Does it Matter . . . Closures . . .

cork oxidation

As many of you know, I am a huge fan of the screw cap. Let me say at the beginning here that I do NOT believe it is the ‘perfect’ closure as I do NOT believe that there is such a thing.

But let me explain why I use screw caps for all of my tercero wines. Again, this is not to say that it is ‘better’, but there is a reasoning that I think is important to understand:

I do not like TCA whatsoever. For those who do not know what this is, during the aging process of corks, mold grows on the air drying cork. Sometimes, but not all of the time, a chemical compound is created that eventually becomes TCA, or tri-choloranisole for those who dig scientific names J

What’s the big deal with TCA? Well, at low levels, it simply steals the aromas from a wine, making it appear that it has none. At higher levels, it makes the wine smell of wet cardboard or of a damp basement.. That said, if you are not familiar with this smell, you probably would not pick it out as a ‘fault’ but instead might find the wine ‘earthy’ instead.  And guess what – this happens as soon as the wine comes in contact with the cork at bottling. No, you can’t tell in advance if a cork is infected unless you run costly tests on EACH cork and no, the problem does not ‘appear’ later on years after bottling.

The other thing about natural corks – one of it’s most endearing traits, the fact that it is ‘all natural’, is also one of its most challenging.. How can that be? Well, since it’s all natural, no two corks are identical. The individual cells that make up the cork itself are different shapes and sizes, and this allows for slightly different amounts of oxygen to be trapped within the cork prior to bottling and for different amounts to get through the cork during aging. This ultimately leads to ‘bottle variation’ and can, in worst case scenarios, lead to too much oxygen getting in and the wine becoming clearly oxidized. (See the picture above for an example of the same wine bottled under cork and the ‘variability’ that has led to wines of varying color and oxidation levels).

Therefore, one of the main reasons I use screwcaps is to ‘eliminate’ these variables. As a ‘manufactured’ product, there is much greater consistency with screw caps, and thus the ‘variability’ that exists with different size  cells does not exist here. There also is no chance of TCA being introduced to the wine from the closure itself. (And for those of you who will ‘argue’ that TCA does make it into wines in other ways, you are correct . . . but the VAST majority of TCA issues are cork-related).

I have no desire to make ‘sterile’ wines at all. Wines are ‘living creatures’ that will continue to evolve as long as they stay in bottle, and truly ‘blossom’ hours or even days after the bottle is open. But I take offense to the fact that a lot of ‘bottle variation’ that seems to be accepted by consumers is preventable, and as a consumer first and foremost and a winemaker second, I want to be able to stand behind my product and know with a greater degree of certainty that what my customers are consuming is what I desired them to be.

I am certainly open to your thoughts on this issue and welcome them.


What Does It Mean When a Wine is ‘Corked’?


I am having a lot of fun these days in the tasting room and elsewhere asking folks what they think of when I say a wine is ‘corked’. It is a bit ‘disturbing’ as well, though, since there obviously is a LOT of misinformation out there, and it seems as if the wine business really isn’t doing too much to change that.

It’s been really interesting to hear the descriptions thus far, and I thought I’d share some with you – and please note that many of these are from ‘experienced’ wine drinkers:

‘It’s when a wine just tastes bad.’

This, to me, is still one of my favorites . . .

‘It’s when a wine has a port-like flavor and smell.’

This can be many things, but if I had to guess, it would probably be oxidized, perhaps from exposure to heat at some point.

‘It’s when the cork breaks up when you try to take it out’.

You may not know this, but most wineries ‘measure’ the moisture in corks before they go into the bottle during the bottling process. If it’s too dry, the usually reject the lot, for it won’t create a perfect seal and therefore can cause too much oxidation during bottle aging, and can lead to leaking, or perhaps brittle corks. (And on the flip side, it can be problematic if it’s too moist as well.) Corks also dry out over time if wine is stored vertically, for the wine is not in contact with the cork anymore. This is one of, if not the, main reasons why most bottles should be stored on their sides.

‘It’s when a wine smells like vinegar.’

There are many potential causes of this, but this should not be a descriptor for a ‘corked’ wine. High levels of volatile acidity lead to the smell of vinegar in a wine, and there are a couple of different causes. In many cases, this is due to the wine itself – either having very high pH’s that make it difficult to keep the wine from ‘oxidizing’ and leading to this, happening during the winemaking process, or perhaps due to a bad cork seal leading to oxidation.

‘It’s when a wine smells like a barnyard’

Nope, in most cases, this would be due to brettanomyces, a ‘spoilage’ yeast that is generally caused by poor cleaning in the winery or perhaps bad cleaning of older barrels. Brett, as we refer to it, can also continue to ‘bloom’ in bottled wines if they are bottled unfiltered and if they are exposed to elevated temperatures at any time during their lives.

I happen to have a hose bib right outside of the back door to my tasting room, and I discovered long ago that the water that comes out of there is a perfect ‘standard’ for TCA, which is the telltale sign that a wine is ‘corked’. The water smells like wet cardboard/wet cement/damp and moldy basement. THIS is what is meant when a wine is ‘corked’, or at least ‘bad enough’ that these scents are noticeably present. (If a wine is just ‘slightly’ corked, the aromatics will simply be ‘muted’.)

Why am I writing this? I believe there really needs to be more education about ‘corked wines’ in our industry if we want to get a true idea of how many bottles out there are truly affected by this. Right now, the feeling is that the ‘problem’ is getting better and better because of steps taken during the production process. The reality is, though, that if consumers have no clue what a ‘corked’ wine truly is, could numbers that we’ve been seeing be ‘greatly understated’? And more than that, don’t we as an industry owe our ‘customers’ a better understanding of what they are drinking and why a wine may not smell or taste the way it is ‘supposed to’?

We owe it to consumers to let them know that wines do go bad, and explain to them how and why. These are the ‘touch point’ opportunities for us in tasting rooms, at wineries, in restaurants, at wine shops, during wine seminars – use those to not only highlight the ‘good’ things, but also let them really experience and be able to name some of the ‘off’ things as well.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this please.


What is Corked Wine?

cork taint  in wineTo get things rolling, let’s discuss a topic that I have enjoyed discussing elsewhere recently – faulty wines and bottles. The question always arises – how do I know if a wine is ‘faulty’ and ‘what should I do about it’? This is actually fodder for a NUMBER of different blog posts coming your way in the near future, but for now, let’s deal with TCA and ‘corked wines’.

First of all, how many of you truly know what a ‘corked wine’ is? There’s no harm in not knowing – it’s a term I used for a long time without truly understanding it. And everyone has different recognition thresholds for the chemical compound TCA (tri-chloro anisoles). To me and many others, it smells like wet concrete or cardboard. At very low levels, though, the aromatics of a wine are simply ‘robbed’ and you won’t smell a thing or simply ‘muted’ aromas.

Second, if and when you run across a corked wine, do you a) always return it to where it’s purchased; b) only return it if you purchased it locally; c) only return it if it’s over a certain price point: or d) never return it because you expect this to happen every now and then?

Please comment below…I’ll be waiting. (-: