Final Word on the Plastic Wrap Remedy

Jun 26, 2009

Sorry for the delay. Weeks ago I promised another look at a purported solution for cork-tainted wines, soaking them with plastic wrap. I have been tasting mostly Australian wines recently, and so many of those smart Aussies have abandoned corks in favor of screw caps that unambiguously cork-tainted bottles have been rare. Wouldn’t you know that we lacked backup bottles of those few that did reek of wet newspaper and tasted of crushed aspirin, clear signs of corkiness, so I couldn’t compare them to good bottles opened about the same time.

You can read a thorough account of the theory and previous attempts to test it in my earlier blog. Quick recap: Scientists and some wine experts suggest that exposing a cork-tainted wine to crumpled-up plastic wrap for 10 minutes attracts the 2,4,6 tricholoranisole (TCA) molecules that cause the stench. In my previous experiment, nothing much happened, but it turns out I had used the wrong plastic wrap. What I should have used was one made from polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and I had used the other type.

Turns out Stretch-Tite, the brand sold at Costco, is the right stuff. I wadded up a few sheets of it to keep on hand to soak with the next corky bottle to turn up in one of my blind tastings, with a good bottle of the same wine to use as a control.

I found the telltale mildewy character and aspirin texture this week in a Washington Syrah. The backup bottle, also tasted blind, was fine. I rated it 90 points. (What a coincidence, just like last time.) A perfect set-up.

After I finished reviewing the wines, I poured most of the remaining bottle of corked wine over the plastic wrap in one decanter. As a control, I poured most of the good bottle over plastic wrap in another decanter. Then I had Gus, my tasting assistant, pour four glasses for me to taste blind, one each from the good bottle, the bad bottle, the treated good wine and treated bad wine.

Here are my notes:

A: Smells fine, generally good, tight finish
B: Not much aroma, strong flavor of crushed aspirin
C: Ripe fruit, tight focus, tight tannins but with impressive length
D: Modest but clean aromas, tight tannins, hint of earth and aspirin in the finish

Can you guess which was which?

C was the good wine from the bottle and A the good wine soaked with PVC. B was from the corky bottle and D the corked wine from the decanter with plastic. The PVC treatment improved the wine, but not enough to make it as good as the bottle with no TCA.

Bottom line for me? The best you can hope for with this treatment is to make an undrinkable wine more drinkable, but not really good. I take away this message: If you think a wine is tainted by a bad cork, open a new bottle. If you have a second bottle of the same wine, great. If not, open something else. The plastic wrap functions like a band-aid. It covers up the wound, but it still hurts underneath.


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