine could be “cooked” which results from storage in high temperatures and the wine will taste like rotting fruit. The wine could be oxidized and will taste flat, lifeless and almost nutty but not in a pleasing way. It could be over-the-hill which would really be the fault of the establishment because it has passed it’s prime. There are other possible flaws but without getting to technical we’ll just stick to the most common ones.

Getting back to the question at the table, when you taste, you are making sure the wine is in good condition. But this is hard since we are not all trained in wine tasting and haven’t necessarily experienced all these flaws. “Good” wine should have fresh fruit flavors and a nice zip of acidity. It could be earthy and kind of funky, but never smell like a damp basement. (That doesn’t mean all wines that are not faulty are “good” of course!)

Now, if you suspect that the wine you selected does not have a flaw, but you absolutely hate it, you should voice that to the person serving you. Most establishments are going to try to find something that pleases you, but don’t expect if you buy a $500 bottle that you can send it back if you don’t like it. If you are worried that you might not like a bottle, you should take it upon yourself to have a conversation about it with the server, sommelier, or manager. A good restaurant will guide you in the right direction of your tastes, regardless of the price of the bottle.

As a sommelier, it is always helpful when a guest can explain their preferences. Simply knowing some varieties or regions that you like (Sauvignon Blanc or Bordeaux, for example) or general styles of wine (dry, fruit-forward, Old-World, light-bodied) are helpful because they give the Somm guidance to your tastes. If you are open-minded and looking to try new things, we get particularly excited at the opportunity to expose our guests to something interesting and cool that we have stashed in the cellar for those very occasions!

Our best bit of advice: Communicate your preferences. Don’t feel intimidated by the wine-nerd lingo– use your own words and solid examples of things you have enjoyed in the past, and don’t be afraid to take a little risk!

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"Truth is ever to be found in simplicity."

-Issac Newton