The place for all things wine, focused on serious wine discussions.
User avatar
User

Robin Garr

Rank

Forum Janitor

Posts

17477

Joined

Fri Feb 17, 2006 2:44 pm

Location

Louisville, KY

WTN/Wine Advisor: Cork taint or not?

by Robin Garr » Sun Mar 09, 2008 3:09 pm

Cork taint or not?

I've often written about cork "taint," the nasty, chlorine-reeking, moldy stench of wet basement or damp newspaper that spoils any wine damaged by a fungus that randomly afflicts natural cork.

It's an unpleasant effect, one that's variously estimated to damage 2 percent to 10 percent of all wine sealed with natural cork, and it's the primary force behind the growing market share of wine under alternative closures that range from metal screwcaps to synthetic plugs to glass stoppers.

Maybe 90 times of out 100, cork taint is obvious. Open the wine, smell that musty, moldy stench - once learned, it's not easily forgotten - and pour the wine down the drain. Mutter a few bad words, open another bottle. The offending pollutant (most often "TCA," or tricloroanisole, to use its technical name) is so overwhelming that it renders even the best wine unpalatable.

Occasionally, though, cork taint is a tougher call, one you'll occasionally see debated at wine judging or wine-geek gatherings. A slightly afflicted wine may not show an obvious moldy or chlorine stink, but it's subliminal, and the wine's fruit seems muted or "scalped," as some wine tasters say. It can be hard to call a marginally "corked" wine, particularly since individual thresholds of TCA perception vary. Sometimes the only way to be sure is to try another bottle.

The other night's wine, however, presented an unusual challenge, one that I don't recall encountering before.

When I first opened Chateau de Lancyre 2005 "La Coste d'Aleyrac," a dusty whiff of dried wild mushrooms wafted out of the bottle, prompting an instinctive "uh oh." This scent bore an alarming resemblance to a cork-tainted wine, yet it was intriguing - like sniffing dried Italian porcini from the jar - and not unpleasant.

I can't stand TCA and consistently dump a corked wine as soon as I detect the telltale stench, but here it was different. The dried-mushroom character didn't dominate the flavor as TCA does, and there was none of the back note of chlorine that's particularly offensive in cork taint. The wine was delicious on the palate, fresh, tart red plums and mouth-watering acidity and no hint of corkiness.

Still, I spent half the evening sniffing and sipping and trying to make up my mind. I ultimately declared it an earth element in the wine - there's no damp basement here, no wet newspaper, no Clorox tang. The only way to tell for sure would have been to go back to the store for another bottle, and frankly, it wasn't worth that effort.

Philosophers used to ask, when a tree falls in the forest with no one there to hear it, does it make a sound? This wine left me with a question something like that, too. If you have an opinion or comment, I'd love to hear it.

Chateau de Lancyre 2005 "La Coste d'Aleyrac" Pic Saint-Loup ($17.99)

Inky dark purple with a violet edge. Red fruit, a whiff of fresh herbs, and an odd, intriguing "dusty dried mushroom" scent that's reminiscent of "cork taint" but lacks the offputting stench of the all-too-familiar natural-cork fungus defect. I'm inclined to call it "earthy" and let it ride - it's delicious on the palate, fresh, tart red plums and mouth-watering acidity that confers a food-friendly snap in the finish. A typical Languedoc blend of 40% each Syrah and Grenache, 10% each Cinsault and Carignan. U.S. importer: Hand Picked Selections Inc., Warrenton, Va. (March 6, 2008)

FOOD MATCH: Sheerly by chance, the dried-mushroom element seemed to marry unusually well with a simple dish of chicken braised with onions, garlic and smoked paprika.

VALUE: As with so many idiosyncratic wines, its value at this upper-teens price depends on your tolerance for earthy character in European reds ... and, of course, a final determination as to whether my sample was typical or flawed.

WHEN TO DRINK: Based on fruit, acid and balance, it should hold well for a few years; its flavor evolution with the offbeat earthy aromas is harder to predict.

