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Good Wine Gone Bad

January 31, 2010

The restaurant wine ordering ritual is terribly misunderstood.  And I think it causes a lot of needless anxiety for those unfamiliar with the custom.  There are only two things the diner needs to do in this little dance.  The first is to confirm that the bottle brought to the table is the bottle that was ordered.  The second is to assess if the wine has gone bad.

You do not need to make a pronouncement on the vintage.  You do not need to smell the cork.  You do not need to expound on the bouquet and flavor profile of the wine.

There are some early telltale signs of a brewing problem inside the bottle.  Wine streaks on the label, a brittle or moldy cork, or a brownish tinge to the color of the wine may indicate the wine was improperly stored.  But ultimately it comes down to how the wine smells and how it tastes.

And here’s the problem.  Too many people do not know corked wine when they taste it.

Which is why I wrote last week, that the greatest wine learning experience ever is getting to taste a bottle of wine that has gone bad.  Of course this does require having an undamaged specimen of the same wine on hand.  Which is just another good reason to buy wine bottles in pairs, or even better, by the case.

One day you may be trying a new wine and discover that a wine doesn’t taste quite right.  Maybe it’s a little flat.  Perhaps you expected it to be quite fruity, but you are just getting a lot of wood and not much else.  If you have been following my buying strategies, you should have another bottle of the same wine on hand.  Now you will have a tough decision.

It could be that the wine you are drinking is just not as good as you had hoped.  The other possibility of course is that the bottle you are drinking is bad, and there is a chance that the other bottle you have stored in a cool dark place is just fine.

In this situation, it is prudent to open the second bottle.

If the wine tastes the same, you most likely just selected a couple of bottles that were not very good.  Maybe if it’s not too unpleasant you finish your glass with your meal.  Otherwise you can always turn the wine into sangria or hot mulled wine, depending on the season.

But if the bottle has indeed gone bad, you will know immediately when you taste the fresh bottle.  And now you will begin to have an appreciation for what wine gone bad tastes like.

The truth is that wine can go bad anywhere.  It is not the exclusive purview of wine bought from the closeout bin.  I was at a wine dinner at a fancy Sonoma mission-style resort, which had a very fancy wine storage system.  The bottle of sauvignon blanc that the sommelier was pouring was corked.  I think he was embarrassed that it had made it into people’s glasses – at a place of that caliber it should have been noticed immediately – but to be fair, they were pouring a lot of wines that day.

I knew it was corked, but most people did not.  And that’s not because I am some kind of wine genius.  It’s just because it was something I had experienced before.  If you have been drinking wine for any amount of time, you too probably have experienced it, and may just have incorrectly written off the wine as being mediocre.

But how can you be expected to know what something tastes like if you have never tasted it before?

I can try to describe what a boysenberry tastes like.  But if you have never had a boysenberry, will you be able to identify it just based on my description?  I think it’s an unreasonable expectation.

This is why coming across a flawed bottle is an invaluable learning experience for any wine drinker.  When it happens, embrace it.  It’s a gift.

Be brave, bold wino.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Jean Patiky permalink
    January 31, 2010 1:31 pm

    I don’t know what a “corked” wine is…please explain….that the wine had been “corked”…is that a bad thing?

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