Griffy on Corks


Folks, I love getting e-mails so please keep them coming!  I got this one this week:
“So I was sitting at my desk today, eating Abeeeez frozen yogurt for lunch, cleaning up email from the last few weeks. Saw yours and read a bunch of your stories.  The I came across this quote you put in.
‘Sometimes you have to stop and sniff the corks!’ -Arna Dan Isacsson
It made me think about a guy I used to know who was a waiter in a very nice French restaurant.  In one of my many conversations with him we got talking about wine, restaurant mark ups, waiters’ corkscrews, glasses, and idiots who order wine.
He told me that good waiters know that the customer is a moron when after being presented with the cork they pick it up and sniff it.  He says that they actually will laugh behind your back.
Another thing he mentioned was to remember the year of the wine you ordered.  They often switch and bring you another year. Most people don’t notice.
I love wine corks.  I have hundreds of them.  I often save the cork, date it, write on it where we drank it and who we were with.  Kind of becomes a diary of sorts.
I hate screw top bottles.  There is some good stuff now in screw top but I am a traditionalist.  No cork….no buy.
So maybe a Griffy on corks?”
Ask and ye shall receive, here we go with Griffy on corks!
The waiter is half right about corks, sniffing a cork will not tell you how the wine is going to taste.  However, the cork is a very good indicator of the condition of the wine, as well as how the wine has been stored and cared for.
I always stop and smell the corks.  Maybe because I’m a moron–I’m told that I am a couple times a day–but in this case I don’t think so.  About 7% of wine goes bad in the bottle due to, you guessed it, bad corks.  So by smelling the cork and detecting a wet dog or wet cardboard smell, you can reject that bottle of wine, its bad.  The term for this is “corked” or “cork taint.”
A “Corked” wine is a wine that has been bottled with a cork that is contaminated with TCA (2,4,6-Trichloroanisole). TCA contamination usually comes from corks but can also come from barrels, other cooperage, or apparently even from wood within the cellar, including walls or beams.  The term “corked wine” is applied to all wines with TCA contamination because corks are the source of most of the problems.  The wine industry estimates that as many as 3% to 7% of all wines have TCA contamination at levels that can be detected by consumers.  Because most people are not trained to recognize the smell and taste of TCA, only a very small fraction of these bad bottles are ever returned to stores or sent back at a restaurant.
So, if you get a corked wine, you should return it to the store from which it was purchased or refuse it at the restaurant.  Most wineries completely stand behind their wines and will work to ensure customer satisfaction.  Do make sure that you check the wine when it is opened and before it is poured around the table.  Wineries and stores are less likely to accept the return of an empty or nearly empty bottle with your claim that it was bad.  The “sniffing” ritual of a freshly opened bottle of wine developed over the years to allow the host to check and make sure that bad wine was not poured for guests.
Looking at the cork can tell you about the care and treatment of your wine.  A wine should be stored on its side, hence the term “laying down the wine.”  Generally, this term refers to the aging of wine–“fathers buy the wines their son’s will drink”–but if you look in a good wine shop few of the bottles, with the exception of the factory wines on the end-caps of the big cardboard mountains, are stored upright.
So, when you are presented a cork, sniff and squeeze, the cork should be moist and pliable.  If it’s not, then the wine was not stored properly, and if at a restaurant I would reject that bottle of wine.  The end of the cork normally should be wet and if you ordered a red wine it should have a tint of red.
The year switch is something you might be able to detect from the color of the wine.  I wrote about this recently in the July 4th post, “Red, White, and Hue.”  Look at the label, they should present you the bottle, but if they put a fastball past you here’s some hints: when checking color don’t hold the wine up to the light, that will not tell you a thing.  Most restaurants have white linen table cloths, hold the wine away from you and look down at the wine at the while surface.  The center of the glass, “the heart,” should have the deepest color.  The top of the oval or the “Lip” will give you the best hue.  In a red wine the hue should be blue or purple, brick color if you ordered an older wine or the pricier wine from Piedmont Italy.  If you order a wine that’s 10 years or older, wow your rich!  But if the hue is blue or purple check your label, your being gipped!  If 5 years or younger and its brown then check the label, they are giving you an old bottle that they found behind the cabinet.  I don’t know what it is about wine that promotes fraud, but it’s been that way throughout its history. 
On corks, I like the romance and nothing makes me smile like the pop when you open a bottle.  I must say I prefer screw tops, mainly because they seal the unused portion of the wine for better storage.  I know it’s hard to believe but most bottles I open last two or three days.  I actually do this on purpose because I want to taste the wine after the air as had a day or two to soften the tannins.  It also allows me to have two bottles of wine going at the same time.
I save corks too.  I’ve made key chains, trivets, refrigerator magnets and a cork board.  To all my “green” friends, see I recycle!  I save many of the bottles too because they are interesting and some have great art work on the label.
This email reminds me of another quote.  “What contemptible scoundrel has stolen the cork to my lunch?”  W. Clement Stone

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