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In This Issue

 Cork taint or not?
Once you've learned to recognize it, the dank, chlorine-heavy stench of a wine tainted by a faulty natural cork is difficult to miss. But on rare occasion a palatable flavor can mimic this flaw.
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 Chateau de Lancyre 2005 "La Coste d'Aleyrac" Pic Saint-Loup ($17.99)
An earthy whiff of dried porcini mushrooms whispers "corked" at first, but extended analysis calls this judgment into question.
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 This week on
Writer John Juergens speculates about the nature of the wine Jesus might have made in the gospel story; Richard Fadeley proposes four facets to the enjoyment of wine. In today's Internet radio Community Call, we talk about wine and chocolate! Meanwhile, WineLovers forum members discuss a controversial technique for reducing the alcohol in wine.
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This article was published in The 30 Second Wine Advisor on Monday, Mar. 10, 2008 and can be found at

Cork taint or not?

A few days off
I'm taking a little personal time off, so we'll publish The 30 Second Wine Advisor only on Mondays this week and next, and there'll be no Thursday FoodLetters during this period. I'll plan to resume regular publication later in the month.

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

My tasting notes are below.

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

Chateau de Lancyre

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:

Check prices and find vendors for the wines of Chateau de Lancyre Pic Saint-Loup on

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This week on

Oxford Town Wines: What would Jesus drink?
One of the most popular stories of the Bible is the Wedding Feast at Cana, where Jesus turned water into fine wine. Speaking light-heartedly but not irreverently, writer John Juergens tosses out a few ideas.|

WebWineMan: Wine's winning ways
What makes wine so different, more interesting, challenging, and satisfying than other beverages? Richard Fadeley suggests four facets to the enjoyment of wine that you may not have stopped to consider.|

Internet radio Community Call ("TalkShoe"): Wine and chocolate!
Would you be surprised to hear that fine chocolate can be great with a dry red Bordeaux? We'll talk about this and other wine-and-chocolate possibilities on this week's Internet radio Community Call ("TalkShoe"), Monday, March 10, at Noon US EDT (9 a.m. Pacific, 5 p.m. in Western Europe). Click for the details!
All our previous TalkShoe Community Calls are available for listening or downloading from the archives. Click for the podcast!

WineLovers Discussion Group: Vinovation!
A controversial process conducted by a California firm can reduce the alcohol content in wine, seeking to improve flavor and balance. Is this a good thing, or an undesirable technological intrusion into the natural process of making wine? This topic is grist for an intriguing, informed conversation in our WineLovers Discussion Group.

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: