One morning, while working at a winery in Sonoma, JM, the assistant winemaker called me over.
“Michelle, I’d like you to smell this,” he said, pointing to a bottle of opened wine.
A trickle of nail polish remover odor met my nose, followed by a peculiar smell. I searched my memory carefully to place it. It smelled damp, flat and like… well, wet dog.
There was no question about it: this wine was corked.
Every wine lover will at some point in her or his life encounter a corked bottle. Industry experts estimate that about 3 to 5 percent of all wine bottles are corked. While novices might wonder if it’s the wine itself that has gone bad, it’s not the doing of the grapes. As the name implies, it’s a problem with the cork. For me, the smell is that of a wet pooch. Others liken it to a wet newspaper or a damp basement.
I’ve never personally sent back a bottle of wine at a restaurant, but knowing the characteristic sign of corked wine, I wouldn’t hesitate to do so if I came across one. Nervous about doing it yourself? I’ve heard that a good way to do it is to tell the waiter that you think something’s off in the wine and ask him or her to taste it. A good waiter will agree with you and replace the bottle.
For other things that can go wrong with wine, I found this great article in the Chicago Tribune by Bill Daley that explains the intricacies of spoiled wine. One mistake I often see people do is keep wines in a place that is too hot, which can cook it. If you’re going shopping for wine and running errands afterward, park in the shade and leave the windows slightly cracked so that your nice wine purchased isn’t ruined by the time you get home.