Monday, December 15, 2008

What to do about Cork Taint?

Nobody likes a "corked wine." Even if you don't know what a corked wine is, I can pretty much guarantee that you wouldn't want one. A wine that is corked, is a wine that has been tainted by a bacteria called 2,4,6-trichloranisole, or TCA, that has infected the cork. TCA gives wine an off-putting smell that has been described as wet cardboard, smelly socks and damp basement. It is estimated that between 3% and 10% of all wines are corked. So, if you drink wine fairly regularly, you've probably been exposed to cork taint. There are many different discussions surrounding the problem of corkiness; there's the cork vs. screw cap debate, the issue of having better sanitation at cork-producing facilities, and the biggest question for the consumer...what does one do when one gets a corked wine at a restaurant? The answer in every case is SEND IT BACK. Do not be shy, nervous or self-conscious about it. It is what you are supposed to do.
What I want to address today is wines-by-the-glass. In a perfect wine world, when you order a glass of wine in a restaurant, it should never be corked. Every bottle of wine opened in a restaurant that is to be poured by the glass should be checked by the person who opens it. I started to wonder how often this simple one-second operation is not performed after being served two glasses of corked wine the other day. We were having brunch at what is definitely considered a nice restaurant in Denver on Saturday and the menu offered unlimited Prosecco for $12. Sounded good to me with my Eggs Benedict. And the first glass was. But, before I could finish it, the server came around with a bottle and refilled my glass with corked wine! When I brought this to his attention, he took my glass without argument and promptly came back with one that was fine. Halfway through that glass, back came the bottle, and, you guessed it - the corked refill. We were paying our tab and leaving at that point, and I was taking my daughter to the Nutcracker and not really in the mood to wear my wine-police hat, so I didn't say anything. But it did get me wondering - did the staff just dismiss my complaint and keep pouring from that bottle? Or, did they just continue to open and pour bottles without checking for cork taint? Either is inexcusable. Restaurants that do not check bottles as they open them are doing a disservice to both their patrons and to the wineries they represent. Since the average diner does not recognize cork taint, here's what happens - Joe Diner gets wine, doesn't like wine, either drinks it or leaves it, but his dining experience is less than what he had hoped for, and he decides that he will not order that wine ever again. Or, worse, he decides never to order any wine made by that winery again. Distributors will always pick up and credit restaurants for corked bottles, so there is no reason to pass off corked wines on customers. Do restaurateurs not realize the far-reaching consequence of this small act of neglect?

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