July 5, 2011

When is the right time to tell them it’s corked?

05 July 2011 | by Andrea Frost

I’m strangely happy when I find people who don’t know what corked wine is. Not because I can roll my eyes and bore them witless but because, after a long time trying to get a handle on the world of wine, it’s refreshing to remember that most normal people enjoy wine with a healthy but basic level of knowledge. It’s like finding a lost tribe that reminds us how blissful ignorance can be.

Recently I was having lunch with three men from the fat-cat end of town who insisted that the wine at our table was corked because it had some cork in it.

“Actually, that’s not quite right,” I tried.

“Yeah, that bit there means it’s corked.”

“No, it doesn’t.”

“Yes, look closely, see that bit,” one of them said, pointing to a speck of cork bobbing in the deep, dark, inky shiraz.

“No, that’s cork, not corked wine.”

It went on and on until they remembered they were in a dining room, not a boardroom. Out of options, they asked, “Well, what is corked wine?”

So I told them all about the little thing called TCA. The tiny microbe that gets into corks and, when the corks are put into bottles of perfectly crafted wines, infuses the wine with a taint that ruins the winemaker’s faultless work. I explained how TCA can be difficult to detect, especially in heavier red wines whose robustness can weather small amounts but it very easily upsets white wines, infusing it with the awful smell of mold even in minute amounts. Rather than realising the wine is corked, you might just think the wine is not much chop and not buy it again. I also explained the value of screwcaps on wine, and that many of the best producers in the world are now turning to them and have been for years … Oh, and I politely suggested that if they really were relying on the sound of a popping cork for romance, then they might want to invest in a few more tricks because, let’s face it, the pop of a cork only lasts a second, and the work is often done by someone else.

It’s nice to be able to impart knowledge and help others rejoice in the wonder of wine.

A few nights later, I opened a bottle of Sancerre, an unopened left over from a dinner party. Instead of finding the racy, leaner style of sauvignon blanc made in the region, I got wafts of mildew. It was corked. I put it aside and twisted the lid on a Foster e Rocco Sangiovese Rosé instead. As I was enjoying the wine and noting its style as a rosé with more spice and savouriness than cheery summer fruit, a friend walked through the front door. Before I knew it, he had helped himself to the Sancerre, taken a gulp, looked curiously at it, then at me and asked with importance and emphasis, “What am I drinking?”

So I started to tell him all about the little thing called TCA…

“I LOVE it!”


“Where’s it from?” he asked, looking at his glass from underneath as if the answer might be written there.

“Well it’s from a region in France up north … but um, it’s also …”

“Awesome, that’s what it is.”

A curious position indeed.

I could have explained it was corked and not good, but who am I to tell a man that he’s not enjoying himself when evidently he is? Surely one of the points of wine is its subjectiveness? Besides, what I think is a good drink may be someone else’s vinous nightmare, but that shouldn’t undermine my pleasure. Anyway, it’s not like I poured it for him.

I know, I know, I can see the other side of the argument sitting earnestly on my shoulder, wagging its finger and shaking its head, asking about my responsibility and duty to inform. How is anyone supposed to learn if no-one guides them?

My friend continued, “This wine is just gorgeous, I’m trying to think what it tastes like…”

I know what I should have done but instead I poured him another glass and let him hang in his bubble a while longer.

“Bliss?” I suggested.