On the nose: Crack down on wine faults

First published in Style Magazine May 2010

It’s one of the best restaurants in Queensland and they should know better. We’d spent more than $200 on a fine white Burgundy and when the bottle arrived it was cork tainted. We politely sent it back to be replaced. The owner appeared. “It is not corked, it is fine.” We disagreed and he returned with two glasses. “One,” he explained, “is from your bottle. The other is from another bottle of the same wine. You tell me which is corked and I’ll give you the replacement.” He handed one glass to me and the other to my colleague, Matthew Jukes. He smelt his glass and I smelt mine. Simultaneously, he said, “Clean!” and I said “Corked!”

We got our replacement bottle in the end but the whole experience left a bad taste in my mouth. The restaurant owner knew us, and if two experienced wine judges are challenged when they return a bottle, what chance does the consumer have?

If you are ever poured a wine in a restaurant or sold a bottle at a wine shop that doesn’t taste as it should, you must ask for a replacement bottle. It’s the only way you’ll drink a decent wine and the only way the wine industry will get the message that faulty wines aren’t good enough.

Cork taint occurs sporadically in wines sealed with natural corks. It gives the wine an off-putting mouldy, “wet cardboard” or “wet dog” character. It dulls the fruit character and the persistence of flavour. If you suspect cork taint, immediately return the bottle, simply state that it is “corked” and request another bottle to replace it. You should never be asked to justify or explain yourself. The restaurant or retailer is usually entitled to a refund from the winery or the distributor, so they shouldn’t have to wear the cost.

Oxidation is the other wine fault that you need to be wary of. If the seal is damaged or a bottle has been open for too long, it starts to taste flat and vinegary. If you’re poured a glass from a bottle opened earlier and it tastes oxidised, request a replacement from a fresh bottle. Restaurants and bars should open fresh bottles every day, but sadly this doesn’t always happen.

If every corked and oxidised bottle is returned, eventually the message will get through and there will be fewer faulty wines to worry about.