Corked wine? Bag it!
As we've discussed so many times before, one of the greatest weaknesses of the natural (tree-bark) cork is its unhappy tendency to harbor a fungus that, on exposure to wine, emits a compound called 2,4,6-trichloroanisole (TCA) that ruins the wine with a dank, nasty stench.
Once you've encountered a "corked" wine by its characteristic aroma, a musty mix of wet cardboard, damp basements and the chlorinated reek of an indoor swimming pool, you'll have little difficulty recognizing it again ... and you'll likely become an advocate for screw caps and other alternative closures that aren't subject to TCA contamination.
The conventional wisdom has always been that a "corked" wine is irretrievably ruined and it might as well be poured down the drain. But in recent months, there's been a quiet stir on Internet wine forums as a number of wine enthusiasts in Britain and the U.S. have been experimenting with a bizarre but apparently at least partially effective remedy: Insert a small plastic sandwich bag or a bit of plastic wrap into a severely "corked" wine, they report, and before long much of the "corked" stench will have gone away.
The other night, though, I opened a pleasant if decidedly modest Portuguese white wine - Gazela non-vintage Vinho Verde ($5.59) - to discover the familiar dank mushroom-in-Clorox stench. Eeeuuww! Quick as a wink, I grabbed a Kroger brand "Snap'n'Seal" sandwich bag, rolled it into a tight cylinder, and poked it down into the wine. I put the bottle back in the fridge, re-stoppering it with the suspect cork, and waited a couple of hours.
Before long, the bag had unfurled within the bottle and was covered with tiny bubbles. I'm not certain whether this indicated a chemical reaction taking place or, more likely, simply revealed the slight carbonation in Vinho Verde. Either way, however, I poured a fresh glass a couple of hours later and was startled to find that the dank TCA aroma was gone.
How did it happen? I'm a writer, not a chemist, so some of the following poly-syllabic words are beyond my clear comprehension. But according to some of my science-savvy friends on our Wine Lovers' Discussion Group, polyethylene - the material used to make baggies or plastic wrap - is a copolymer, a viscous ("greasy") nonpolar solvent composed of hydrophobic polymer chains. It is a more effective solvent for TCA than wine, so it selectively absorbs some of the nasties out of the wine on contact.
Obviously this is a rough-and-ready process, and our chemists theorize that, since some of the natural components of wine are also hydrophobic, the process most likely does not not merely pull TCA out of the wine but may strip it of desirable color, aroma and flavor as well.
Since a corked wine is spoiled, though, there's really no harm in experimenting in an effort to salvage it. And in the case of the fresh, young and rather simple Vinho Verde, the plastic-bag treatment proved quite successful, completely eliminating the musty-chlorine aroma and leaving behind a very pale, watery-brass-color fluid with a light but pleasant citric aroma and near-dry flavor focused on lemons and limes.
I can't rule out the possibility that it had lost something in the process, but I can say without quibble that the bag treatment turned it from undrinkable to palatable. Next time I encounter a corked wine, I certainly won't hesitate to bag it.
I advise skepticism, though, about a new product unveiled this year by French entrepreneurs to gasps of amazement from British media. The product, sold as "Dream Taste," purports to absorb cork taint from wine with a special decanter and a single-use, disposable "copolymer" shaped like a tiny bunch of grapes. The set sells for a cool 40 Euros, and each throwaway unit commands 5 Euros.
I think I'll just stick with the plastic bag trick at $2.95 for 100 bags, thanks all the same.
TALK ABOUT WINE ONLINE
If you'd like to ask a question or comment on today's topic (or any other wine-related subject), you'll find a round-table online discussion in our interactive Wine Lovers' Discussion Group, where you're always welcome to join in the conversations about wine.
If you prefer to comment privately, feel free to send me E-mail at email@example.com. I'll respond personally to the extent that time and volume permit.
PRINT OUT TODAY'S ARTICLE
Prices "Falling" During The California Wine Club's Autumn Sale!
The biggest Sale Event of the year started today at The California Wine Club. Over 100 award-winning wines discounted at up to 58 percent. Premier Club wines are just $99/Case! International Selections and even the highly reviewed, rare wines in the upper level club, Signature Series, are also available at incredible savings. Stock your cellar today! 1-800-77-4443 or
This week on WineLoversPage.com
Here are links to some of our recently published articles that I think you'll enjoy:
Wine Lovers' Discussion Group: QPR wine for fried chicken and hamburgers
Last Week's Wine Advisor Index
We skipped Friday's edition last week because I was on my way to the MoCool wine fest in Michigan. Here's the index to the rest of last week's columns:
Wine or beer? (Aug. 24, 2005)
Old World vs. New: Distinction fading? (Aug. 22, 2005)
Complete 30 Second Wine Advisor archive:
Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Guacamole (Aug. 25, 2005)
Wine Advisor Foodletter archive:
To subscribe or unsubscribe from The 30 Second Wine Advisor, change your E-mail address, or for any other administrative matters, please use the individualized hotlink found at the end of your E-mail edition. If this is not practical, contact me by E-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, including the exact E-mail address that you used when you subscribed, so I can find your record.
We do not use our E-mail list for any other purpose and will never give or sell your name or E-mail address to anyone. I welcome feedback, suggestions, and ideas for future columns. To contact me, please send E-mail to email@example.com
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.
Monday, Aug. 29, 2005