FEATURED Wine Not Whine

All corked out….

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Sometimes life throws you a curve ball, or what I like to call the best curve ball of all-time – KIDS. I used to say a lot of things like,  ” I would never give my child sugar,” or “I can’t believe that mother just DID THAT!” – or “I would never, ever do what that parent did…”  You get the point.  Parenting is the ultimate lesson in humility!  I’ve learned to say ‘never say never.’ Because, well, it’s true. As an elderly gentlemen in Starbucks today told me, sometimes we need a second chance for a third time.  As a parent, I need to be reminded of this daily… grace is the most beautiful gift we can ever bestow. And, believe it or not, sometimes wine needs a little grace.

Last week during a tasting, we encountered two corks that had mold. Shocking, right?  Not really. My husband has a complex about ‘corked’ wines, or, as he calls them, “sub-par” wines. He swears they are OK to drink. (I don’t know how we are married, but I love him in spite of this.)  It’s not OK.  He used to get embarrassed. Used to. But then once (maybe more than once), I  argued with a sommelier that a wine was ‘off’, only to find out that I was right when I offered to pay for two bottles if I were wrong. YEAH – should have had his job… ya know, if I wasn’t sleep deprived with three kids?!

So when I started studying wine, I learned a lot, but the biggest thing is that wine can be off.  A lot.  There is so much that goes into the process of making wine, where opportunity knocks in terms of ‘stuff going wrong’.

Most people are aware of  ‘cork taints,’ when a compromised cork taints the wine, making it smell of moldy socks or mildewed basement. The taste is unforgettable and obvious. What most people aren’t aware of is that fact that there are a whole lot of other taints that can affect a wine. The most common being:

1. Oxygen Exposure

Let’s be honest. We breathe air. Lots of it.  Except for my son who likes to remind me that he is apparently a fish. Yep, he could have gills  somewhere – who knows? Sometimes, for young fish, air is not awesome, and the same goes for wines. My friend and I recently opened a bottle of wine that I was told “is amazing”. We poured it and observed a rather brown cloudy appearance. We drank a glass and could not figure out why we, well, hated the wine. I returned it the next day, got another one ( ahem, it was $75.00) to open THE MOST AMAZING wine ever. Sometimes when wine is not clear, is cloudy or has some sort of random wine issue, it has been exposed to too much oxygen, and, unlike “Max the Fish,” it needs to be returned. (All wine store and wineries will exchange ‘off ‘ wine) Side note: this is also a good lesson in wine that can have a slight taint. If someone you trusts tells you a wine is good and it’s not, it may not be you but the wine.

2. 2.4.6. TCA (Trichloroanisole) aka ‘cork taint’

Here you thought I wouldn’t get technical on you. This is the unmistakable wet basement, smelly dog, wet sock smell. It is actually is the second most common wine fault, accounting for 2% of wine bottles. I insert a note to my husband here: we drink a lot of wine, so the wine we return for “faults” fits in this percentage. I’m saving you money or your palate – either way, I am a good wife and should be awarded jewelry or something… maybe more wine.

3. Sulfur

This is ironic, because sulfur is actually used in wine to prevent wine from going bad, but yet, here we are. Smelling a rotten egg? Burnt rubber? Return to seller, yet again.

4. Secondary Fermentation

The bottle contains bubbles, yet is not Champagne or another type of sparkling wine. YEP, return to seller.  This bottle of wine has become determined to keep on fermenting, even though that process is supposed to be over.  NO, not good.

5. Heat Damage/Cold Damage/UV Light

Always love it when I pass a wine store in NYC where there is a line-up of wine bottles in the window, in direct sun. Because that is always amazing for wines, NOT.   Don’t buy those wines, EVER. Heat damage can provide wines with a jammy, over-baked taste. RETURN THAT WINE. Cold weather can also break down a wine, causing damage to the molecular structure and also causing crystals to form. When a wine freezes, it is never the same. You know, when you throw a bottle of wine in the freezer for a “few minutes” and forget about it? I’VE NEVER DONE THAT EVER!! It breaks the structure of the wine down, and it is basically never the same, although we did that recently and my husband drank the wine. Again, he is obviously not the wine snob that I am. Which is why I married him.

Lastly, sometimes you can encounter ‘tartrate crystals’ in your wine aka shards of glass, this is OK. The wine has probably not been filtered. Most wineries filter wine so this doesn’t happen. It won’t hurt you, I promise.

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