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Tainted Wine 

Send it back if it smells moldy

Skanky wine is truly a buzzkill. There's nothing worse than anticipating a delicate, fruity flavor experience, then being hit in the nose with a foul smell. Yes, it happens. Really "corked" wine -- musty, moldy smelling wine occurring after contact with a bad cork -- is unmistakably odiferous, and occurs in 5 percent to 15 percent of all bottles, depending on which winery you interview. In an attempt to rid themselves of the cork taint problem, wineries have switched to screwtops or synthetic closures, but there's still plenty of wine out there ready to attack your senses.The degree of "corked-ness" varies. Full-blown cork taint reeks like rank feet and it really hits you in the mug. But unless it's really extreme, the average consumer will never notice the cork smell. If mildly tainted, the wine will taste flat or have little flavor, so naturally an unsuspecting consumer, thinking the winery just makes mediocre wine, won't ever buy that brand again. That's what the wineries fleeing to alternative closures really fear. They work really hard to lure you to their wine, and if a musty cork destroys the experience, the effort is for naught.

The reason the wine becomes corked dates back to chemistry class. A non-toxic chemical substance known as 2,4,6 trichloroanisole -- TCA for short -- lives in cork tree bark. Part of the cork making process, bleaching and sterilizing, randomly causes a reaction in the cut cork and releases chemicals that cause an unfavorable odor. Once the affected cork is placed in the bottle, it intermingles with the wine and the juice takes on the flavor of the TCA substance.

This process takes a while to happen, so the worst thing is, wineries have no way of discovering the cursed corks until the wine is poured. But the weird thing is, not all corks end up with the TCA mold, with so few wines affected. But 5 percent of a small, 60,000-bottle winery adds up to 3,000 tainted bottles. That's a helluva lot of money to throw away because of a 17th century wine closure tradition.

So why do we care? Well, that's one in 20 bottles. And you could pay lots of money for that one tainted bottle. And that would suck. But if you're armed with the knowledge that some wines actually do smell like armpits, farm animals or celery, you can be better prepared for the musty, wet cardboard experience. So if you, or someone you love, smells or tastes cardboard in their glass, take it back to the store, or send it back with the server.

Recommended Wines

Purple Mountain 2000 Pinot Noir Light, purple velvet flavor with a dash of cherry on the end of the sip. Smooth as silk. $16
2001 Foley Sauvignon Blanc You can taste the perfectly balanced oak in this pretty wine from Santa Barbara. Dry, refreshing with a wonderful citrus aftertaste. 1/2 $15
Gallo of Sonoma 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon Sonoma Reserve Wow. Fruit jumps out at you from all angles. Black cherry and dark, concentrated grapes provide a smooth, even drinking experience. Damn good value too. $14
Wolf Blass 2000 Shiraz-Cabernet South Australia Nice, ripe cherry flavors mingled with black pepper. This wine is friendly and approachable like Julie on the Love Boat. Discounted cruise too. 1/2 $12

The Wine ListBARONE'S WINE ROOM offers wine tastings every Wednesday night from 6-8pm. The cost is $10. Barone's is located in Birkdale Village, Huntersville. Call 704-987-0011 for more information.

FUZION BISTRO, located in Shops on the Green in Cornelius, hosts wine tasting sessions with speakers the last Wednesday of every month from 7-8pm. Light fare served along with the four sample wines to be tasted. $20 per person. Call 704-895-6656.

THE ITALIAN OVEN in Gastonia holds wine tastings the second Wednesday of each month at 6:30pm. The cost is $15 per person, which includes 6 wines and appetizers. Call for reservations: 704-865-6852.

SOMETHING CLASSIC AT THE VILLA 715 Providence Road. Wine & food tastings are held on the last Wednesday of the month at Something Classic from 5:30-8pm. For more information, call 704-347-3666.

SOUTHERN SPIRITS announces Winter Wine Classes. Jan. 7: How To Read A Wine Label -- Taste wines and learn to decipher labels from France, Italy, Germany, Spain and the US, $15. Jan. 9 & 16: Wines of the World -- An overview and tasting of wines from France, Italy, Spain, Australia, New Zealand and Argentina, $40. All classes are held from 6:30-8pm. Located on Hwy 521, 3 miles south of Ballantyne. Call 803-548-8888 to register.

TONIC, 1427 E. 4th St., has wine tastings the first Wednesday of every month, 8:30pm-2am. Entry and tastes are free. For more information, call 704-347-2582 after 8pm or visit

WINE TASTINGS AT REID'S 7TH ST. WINE SHOP Every Wednesday night at the Wine Bar from 5:30-7:30pm, very informal. Three wines will be tasted each week. Cost is $10 per person. Call 704-513-7014.

Wine tastings, classes, or other wine-related events will be listed at the discretion of the editors. Send information to Creative Loafing one of three ways: Fax to 704-944-3605; email to; or by regular mail at 6112 Old Pineville Rd. Charlotte, NC 28217. All information must be received at least two weeks in advance of the event.

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