Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Still sniffing the cork?

I received an email last week regarding ‘sniffing’ or smelling the cork when purchasing a wine in a restaurant. Specifically, about how some of the sommeliers have advised this couple that sniffing the cork has become tres cliché and that they shouldn’t do it anymore.

Their comment was that sniffing the cork could still tell them if the wine was utterly contaminated with TCA, and might save a glass from being washed. Several times in their experience they had handed the offending cork to the steward, and that was enough to send them off for another bottle.

While it’s true that a really stinky cork can help you get the bottle returned, I’d recommend having it poured into a glass anyway. With individual sensitivities to TCA varying over such a really large range, a cork that’s patently offensive to you may only register slightly to the next person. Having that wine in a glass & allowing the TCA to ‘bloom’ will help make your point to the wait staff. And at the time you’ve got a bad bottle, you’ll want all the ammunition you can get to make sure that bottle’s not charged to your account.

Personally I rarely ever sniff a cork. More often than not, I’ll pick up the cork to how it’s held up physically, and perhaps to see if the cork supplier has a stamp on it, so I can see whom the winery purchased them from. But them again, my background is somewhat different from the average consumer.

Four years ago I had a talk with a Chinese wine broker/distributor who lived and worked in Shanghai. They said that they knew of an affluent couple who had bought a bottle of Petrus and opened it at a swanky dinner party they were throwing. The foil was cut and everyone was shocked to find that the cork which emerged from the bottle was actually from (a large California winery)! Obviously the bottle was a forgery and they’d been taken….they were quite embarrassed, and out a small fortune to boot.

So looking at the cork can help spot problems like this, but usually by the time you see this sort of evidence it’s far too late to do anything about it.


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