This article was published in The 30 Second Wine Advisor on Monday, Mar. 10, 2008 and can be found at http://www.wineloverspage.com/wineadvisor2/tswa20080310.php.
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 on our WineLovers Discussion Group, where you can check in to read this post and any ensuing discussion at
A message from WineLibrary.com
Are you on Wine Library's e-mail service? If not, you are missing out on the hottest new 90+ pointers at rock bottom prices! Log on to WineLibrary.com to sign up today! The 2005 Pasodoble has turned into quite an amazing deal. Rated 90 Points by Jay Miller of Robert Parker's The Wine Advocate, this wine is available for just $11.98 per bottle! Click here for details!
You may have seen us featured in GQ magazine, The Wall Street Journal, New Jersey Monthly and elsewhere. WineLibrary.com features a huge collection of top wines from around the world, great gifts and accessories, a daily video blog (WineLibraryTV), huge selection of futures and much, much more!
Bottom line, we offer the lowest prices, the largest selection, lightning fast shipments and the greatest customer service in the industry! WineLibrary.com is your one-stop shop for everything wine ... so what are you waiting for? Log on to WineLibrary.com today!
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:
FIND THIS WINE ONLINE:
Colossal Wine Sale Starts Now! Shop early for the best selection this month with The California Wine Club!
Save up to 70 percent off normal retail prices during this month's Colossal Wine Sale at The California Wine Club. Choose from more than 100 award-winning, limited-production wines. Super Savers are just $6.50 per bottle! Order two cases or more and receive two bonus gifts. Visit www.cawineclub.com or call 1-800-777-4443.
Every wine featured by The California Wine Club has been hand selected by club owners Bruce and Pam Boring and comes from one of California's best "mom & pop" wineries. Since 1990 The California Wine Club has been introducing wine enthusiasts to wines normally only found by visiting wine country and the wineries themselves. If you've not yet experienced The California Wine Club, try it during this month's wine sale. Mix a case of wines and save up to 70% off normal retail prices.
As always, every wine is 100 percent guaranteed! Call 1-800-777-4443 or visit www.cawineclub.com
Talk About Wine Online
If you have questions, comments or ideas to share about today's article
Everyone is free to browse. If you'd like to post a comment, question or reply, you must register, but registration is free and easy. Do take care to register using your real name, or as a minimum, your real first name and last initial. Anonymous registrations are quietly discarded.
To contact me by E-mail, write email@example.com. I'll respond personally to the extent that time and volume permit.
PRINT OUT TODAY'S ARTICLE
This week on WineLoversPage.com
Oxford Town Wines: What would Jesus drink?
WebWineMan: Wine's winning ways
Internet radio Community Call ("TalkShoe"): Wine and chocolate!
WineLovers Discussion Group: Vinovation!
Last Week's Wine Advisor Index
The Wine Advisor's daily edition is usually distributed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays (and, for those who subscribe, the FoodLetter on Thursdays). Here's the index to last week's columns:
Another fine white blend (March 7, 2008)
Gunk! (March 5, 2008)
Wine Focus - Value Bordeaux (March 3, 2008)
Complete 30 Second Wine Advisor archive:
Wine Advisor FoodLetter: Turkey pot-pie stew (March 6, 2008)
Wine Advisor Foodletter archive: