Saturday, August 2, 2008

Good Bad wine vs. Bad Bad Wine vs. Bad Good Wine

Just wanted to take a quick break from history to put in my 2 cents on a topic that's been popping up all over wine-blogger land recently. It's nothing new, but the issue of cork taint (TCA) and other flaws in wine always gets people excited and encourages passionate conversations about chemistry and taste and winemaking practices. Although I think there's a bit of muscle flexing involved in the Science and Tech. discussions I understand completely why this issue is raised so often. It's a real bummer to open a wine you're excited about (and possibly spent a bit of money on) and discover it's corked or otherwise flawed. But it's also a bummer to open a wine that tastes exactly like it's supposed to and that taste is, to you, gross. The source of controversy and/or difficulty emerges in all the possible scenarios in between these two extremes.

The ability to detect TCA in a wine has become a litmus test for credibility at many wine drinking occasions. Often the person deemed to have the most knowledge or experience is expected to make final judgment on whether a wine is corked or not. This is silly. I think most people with even rudimentary wine knowledge could be trained to quickly spot cork taint and distinguish it from other flaws just as well as anyone. But there are some wine aficionados who for what appears to be biological reasons have a very difficult time with this; Brooklynguy's post on this subject is both honest and refreshing. Others may be "immune" or simply unfazed by different flaws such as "heat" (excessive alcohol) or oxidization or when a wine first begins to "turn" (become vinegar). One common flaw occurs when a wine is "cooked", which means it has been damaged by poor storage and subjected to temperature fluctuations or exposure to heat. But in an earlier experiment at the Lab a wine that was exposed to extreme heat was preferred to the normally stored bottle. So does this mean some people prefer "cooked"(flawed) wines or that sometimes heat damage isn't actually a flaw? Another controversial flaw is brett, a sort of renegade yeast strand that can manifest itself in many ways. Some think it adds complexities and secondary flavors to certain wines, others claim it's always a bad thing. At their extremes all of these "flaws" will make a wine taste bad to almost everyone, regardless of their knowledge or experience. But the difficulties arrive when a wine that should be good just isn't that good. If you've had this wine before than you'll know for sure if it's not as good, but if we're talking about something finicky like old Burgundy maybe it's just not "showing well" or maybe there's a little flaw somewhere. If you don't have the luxury of buying several bottles of the same wine every time then you may never know. And though it's easy to let this frustrate (and then overcompensate by declaring a definitive flaw) I don't think it should become an issue that ruins an evening or a meal or a gathering of friends. If you get an obviously corked, or otherwise flawed bottle at a restaurant send it back, or return it to the store where you bought it. If there's more ambiguity involved then just allow for a few seconds of disappointment and then move on, use it as a learning experience and get excited about the next bottle. Or open a can of beer.

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