Can a wad of plastic wrap take the effects of TCA out of a tainted wine? I’ve been hearing about this tangentially for a couple of years now, and last month a comment in a New York Times piece by food science guru Harold McGee caught my eye.
According to McGee, you can rescue a corky wine by pouring it over some wadded-up plastic wrap in a bowl. He didn’t give any details, but he quoted Andy Waterhouse, head of the University of California at Davis department of enology and viticulture, and Darrell Corti, a true eminence grise of the American wine world, as endorsing the practice without reservation.
I have resolved to give it a try the next time I come across a cork-tainted wine in my blind tastings. It’s the perfect scenario for a fair test. My tasting assistant, Gus, always has a backup bottle of each wine to open in case I detect any questionable characteristics in the first one. If I suspect it’s a bad bottle, Gus goes into the next room to open the second bottle and bring it back wrapped in the same coded bag as the first one. If the second bottle tastes the same as the first, we go with the bad review. If the second bottle is better, we go with that note and rating.
If the second bottle is good, we can be pretty sure the first one was tainted by the cork. And that makes a perfect set-up to test the plastic wrap theory. After treating the wine from the first bottle, we have the second bottle, which we know is good, to compare to it.
I called Waterhouse to ask him about the procedure. He said he used a flat baking dish. Employing a piece of plastic wrap big enough to cover the dish, he crumpled it up and poured the wine over it to submerge the plastic. “I stirred it around for about 10 minutes, and poured it back into the original bottle,” he said. “To me that seemed to work. It took the wet newspaper, mildewy smell out of the wine.
“I’m beginning to think that there’s so much attention to this,” Waterhouse added, “that we’re going to have to do an experiment. But I haven’t heard of any funding for it.”
Although he did not perform chemical analysis to determine levels of 2,4,6-TCA, the telltale molecule that causes the foul smell of corkiness, he said it makes sense from a chemical standpoint. In theory, TCA should bond with the polyvinyls of the plastic wrap.
If that’s so, and I have no reason to doubt a UC Davis professor, I want to know whether that wet newspaper smell goes away entirely after a 10-minute soak. And I want to find out if plastic wrap affects wine in other ways. That’s why I am looking forward to comparing the “good” bottle with a treated one, preferably with several wines that show varying degrees of cork taint.
For the past several weeks, I have been on the lookout for just such a situation to test the theory, but no luck yet. Wouldn't you know, I’ve had a run of wines from Australia and New Zealand, the vast majority of which were bottled under screw caps. No cork taint there. I’ve had a few borderline calls on a couple of flights of Washington and Oregon wines, but nothing in which the taint was unmistakable.
As soon as I find one, or better yet two or three wines, I’ll do the comparison and let you know what I discover.
Meanwhile, I invite anyone who has tried this trick to add a comment here with your experience.
Claude Kaber — Luxemburg — February 5, 2009 2:10pm ET
Tim Schultheiss — Monrovia CA — February 5, 2009 3:57pm ET
Bert Pinheiro — Baltimore Maryland — February 5, 2009 4:48pm ET
Tim Schultheiss — Monrovia CA — February 5, 2009 5:00pm ET
Tyler Mcafee — Houston, TX — February 5, 2009 5:25pm ET
Andrew J Grotto — February 5, 2009 5:42pm ET
Jordan Harris — Niagara, Ontario — February 5, 2009 5:59pm ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — February 5, 2009 6:15pm ET
Ted Henry — Napa, CA — February 5, 2009 6:42pm ET
John Jorgenson — Seattle, — February 5, 2009 8:39pm ET
Tristen Larson — Seattle WA — February 6, 2009 12:41am ET
Nancy Robinson — Phoenix, AZ — February 6, 2009 10:27am ET
Robert Scheer — February 6, 2009 11:09am ET
Chris Lavin — Long Beach, CA — February 6, 2009 12:55pm ET
Troy Peterson — Burbank, CA — February 6, 2009 1:41pm ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — February 6, 2009 2:18pm ET
Chris Haag — vancouver, bc — February 7, 2009 4:10am ET
Jamie Sherman — Sacramento — February 8, 2009 12:23pm ET
Jason Caplan — Toronto Canada — February 8, 2009 7:18pm ET
Rob Lentini — Alexandria, Virginia — February 9, 2009 1:40pm ET
Keith Kenison — Paterson, WA — February 12, 2009 6:08pm ET
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