WEB LINK: Here's a fact sheet on Chateau de Lancyre from the U.S. importer, Hand Picked Selections:
http://www.winemerchant.net/pages/cc-fr-lancyre.htm

FIND THIS WINE ONLINE:
Check prices and find vendors for the wines of Chateau de Lancyre Pic Saint-Loup on Wine-Searcher.com:
http://www.wine-searcher.com/find/Lancy ... g_site=WLP

Last edited by Robin Garr on Mon Mar 10, 2008 12:01 pm, edited 1 time in total.
Reason: Replacing draft with the text of March 10 Wine Advisor
User avatar
User

Robin Garr

Rank

Forum Janitor

Posts

17477

Joined

Fri Feb 17, 2006 2:44 pm

Location

Louisville, KY

Anyone? Boy, is this a tough room?

by Robin Garr » Sun Mar 09, 2008 9:20 pm

Geez, I'm dyin' out here! ;)

Even if you have not tried this specific wine, I'd really appreciate some thoughts on the broader question: Is it reasonable to assume that an old-style Languedoc red might have "dried porcini" as a descriptor, unrelated to TCA, even if the initial "mushroomy" character makes you gulp because of a perceived resemblance to cork taint?
no avatar
User

John S

Rank

Wine guru

Posts

632

Joined

Thu Jun 22, 2006 3:12 am

Location

British Columbia

Re: Corked or not? Anyone tried Lancyre 05 "d'Aleyrac"?

by John S » Mon Mar 10, 2008 1:24 am

Maybe. Does that help? :wink: 8)

Well, I've had a few Lancyre wines, but not that bottling, and I've never noticed a porcini mushroom note. But wines from that braoder region can certainly haver all kinds of mushroomy/earthy notes. If the fruit isn't stripped, it's probably not cork taint, but of course, as you know, the only way to be sure is to open another bottle...

Sorry, that's all I got! :oops:
User avatar
User

Robin Garr

Rank

Forum Janitor

Posts

17477

Joined

Fri Feb 17, 2006 2:44 pm

Location

Louisville, KY

Re: Corked or not? Anyone tried Lancyre 05 "d'Aleyrac"?

by Robin Garr » Mon Mar 10, 2008 8:51 am

John S wrote:Maybe. Does that help? :wink: 8)

Well, I've had a few Lancyre wines, but not that bottling, and I've never noticed a porcini mushroom note. But wines from that braoder region can certainly haver all kinds of mushroomy/earthy notes. If the fruit isn't stripped, it's probably not cork taint, but of course, as you know, the only way to be sure is to open another bottle...

Sorry, that's all I got! :oops:

Thanks, John. Sounds like we're on pretty much the same track. I've never found mushrooms in a (non-tainted) Lancyre before, but then, I'd never seen the d'Aleyrac bottling before - apparently it hasn't been widely distributed in the U.S.

I'm still a little disappointed not to get more general discussion of the porcini-vs-TCA character issue in this thread, though. Anyone else?
User avatar
User

Craig Pinhey

Rank

Wine geek

Posts

89

Joined

Fri Feb 15, 2008 5:19 pm

Location

Rothesay, New Brunswick, Canada

Re: Corked or not? Anyone tried Lancyre 05 "d'Aleyrac"?

by Craig Pinhey » Mon Mar 10, 2008 9:15 am

I will say this, Robin

Quite often when we have a gang of sommeliers together for blind tasting, there will be a wine that someone (or a group) swears is corked, while others claim it is just an earthy/woody character to the wine.

I've been on both sides. In some cases, when you open a wine and you get that initial whiff from the bottle that tells you "Oh no, I'm corked!" the first impression is wrong. When you pour it and retest, it is fine.

I wouldn't say I've noticed this is that region, but I will say that it almost always turns out to be a French wine.

I distinctly recall an incident with an old Burgundy. I swore it was corked. Others disagreed... It happens with bordeaux a lot.
I think a green unripe character can sometimes be mixed up with TCA.
no avatar
User

Michael Pronay

Rank

Ultra geek

Posts

320

Joined

Mon May 01, 2006 1:47 pm

Location

Vienna, Austria

Re: Corked or not? Anyone tried Lancyre 05 "d'Aleyrac"?

by Michael Pronay » Mon Mar 10, 2008 12:31 pm

That why in our tastings, when the slightest suspicion arises, we immediately open the back-up bottle (sharing provenance) side by side.

