Since Halloween is right around the corner, the thought crossed my mind that a column on the “scary stuff” in the wine world might be in order. I could instead of course write about what wines could pair well with bat, or what might a vampire pair with their prey. I’m just not sure how well these would pan out, simply due to a lack of experience in the pairings of the underworld. I have heard though that Chateauneuf du Pape pairs beautifully with roasted gargoyle.
There are three things that winemakers are most scared of, specifically when it comes to what happens in the bottle after their wine leaves the winery. They include the wine being “corked”, maderized, or oxidized. It is important to be able to notice these flaws when present in a bottle of wine. If not, you may unfortunately endure an unpleasant experience from a potentially great wine that has been misrepresented. Wine is a living substance, and is subject to the environment that surrounds it. Winemakers cannot always control what happens to their wine once the bottles leave the winery. With a bit of knowledge, you can rest easy that the wines you are purchasing and consuming are sound. It would be terrible to spend hard-earned money on a tainted bottle of wine, and consume it without knowing. It’s almost a disservice to oneself, and frankly, not too much fun being unable to decipher whether or not the wine is spoiled.
When a wine is “corked”, the cork in the wine bottle has been contaminated by a natural compound called 2,4,6-trichloroanisole (TCA), and consequently has come in contact with the wine, tainting it. The wine will have the smell of wet cardboard or a dank basement, and is very noticeable. If you are unable to detect the smell of the cork taint, the taste should assure you of its flaw. The taste is bitter and bland, with a distinctive absence of fruit and character. A maderized wine is simply a wine that has been exposed to harmful amounts of heat, and is oftentimes called “cooked” when referring to its taste profile.
The wine will have a nutty profile with notes of candied fruit. A signifier of this flaw is the cork, which will sometimes be elevated just a bit above the lip of the bottle from being pushed upwards from within due to the heat. Lastly, an oxidized wine is one that has been exposed to its strongest ally and its worst enemy. When in the glass, wine benefits from oxygen by aiding in releasing the phenolic compounds and bringing out the wine’s natural attributes.
Though when a wine is exposed to oxygen while still in the bottle, the oxygen takes its toll on the wine over a bit of time, spoiling it. The wine’s color begins to brown, and it may share similar characteristics to vinegar, which will be present in the nose as well as on the palate. One important fact to remember is that if the scary elements of the wine world have come in contact with a wine you happen to open, it is generally not a fault of the winemaker, and ultimately due to improper storage, poor shipping, or in the case of “corked” wines, a natural microorganism that winemakers cannot always detect until it strikes. That said, you might want to give the wine another shot, because in the end, you might be pleasantly surprised after a not-so-pleasant surprise.