“I don’t like this one, let’s try…” NOOOOOOOO! If you have ever worked as a Sommelier, this is probably one of the most dreaded statements you can hear. Why is this such a dreadful sentence??? Allow me to shed some light on the purpose of tasting your wine order before your Somm or Server starts to pour it for the rest of the table.
When you are seated at your table and get nominated to order the wine for your group, how do you make the right choice? Even more so, when the bottle arrives and they pour that pro sized ounce into your extra-large glass and place you on center stage to not only swirl like a pro (nothing better than watching someone find a way to turn an ounce of wine into a murder scene when swirling all to vigorously) but also to sniff, taste and comment on whether or not this bottle is acceptable!!! A hefty task even for the intermediate wino, but what the heck are you looking for when trying to decipher how acceptable your choice is? FAULTS! Plain and simple.
The small little taste test that you are always presented with – before the bottle is poured to the rest of your table and then back to you, is not intended to find out if you like the wine at all, it is simply to ensure that your bottle is not faulted, and acceptable to drink. I will be clear that your Server or Sommelier should never, and hopefully would never make you aware of this if you were to turn away a perfectly acceptable bottle of wine however, I think it is important for more people to understand the purpose of this little process and avoid making this not so publically discussed faux pas yourself. Not to get in to too much detail on the “How to Order the Right Wine” topic, that will need an entire blog or two on its own to discuss, but in essence, you should know that you want that particular bottle of wine before you commit to opening it for your table. The reason for this is that once the wine is opened, the clock is ticking and the restaurant will have to try to recover that cost by hand selling it by the glass before it goes bad after you decide it was not to your liking. So now that that is out of the way, what does a faulted wine smell and taste like? Well to be honest, you can usually tell that the wine is off just by the smell.
To keep things simple, I am only going to talk about one fault, and the fault that the vast majority of “faulted” wines falls victim to. “IT’S CORKED!!!” Another term dreaded by the wine enthusiast, and not all that rare when you are opening multiple bottles night after night. Unfortunately, this fault is probably present in about 1 in every 25 bottes the last I checked, and actually has nothing to do with the wine. Cork Taint, or “Corked” wine is the term used to describe a wine that has come into contact with a chemical compound called TCA for short (trichloranisole for long), and comes from or through, you guessed it… The cork. This issue is not a problem to be blamed on the winery and has nothing to do with the quality of the wine. So, don’t go writing off your favourite wine because someone declares it is horribly corked. This won’t really hurt you or make you sick, but you really don’t want to drink it, because it smells and tastes pretty awful.
To prepare you for this issue when you are on the hook for deciding whether or not your wine order is in fact tainted, here are a few ideas of what to look for when performing your ever so important sniff test. If you know what a moldy basement, wet newspaper, wet dog, or any other somewhat moldy damp odor smells like, then you will recognize cork taint right away, and if you’re not sure, swirl a few more times and check again, it gets worse with more oxygen contact. If you do have a smell and recognize that wet basement odor, simply refuse the bottle and have your Server/Sommelier bring another, it’s really no biggie. If you want a little insider info… When your Server/Somm comes back and claims that the bottle was the last one and have suggested something else, chances are it wasn’t corked and their just being nice… Or they really are out and I am just being cynical, either one is completely possible. So, have yourselves a great week, and remember! Don’t turn away a perfectly acceptable wine, and definitely don’t drink wine that smells like a moldy, wet old basement.
By: TJ Harstine
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