There's always that fleeting moment in a restaurant when your wine server brings over the bottle of wine you ordered, drops the cork in front of you and pours you a little splash to taste. At this point everyone at your table, including the server are all waiting for your seal of approval.
Do you always say it's good? What if you don't like it? What if you think something is wrong with it? Do you send it back? Would you rather avoid the confrontation and drink the wine you think is flawed because you don't really know if there is something wrong or not?
Many people have expressed to me their hatred of this moment.
They don't know what to do with the cork and they don't know why they are tasting the wine.
Let's start with the cork. It's plopped down right in front of you, what should you do with it? Nothing. Just leave it alone, I know it feels like you should fondle it, but you don't need to.
What's really important is tasting the wine. It has been given to you to see if the wine is spoiled or "corked."
So here's what you do...keep the base of the glass on the table while holding the stem. Gently swirl the glass a couple of times, shooting the wine up the sides of the glass. As the wine drips down the sides it evaporates and gives you more to smell. Really stick your nose in it, giving it a big whiff and then give it a taste.
Do you smell a lovely perfume of fruit and spices? If you don't and what you do smell is a musty aroma reminiscent of damp newspapers and a mildew stench, you can almost guarantee your bottle is "corked", the world's most prevalent wine flaw.
When a wine is officially "corked" technically it means a chemical known as TCA (2,4,6-trichloranisole) has gotten into the bottle as a byproduct of mold in the cork or the winery. It kind of smells like a wet dog that has rolled itself up in a mildew blanket. Yummy, right? However, sometimes the mildew smell isn't prevalent and the wine aromas and flavors are just dead, completely masked by the TCA. This is when a corked wine is harder to spot.
But as soon as you suspect a flaw in your wine, DO let your server know.
Sometimes it's not noticeable until you are halfway through your first glass. If it is truly flawed, any good waiter or wine steward worth their salt will smell and taste the wine and know you are right. At a reputable restaurant the bottle will be replaced and you will not feel like an idiot. No scene will be made. Sirens will not go off.
The restaurant is reimbursed for all corked bottles so DO NOT FEEL BAD.
And even though modern technology has greatly reduced the amount of flawed wine in the marketplace it still exists. It's an organic product and flaws will always be possible.
For cork taint, varying sensitivity thresholds exist for everyone, even the experts. I myself am only able to detect it at slightly higher levels. But some can pick up even the slightest trace.
And remember, corkiness is not the only wine flaw. Things like Brettanomyces, volatile acidity, sulfites, sulfides and oxidized wine also occur.
So go with your gut, if you think a wine is spoiled ask the opinion of the wait staff or restaurant management. A reputable restaurant will smoothly take the bottle back if found flawed.
But do remember, spoiled wine is the only reason you get to reject a bottle. Not liking what you ordered does not warrant an excuse to send the wine back. You are stuck with it at this point. This is why it's a great idea to ask for help when selecting something to go with your meal.