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30 Second Wine Tasting Tip:
Sludge on the cork

Sludge A few weeks ago, we discussed tartrate crystals, the harmless, glassy shards that sometimes show up on the inner end of a wine cork and prompt some consumers to worry needlessly that the wine is spoiled.

This week, let's take a look at the ugly mess that you'll occasionally find on the other end of the cork. A 1988 Vouvray that I opened with considerable anticipation the other night provided about as unappetizing an example as I had seen for some time. When I peeled away the foil capsule covering the bottle neck, it revealed a dark-brown, gooey slime, a mass of muddy stuff so unpleasant that for a minute I thought about opening another bottle instead.

I was able to scrub most of the mess away with damp paper towels, though. And when I pulled the cork, I was happy to find that discoloration only affected the outer 1/4 inch. The part of the cork that touched the wine was good as new.

What's the story here? It's really not that unusual to find sludge in the wine-bottle capsule, especially with older wines. But the good news is that - despite its alarming appearance - it doesn't usually signal that the wine is damaged. Most often, it simply means that at some point in the wine's life, a tiny bit of wine seeped out, either because the wine was exposed to heat or perhaps because of minute imperfections in the cork. Trapped in the dark, enclosed environment of the capsule, the drop of wine became a natural host for mold.

It's really nothing to worry about, although if I ordered an entire case of new wine and found them all leaking, I might suspect the possibility that it was exposed to damaging heat, and seek a refund.

For a single bottle, though, or an older wine, I wouldn't worry about it. Simply wipe the bottle neck and cork with a damp cloth or paper towel before pulling out the cork, then wipe it again to ensure that the neck is clean before you pour.

What's your experience with leaky corks and sludgy capsules? If you'd like to talk about it, send me an E-mail note to I regret that the growing circulation of the "Wine Advisor" makes it difficult for me to reply individually to every note, but I'll answer as many as I can; and please be assured that all your input helps me do a better job of writing about wine.

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30 Second Tasting Notes:
A bargain red from Southern Italy
Santa Lucia Santa Lucia 1998 Castel del Monte Vigna del Melograno ($7.99)
This wine from Puglia in the "boot heel" of Southern Italy offers unusual complexity and flavor interest for an inexpensive wine. Made primarily from the local Uva di Troia grape with some Malbec and Montepulciano in the blend, it's a dark-garnet color, with perfumed red-fruit aromas and a whiff of fennel. Crisp and bright flavors, fresh fruit and tart acidity, with herbal and earthy notes, and a pleasant hint of bitterness in the finish. U.S. importer: Vintner Select, Cincinnati. (Sept. 17, 2000)

FOOD MATCH: Surprisingly good match with a non-traditional partner, Thai curry noodles with crab.

WEBSITE: (English version)

Wine Lovers' Voting Booth:
Do you take wine notes?
One obvious behavior makes it easy for the casual observer to detect a serious wine enthusiast: Confronted with a glass of wine, he'll pull out a notebook and scribble his impressions, perhaps even taking time to rate the wine with a numerical score. For those of us who regard wine as not merely a beverage but a hobby, there's hardly a better way to sharpen our palates than by writing down our impressions as we taste. In the near future, I'll devote an edition of The 30 Second Wine Advisor to this topic. First, though, I'd like to set the scene by sampling your opinions on the value of taking wine notes. I hope you'll drop by our Wine Lovers' Voting Booth,, and answer the question, "Do you take notes on the wines you taste?"

30 Second Advertising Partner:
Live WebCam at Chateau Haut-Brion
Haut-Brion We take special pride in the long-term sponsorship by Chateau Haut-Brion and Chateau La Mission Haut-Brion as advertising partners of The Wine Lovers' Page; and they're advertisers with a difference, shunning commercialism (they do not sell wine on their site) in favor of wine education and information. Now they've added a new feature for this autumn's harvest: Through this vintage, a live "Web cam" will broadcast a rooftop view across the chais (cellars) and chateau, and another will show the reception area where the just-harvested grapes reach the winery. To view the scene, click to Chateau Haut-Brion's Web Cams,

30 Second Administrivia
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All the wine-tasting reports posted here are consumer-oriented. In order to maintain objectivity and avoid conflicts of interest, I purchase all the wines I rate at my own expense in retail stores and accept no samples, gifts or other gratuities from the wine industry.

More time for wine?
You don't need to wait for Mondays to read about wine! Drop in any time on Robin Garr's Wine Lovers' Page, where we add new tasting notes several times each week and frequently expand our selection of wine-appreciation articles, tips and tutorials.

If you'd like to talk about wine online with fellow wine enthusiasts around the world, we'd be delighted to have you join the interactive, international forums in our Wine Lovers' Discussion Group.

Vol. 2, No. 35, Sept. 18, 2000

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