Friday, February 08, 2013

I Might be Corked

I'm stuck in the middle of a tough streak right now, friends. Be very careful sharing your good wine with me, as since early January there have been some incredible disappointments. Lately, every bottle that should be great is corked or flawed in some other way. It's starting to spread now to the daily bottles too, which is alarming.

It began with a bottle of 1988 Drouhin Musigny at the annual Burgundy Wine Club dinner in early January. Should have been a brilliant bottle, but it smelled and tasted like roasted peat.

This established the tone for the next month. I opened a bottle of 2006 Marquis D'Angerville Volnay 1er Cru Les Fremiets one night and it was corked. That teasing kind of corked, too, where you keep drinking it because you haven't had the wine before and it's not the stinky vicious kind of corked. It was the kind that wisps in and out in a subtle way, gradually building, until eventually it can no longer be denied.

And then this majestic bottle was corked. Again, it wasn't immediately clear (except to one very experienced drinker). Everyone agreed that something was wrong with the wine, but we all fought as hard as we could to deny reality, for obvious reasons. Seriously, this is tragic, isn't it? When am I ever going to drink 1989 Gentaz again?

Then one evening last week I decided to try the 2011 Domaine de la Pépière Muscadet Clos des Briords, always exciting to try the new vintage. Corked. Not hard to replace, but still frustrating.

Then on Friday last week my good friend brought a special bottle to my house for dinner, a bottle he bought a year or so ago at my encouragement. 1987 Domaine Terrebrune Bandol, which I've actually tasted before and I'm a sucker for Bandol from those years, when the wines were less bombastic and lower in alcohol (although this one was 13.5%). The problem was, the wine was corked. And in that especially annoying subtle way that took us 30 agonizing minutes to recognize. Was it taking its time opening up, was it a little heat damaged (yes), was it corked, why was it so muted and weird...because it was corked.

And on Super Bowl Sunday my good pal very generously opened a great bottle to share, the 1998 Giacosa Barbaresco Rabaja. The Bud Light ads were tempting, but this wine had us way more excited. He decanted it for a while and we were ready to go, but the wine was heat damaged. We drank some anyway because it was possible to see the potential of the wine underneath, but I could tell he was frustrated, and I didn't have the heart to tell him that these days, I bring this plague with me wherever I go.

My friend Peter said to me recently, joking around, but not entirely, that no where else would consumers allow this sort of failure rate in the products we buy. "Imagine buying a new car," he said, "turning the key and finding that it doesn't go. And then the salesman smiles sadly and says 'Yeah, sorry, that one doesn't go, that happens sometimes and you'll have to live with it.'"

Okay, a new car is a bit more expensive (unless we're talking about corked Jayer or DRC). But his point is interesting. Why have we accepted the fact that 1 of 8 or 9 bottles of wine is corked? We are told that we have to accept this, that it's part of the game. Maybe so. It still stinks, and can be soul crushing if you've invested cellar time and/or a lot of money in the bottle.

My friend Lee Campbell who used to sell the Dressner portfolio of wines and now is the wine director at Reynards, among other things, once had me guffawing as we complained about corked wine. She said that she's convinced that lots of things can be corked. There is a small park near her house that she thinks is corked. Certain television shows are corked (I think she said that Glee is the most recent offender), a diner near her office is corked, North Korea is corked.

I am worried that I might be corked.


Anonymous said...

BG, You write: "And in that especially annoying subtle way that took us 30 agonizing minutes to recognize."
I think there should be a Ku"bler-Ross paradigm for coming to accept corking....I had the same experience on Superbowl, and I even kept the bottle for two days in the fridge, hoping that magically it would come around. Having gone through denial and bargaining, I finally felt ready to accept and let go.

Asher said...

Unfortunately, I also feel like the last few weeks have been plagued by flawed wines. The '98 Giacosa Rabaja that I opened for the Superbowl did seem heat damaged. Last night, during Storm Nemo, I opened a '96 Marcarini Barolo La Serra. Corked. Last week, '05 Gonon St. Joseph. Corked. A week earlier, '04 Cavallotto Langhe, corked too. In addition to the loss of funds (am I going to drive to Zachys and hope they refund my money for a '96 Barolo bought years ago? Do I even have the receipt? Both unlikely.), there is the issue that I carefully cellared these wines, waiting patiently for years until the right occasion (and there is no better occasion than Brooklynguy coming over to watch the Superbowl), and the wine is undrinkable after all that care, time and anticipation.

Two addition points. First, the so-called "cure" of putting Saran wrap into the corked wine so that the TCA molecules bond with the chemicals in the Saran wrap (or whatever, I'm not a chemist) has never worked for me.

Second, as Keith L. once astutely wrote, if you spend the evening wondering whether a wine is corked or just funky or whether it is or will blow off . . . yes, the wine is corked.

JudiKaye said...

WOW!! I was just browsing the 'net, reading about Banyuls, when your post about corked wine caught my attention. Your have so perfectly painted the landscape of our recent experiences, I was compelled to read it out loud to my husband. His response... "Buy more screw-capped wine!" :)
Love your blog... I'll be visiting often. Thanks!

Weston said...

I have a friend who is suppose to have the super sensitive cork nose, and mostly we use her to test out but sometimes she says a bottle is corked and swears by it and the rest of us will say nope no way, so I dunno I dont find a lot of corked bottles myself but then again Im not drinking older wines like that

Anonymous said...

So what if corked-ness is actually born in the interaction? (nose-wine, park goer-park, tv watcher-tv show)? Corked-ness as an unfortunate match, rather than a permanent state. It's good news: if you are corked, you can always hope there's a nose out there that will not detect it :)

As always, great allegory.

Anonymous said...

Great, thanks. Now that I read this damn post I think my computer is corked.

Salil said...

Corked Gentaz. Oh, god, no. I'm sorry.

Niklas Jorgensen said...

But do we have to accept it? Cork tainted wines? I mean, when I buy a product I'm most of the times either adviced to examine it ahead - or I'm protected by some kind of consumer laws. The problem with wine is of course that we can't examine ahead and the fact that consumer laws are limited in time but the wine bought might need several years of cellaring.

For me, it's a lot of money down the drain if accepting the fact that I'm the one to take the financial beating here. So when I'm bumping into a defect bottle, where it can be related to the cork closure, I'm simply contacting the producers, if not protected by consumer law or a nice retailer.

But this experience of, that would have been a "falling down" for me!

All the best,


Tony said...

The Saran wrap method has always worked for me. I use a fist-sized loose ball of it, pour the wine over, usually into a bowl with high sides, and wait about 3-5 minutes, stirring now and then. Works great for me.