Having at last encountered an unambiguously corky bottle in one of my blind wine tastings, and a sound replacement bottle to compare with it, I finally had a chance to put the plastic wrap theory to the test. In an earlier blog, I reported that ordinary plastic wrap is reputed to remove the nasty chemical that causes the foul smell of corkiness. In theory, the polyvinyl chemical composition of plastic wrap attracts the 2,4,6-trichloroanisole (TCA) molecules that cause the stench.
Two experts with serious credentials say it’s so. Harold McGee, who writes about food science for the New York Times, and Andy Waterhouse, head of the University of California at Davis department of enology and viticulture, endorse the idea without reservation.
See my video for the outcome of my blind test. It’s not encouraging.
My regular blind tastings offer the perfect scenario to probe just how well this works. I taste a lot of samples, so the chances are usually good of coming across a cork-tainted bottle. Should I detect questionable characteristics in a sample before me, my tasting assistant, Gus, just replaces it with a backup bottle before revealing the identity of the wine. If the second bottle, also tasted blind, is better, we use that note and rating.
Midway through a tasting of Washington Syrahs Wednesday, one sample assailed my nostrils with the awful funk of corkiness, that reek of wet newspaper and rotting tree bark. The replacement was fine, and I rated it 90 points. Perfect.
I had Gus pour half of each bottle into separate decanters containing crumpled-up plastic wrap, stir them up, and let them soak for 15 minutes, just as Waterhouse described his process when we talked last month.
Gus poured four glasses of wine for me. One contained the unadulterated corked wine, one the treated corked wine, one from the good bottle and one of the good wine treated with the same plastic wrap.
When I tasted them blind, two of the samples clearly tasted corked. One smelled a little less awful than the other, but curiously the worse-smelling sample actually had some rich fruit character in the mouth. That turned out to be the treated sample. The other one, direct from the bottle, didn’t smell as bad but it tasted of the crushed-aspirin, wet-newspaper yucko of full-blown cork taint. Make of that what you will, but I wouldn’t drink either one.
The only difference between the two good samples was that the treated version showed less generosity of flavor than the one right out of the bottle.
The better fruit flavors of the treated corked wine make me wonder if longer soaking, maybe for hours, might improve the wine. Of course, you’ll still have to open another bottle if you want to drink some wine before your dinner gets cold. So that’s not very helpful.
In recent weeks, I had tried the experiment two other times on wines that were marginally cork-tainted. Both times, the replacement bottle smelled and tasted slightly better than the first one. But the wines were only OK, not great, so the differences weren’t very big. After the plastic treatments the results were equivocal. That’s why I was excited to come across this blatantly corked bottle, perhaps the first time I have ever been happy to see a wine cut down by TCA.
I so wanted the plastic-wrap magic to be the cure for corkiness. It’s too bad it came up bogus.
Jordan Davis — Dallas TX — March 6, 2009 1:18pm ET
Paul Pashley — Middletown, CT — March 6, 2009 1:22pm ET
Jason Thompson — Foster City, CA — March 6, 2009 1:29pm ET
Andrew J Grotto — Washington, DC — March 6, 2009 1:52pm ET
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Steve Dunn — phila, PA USA — March 6, 2009 11:10pm ET
James Peterson — San Antonio, Texas — March 7, 2009 12:36am ET
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James Peterson — San Antonio, Texas — March 7, 2009 10:02am ET
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James Peterson — San Antonio, Texas — March 7, 2009 1:45pm ET
James Rego — Redding, Ca., Shasta County — March 8, 2009 2:56pm ET
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Michael Schulman — Westlake Village, CA — March 11, 2009 2:01pm ET
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Michael Schulman — Westlake Village, CA — March 13, 2009 3:34pm ET
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Michael Schulman — Westlake Village, CA — June 9, 2009 1:12pm ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — June 9, 2009 1:17pm ET
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