Bottle Shock: Corks, Heat and Tainted Wine

How does a bottle of wine go “bad”? Not surprisingly, the answer depends on several variables because wine is a fragile, living thing. It is often faulty before it leaves the winery. More than 10% of bottles with real corks will be tainted by a bacteria called TCA (2,4,6-Trichloroanisole). Without getting too geeky, it’s the stuff that makes your wine smell like wet books, must or sometimes, simply cork. Most often this flaw can be smelled but I sometimes find that it’s easier to tell on the finish, after you take a sip, which will be harsh and metallic. While the wine-drinking public has been dragged kicking and screaming into the realm of screw caps and glass enclosures, producers love the fact that 10% of their wine isn’t ruined by TCA. If your wine is bottled under a sound cork or screw cap, avoiding bacterial infection, there are some threats that exist outside of the winery, most notably extreme temperatures. With that in mind, here are a few things to remember:

1) If you walk in to a store and it is noticeably warm, be cautious (we usually turn around and walk out)! Too much heat will cause a wine to age prematurely (best case scenario) and become vinegar in the most extreme cases. Either way, if the wines have been on the shelf for a long time they will not be at their best.

2) If you put a bottle of wine in your car and drive around on a warm day while shopping, there is a good chance you will hurt the wine. On a warm day the fruit flavors may become tired and not show their bright freshness. On a very hot day the wine might actually “cook” in the bottle and be ruined.

3) The same thing is true of your home. Placing the bottle in a warm room or too close to a heat source is also very risky. Some of the high risk areas include the tops of refrigerators, in cabinets above the stove, in direct sunlight or near radiators. The best conditions obviously exist in a wine fridge or wine cellar, but if you don’t have these options a cool, shady spot that avoids massive temperature fluctuations is best. The basement of your home is a good choice, as long as it’s not too near a dryer or water heater.

4) It’s also important not to leave whites in the refrigerator for too long. Forty degrees is much too cold to store, or drink, white wine. When a wine is too cold it doesn’t express itself as fully as it should. Think about the taste difference between a piece of fruit pulled from the fridge and one kept on the kitchen counter. The piece closer to room temperature will always have more taste and the same principal applies to wine. The fridge also exposes the wine to vibrations that can disturb the juice in the bottle. Furthermore, the bright light that goes on every time the door is open is harmful. Stick your whites in the fridge about 45 minutes before you want to drink them or in a bucket of ice water with a pinch of salt for 10 minutes if you are pressed for time.

So, to sum up, assuming the wine was in great shape before you bought it, poor transport and storage conditions are the two most likely culprits in a wine going “bad”. Stay tuned!! In the coming days we will discuss how to tell if your bottle has gone bad and how to remedy the situation.

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