You’re on a first date at [insert trendy and slightly-more-than-affordable restaurant here] and you’ve made it through the awkward “what kind of wine do you like” debacle to choose the ~perfect~ wine for you and your hot [insert dating app here] date. You’re having a delightful conversation (probably about the weather or your respective occupations) when the waiter shows you the bottle, pours you a little taste, and waits for you to give them the go ahead. Now here’s the all important question…
What the heck do we do & why do we perform this little ritual?
No, it’s not to decide whether or not you like the wine (you can’t send it back because it’s not fruity enough or you don’t like the oak flavor… you ordered it, so it’s yours now. Deal with it.). The real reason we do this is to check to see if a wine is “corked”.
Cork taint (hey now, get your mind out of the gutter) is a TCA chemical compound that is either transmitted through the cork or from it. If the wine is faulty (aka a victim of cork taint), THEN we can send it back.
So what does cork taint smell/taste like? I’m sure glad you asked. In mild cases, the wine could just smell a little musty (you may not even notice). Other times it could be more pronounced. To me, a wine that is very corked smells and tastes like wet cardboard.
Go soak some cardboard from your recent Amazon order in your sink, smell it, lick it (kidding, don’t do that), and you’ll know what I’m saying. Other people have described it as “moldy newspaper,” “wet dog,” “damp basement,” or just “funk”. This is what you’re looking for when you taste test in restaurants.
• If your wine smells or tastes like that, you have the right to politely send it back and ask for another bottle.
• If the wine comes with a screw cap, you may be asking yourself “there’s no cork, will they still have me taste this???” Honestly, yep. They’ll probably still have you taste it “for the sake of tradition.”
Honestly, taste testing wine is a fun excuse to sniff, swirl, and pretend to be French. The likelihood that it’s actually corked is super slim, but there is a slight chance it could be. So have fun with it, ma chérie, and be on the lookout for that wet cardboard stank.
QUICK SYNOPSIS FOR SKIMMERS:
Waiters/somms are not looking for you to describe the tannins or come up with distinguishable characteristics of the wine. Just think “does this taste dank?” (the bad “dank,” not the cool “dank”). If the answer is yes, send it back! Don’t try to stomach it to be polite…if you can’t drink it, don’t drink it. No one will get mad at you for sending back corked wine, it’s built into the wine director’s budget.
If you want to know the proper way to taste wine, check out this post. We’ll get you feeling like a snooty wine snob in no time.