In 9 out of 10 cases the cork taint is confirmed.
Ceterum censeo corticem esse delendam
User avatar
User

Robin Garr

Rank

Forum Janitor

Posts

17477

Joined

Fri Feb 17, 2006 2:44 pm

Location

Louisville, KY

Re: Corked or not? Anyone tried Lancyre 05 "d'Aleyrac"?

by Robin Garr » Mon Mar 10, 2008 12:46 pm

Michael Pronay wrote:That why in our tastings, when the slightest suspicion arises, we immediately open the back-up bottle (sharing provenance) side by side.

In 9 out of 10 cases the cork taint is confirmed.

At Vinitaly last year, Michael, I would say the record was something like 5 or 6 of 10 cases confirmed, but this was due in part to one or two judges who called "tappo" on almost every wine they tasted, it seemed.

You will notice that your panel's record closely coincides with the estimates I provided in today's article: 90 of 100 obviously corked with little need for verification; nine more "scalped" or more marginally affected; and one very dubious.

This exceptional issue, I think, comes about when a wine bears a natural earthy flavor with a mushroomy or truffle element that superficially resembles a similar component in a tainted wine.
no avatar
User

Michael Pronay

Rank

Ultra geek

Posts

320

Joined

Mon May 01, 2006 1:47 pm

Location

Vienna, Austria

Re: WTN/Wine Advisor: Cork taint or not?

by Michael Pronay » Mon Mar 10, 2008 1:01 pm

Robin, perfectly true. As to what happens in the 10% the cork taint is not confirmed, there are two possibilities:

— the second bottle tastes different, without the panel being able to decide which is the better one: this would imply a double, albeit different kind of "creeping cork taint" ("Korkschleicher" we call that in German);

— the second bottle tastes the same: still two possibilities. Either double cork taint ("Doppelkork") which can be confirmed by a third bottle (which is the case in the tastings "Vinaria" magazine does, but not with my main activity, which is "A la Carte" magazine); or it's a case of the wine's inherent strange kind of taste.
Ceterum censeo corticem esse delendam
User avatar
User

Mark Lipton

Rank

Oenochemist

Posts

4352

Joined

Wed Mar 22, 2006 2:18 pm

Location

Indiana

Re: WTN/Wine Advisor: Cork taint or not?

by Mark Lipton » Mon Mar 10, 2008 2:12 pm

Robin,
I can't say that I've noted the porcini/TCA element in wines of the Languedoc before, but one case where I've been very confused is in older Chenins from the Loire: there is an herbal element that suggests TCA but is distinct... or so I'm told!

Mark Lipton
no avatar
User

Jenise

Rank

FLDG Dishwasher

Posts

26838

Joined

Tue Mar 21, 2006 3:45 pm

Location

The Pacific Northest Westest

Re: Corked or not? Anyone tried Lancyre 05 "d'Aleyrac"?

by Jenise » Mon Mar 10, 2008 5:17 pm

Craig Pinhey wrote:Quite often when we have a gang of sommeliers together for blind tasting, there will be a wine that someone (or a group) swears is corked, while others claim it is just an earthy/woody character to the wine.


I don't drink with sommeliers, but this happens every so often in various tasting groups I taste with. Ultimately, as we drink the wine, if the wine becomes more pleasant we presume it not to be corked but a "something else" we can't put a name to. Most wines with real TCA will simply get worse. And usually, we don't have a backup bottle to compare the wine to.
My wine shopping and I have never had a problem. Just a perpetual race between the bankruptcy court and Hell.--Rogov
no avatar
User

Graeme Gee

Rank

Ultra geek

Posts

178

Joined

Fri Mar 24, 2006 2:13 am

Location

Sydney, Australia

Re: WTN/Wine Advisor: Cork taint or not?

by Graeme Gee » Wed Mar 12, 2008 9:46 pm

Not Languedoc, but I've occasionally encountered the phenomenon in wines I'm not especially familiar with. A few weeks ago I opened my last 2000 Chateau Liversan. It was verging on corked, I thought, but I just couldn't quite call it. It didn't get particularly worse over time, and the palate wasn't massively scalped, which is what I was looking for. But it was still very musty and cardboard-like. I seemed to remember a previous bottle tasting better. I know it's a pretty modest wine, but it just seemed so musty, especially for a 2000 Bordeaux. And yet, the flavour profile didn't quite say TCA in my experience.
Another head-scratcher.
cheers,
Graeme

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: Google [Bot], James Roscoe, Yahoo [Bot] and 4 guests

Powered by phpBB ® | phpBB3 Style by KomiDesign
cron