Hello there! I'm Dr. Vinifera, or "Vinny" for short. Ask me your toughest wine questions, from the technical aspects of winemaking to the fine points of etiquette. I hope you find my answers educational and even amusing. Looking for a particular answer? Check my archive and my FAQs. You can also follow me on Twitter: @AskDrVinny.
Dear Dr. Vinny,
My basement flooded during Hurricane Irene with four and a half feet of river water. I had two Eurocave wine cellars with about 250-300 bottles of wine in storage. I believe the cellars fell over during the height of the flood as no bottles broke, but they were floating in the water for 2 days. I have since washed all of the bottles and tasted a couple, both with cork and screwcap closures and they seem okay. Given these conditions, how permeable are these two closures?
—Jeff C., Denville, N.J.
It’s tricky, because it really does vary from bottle to bottle. I expect that bottles sealed with cork are more likely to be affected by soaking in water than bottles sealed with a screwcap. Some water may have penetrated the capsule or been absorbed by the very top of the cork, and at most you might notice some mold grow there over time, which is probably harmless. I don’t think that any water will have penetrated more than the surface of the cork in just two days, unless the cork was faulty and didn’t provide a good seal. If the cork was that faulty, the wines were probably oxidized anyway, and undrinkable. (Keep in mind that the alcohol in wine helps protect it from bacterial growth.)
My other concern would be whether or not the floodwaters had any risk of E. coli or salmonella from proximity to sewage or farmland. In that case, the outside of your bottles need to be cleaned. Avoid any chlorine products, which can further complicate the issue. Instead, I’d use rubbing alcohol to clean off the bottle, especially the lip, before handling and drinking.
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