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Wine How To: Avoid Bad Corks and Avoid Bad Wine

June 20, 2009

Gwendolyn Alley is Murphy-Goode part of my campaign to be Murphy-Goode’s Wine Country Lifestyle Correspondent, (and just because it’s fun!!), I’m participating  in a blog carnival over at Andy’s Goode Life Blog where she asks us to respond to one of these three questions. She’s hosting a contest to see which is the best answer, so please read, comment, and vote for me!

  1. When I drink red wine, I often get the dreaded “red wine teeth,” which is an embarrassing condition to have at a party when I intend on talking, smiling, or otherwise showing my newly wine-stained chompers. And is there any way to reduce this affliction without hampering my enjoyment of red?
  2. What are your tips to avoid “palate fatigue” when tasting so many wines in a session?
  3. Why smell the cork?

3. Why smell the cork? Well, if it smells bad, it’s gonna taste bad. When you pick it up to check it out, if it’s a crumbly mess, the wine’s gonna be too.

Truth is? Most wines are fine. And smelling and feeling the cork doesn’t tell you as much as that first taste of wine does, since sometimes a cork breaks but the wine is great. If you don’t like a wine, don’t drink it. Don’t be embarrassed. Send it back.

When I was at the Wine Bloggers Conference last October, we had a event  at a big name winery. I was hanging out with a VIP PR person who used to work there; now she works somewhere even bigger. A bottle was opened, our glasses were generously filled. My swirl looked good, my sniff okay, but her nose instantly wrinkled up: it’s corked, she said, taking a quick sip, then dumping her glass and urging the server to get rid of the bottle and open another. I admit, I tasted mine, even drank some. It wasn’t bad or corked to my palate, but it wasn’t great. I dumped; the next glass still wasn’t great but it certainly was better!

Lesson here: sometimes it’s subtle. She knew the wines there, knew that this wine was bad, and rejected it. I didn’t know the wine, wasn’t as confident, and probably would have accepted it. I learned a lot from her in that moment. I learned to be brave and to trust my palate. I only wish I’d been that brave when, visiting a friend in Florida, she  ordered a Ggrich Chardonnay at her club. It was okay, drinkable, but not great, definitely a disappointment, especially at that price. And that’s a wine that SHOULD have been mind-blowing. I should have done a little whistle-blowing, but none of us did.

Here’s one more story, one more lesson from later that night at the Wine Blogger’s Conference while tasting wine with sommelier Doug Cook and wine author Alice Feiring. Doug expertly opened a jeraboam of an older French red, casually checked the cork, and poured the first glass to Alice. She eagerly tucked her nose into the Reidel Doug brought for the occasion, and quickly brought it out. Her face was indescribable–except to say it was not PLEASURE she was expressing.

So again the lesson is, yes, sniffing the cork and giving it a squeeze might give you a hint, but the tale is in the bottle.

Since then I have sent a tough duck breast back at the famous Ranch House in Ojai, and other dishes that weren’t right. Now I’m brave enough to do the same with wine. Fortunately, everything I’ve had since then has been fine!

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