One of the more frustrating experiences in wine appreciation is the discovery that the wine you've been looking forward to enjoying was the victim of a random drive-by slaying perpetrated by a tainted natural cork.
Even if we grant that the incidence of cork-tainted wine has diminished somewhat in recent years, thanks to increased quality control efforts by some cork producers and wine makers, there's no question that a significant percentage of wines stoppered with natural cork will be spoiled.
But here's a twist, and I don't mean the twist of a screw cap: The other night I opened a bottle of decent Alsatian wine from a respected producer - specifically, Trimbach 2002 Pinot Blanc - only to be greeted by the telltale aroma. Tasting confirmed the first impression: Musty wet-cardboard and fruit that was muted at best left me in absolutely no doubt. I'll stake my reputation, such as it is, on my judgement that this wine was corked.
But here's where the story goes off the rails: The bottle was not fitted with a natural cork. It was closed with a slick-skinned, foam-filled synthetic stopper, a modern invention explicitly designed as a taint-free replacement for natural cork.
What's up with that? We've been kicking this topic around on our WineLovers Discussion Group, and the consensus is that the chemical malefactors involved in taint - trichloroanisole (TCA) and the less-familiar tribromoanisole (TBA) and others - is not limited to natural cork. These compounds may turn up in barrels, in wood used in winery building and other organic materials that may come in contact with wine.
It's for just this reason that the folks at Amorim - the major Portuguese cork producer that I had the pleasure of visiting last autumn - object to the term "corked" to describe tainted wine. Cork defenders argue that taint comes from many sources and that it's not fair to associate it with the bark of the Portuguese oak tree.
While I don't buy it completely - most tainted wine is affected by the cork - this tasting certainly offers a compelling wake-up call and demonstrates that alternative stoppers can't guarantee that a wine won't pick up taint from other sources.
I've E-mailed Trimbach asking for comment but at this point have had no reply. If and when the company responds, I'll pass it on.
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California Wine Club:
Two Connoisseurs' Series beauties on sale today
Today is the last and final day of California Wine Club's Wine Sale Cornucopia, offering up to 70 percent off on many of the Club's recent offerings.
I've just learned that two of the sale items offer a bargain price on a few bottles of high-end California beauties from the Club's elite Connoisseurs' Series. Both the rich, buttery, big yet elegant Robert Young 2003 Alexander Valley Chardonnay and the meaty, mouth-filling but nicely balanced Stolpman 2003 "Hilltops" Santa Ynez Valley Syrah are on sale, the Chardonnay marked down from $39 to $34 and the Syrah from $42 to $38.
Today only, 30 Second Wine Advisor readers can call and order either or both of these wines (and quite a few other selected top-tier California wines) for discount prices. Call (800) 777-4443, toll-free in the U.S., or visit this special link:
The sale ends at close of business, California time, today, Oct. 6, whereupon the sale and sale prices will go offline.
Stolpman 2003 "Hilltops" Santa Ynez Valley Syrah ($42 original Connoisseurs' Series price, $38 today only)
Inky reddish-purple in color, almost black. Very full and ripe, blackberries dominate a bowl of mixed black fruit. A real mouth full of wine, intense blackberries and blueberries plus a grind of black pepper, built on firm acidity and warm 14.8% alcohol. Oak is certainly present but well integrated with the fruit. No shrinking violet, this, but complexity and balance elevate it well above more monolithic Syrahs. A very good match indeed with grilled meat in the form of a rare, grass-fed T-bone. Website: http://www.StolpmanVineyards.com (Sept. 9, 2006)
Robert Young 2003 Alexander Valley Chardonnay ($39 original Connoisseurs' Series price, $34 today only)
This clear, bright straw color wine shows glints of gold against the light. It opens with a rich, buttery scent, soon followed by ripe tropical fruit that carries over on the palate as pineapple and dried fruits, figs and dates. Made very much in an opulent New World style, but good acidic structure and a long, clean finish make the grade for me. Carries its burly 14.3% alcohol well. If more big California Chards were as stylish as this, I'd drink more of them. Splendid with a dish fashioned to match, pork chops sauteed with garlic, capers and a white-wine reduction, and a side dish of spaghetti with butter and sage. Website: http://www.ryew.com/ (Oct. 3, 2006)
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Friday, Oct. 6, 2006