Wine is a tricky business, even for those who have been in the industry for a while. With so many factors to understand and concepts to grasp, it's no wonder the market has a challenging time attracting new consumers that feel informed enough to become avid wine shoppers. Most of the challenges revolve around the lingo and concepts that represent the wine industry, which are completely foreign to most people, even those who enjoy wine on a regular basis. But part of wine enjoyment and an even further appreciation comes down to understanding just a little bit more about this terminology which this article will help with.
What does "Corked" Mean?
For instance, you’re in a restaurant out with some friends, one of which knows a little more about wine than everyone else, so you tell the server to pour them the first glass. Before the server runs over to fetch the bottle, you hear them say, “It’s corked”, and you can't help but wonder what that means. Is it bad to drink a corked wine?
Corked wine simply means that the wine has been contaminated with cork taint via the presence of trichloroanisole or TCA. This forms when certain natural fungi come into contact with cleaning and sterilizing agents the winery might have used that contain chlorides during the sanitation process. Modern wineries today have stopped using any cleaning and sterilizing agents that contain chloride, as once you notice the development of a problem, it is very difficult to remove.
Can you Drink Corked Wine?
Drinking a corked wine is not harmful in any way, but the wine will not smell or taste its best. A corked wine smells something akin to a damp basement or old wet newspaper. Perhaps you once found some valuable books in a grandparents basement that are sort of rotted and damp - this is what a corked wine smells like. Some of the flavors and smells in particular corked wines are barely noticeable, while other corked wines have extremely strong flavors that you can sense immediately after you've taken the foil covering from the top of the bottle.
Though part of the challenge in preventing a corked wine may be solved by using screw caps (Stelvin closures), this is merely an improvement and is not a 100% solution.
The bottom line as a consumer is that a corked wine is technically considered a damaged product. If you get a corked wine in a restaurant, they are obliged to get you another bottle at no extra charge. No server, sommelier or wine professional should make you feel guilty for sending it back. If you purchase a bottle from a wine shop and bring it home to find out that it is corked, just place the cork back in the bottle and do not drink any more. Bring it back to the store and they should give you another bottle. Oftentimes, the businesses get credit from their distributors or the winery, so likewise, it is no loss for them either.
What is Tannin in Wine & Fruits?
Another word you see tossed around a lot is "tannin" or wines that are "tannic". Tannin is the characteristic of a wine, mainly red, that tends to dry your mouth out and prevent you from salivating. This exists in red wine due to the contact between juice and grape skins during fermentation; it's also imparted into wine via barrel maturation, so, some white wines may have a little as well. All vegetables and fruits have a certain level of tannin. Coffee, tea, a less-than-ripe avocado or peaches, will all have a particular amount of tannin. Some people tend to like it once they understand it, while others do not. It can be softened or minimized with decanting, aging or having the right foot with a big tannic wine that can subdue the tannin.
You may have read a few technical sheets of a wine that say something like, "spontaneous malolactic fermentation" or "secondary fermentation". These are both synonymous., however, as it is more understandable for the average person to grasp the concept of fermentation, this step in the winemaking process is not a fermentation at all, making it quite a foreign subject.
What Characteristic does Malic Acid Impart into Wine?
Starting at the beginning, each grape, no matter the varietal, contains malic acid. By taste and smell, this is the exact acid found in green apples; it is tart and sharp and more noticeable in wines like Sauvignon Blanc, a dry Riesling or very new white wines that haven't been aged much. For some wines, the retention of this acid might make it unpalatable to the majority of consumers. On a more specific level, this particular acid does not aid in preserving a wine. During malolactic fermentation, lactic acid bacteria (LAB), which is present in wine following the initial fermentation (A more specific strain of bacteria for this can also be inoculated into the wine by the winemaker, making the process more controllable.) can transform or metabolize this malic acid into lactic acid.
Lactic acid is much softer, like that found in buttermilk and some fresh cheeses. However, from the wine’s view, it is a stabilizing acid that makes for a natural preservative in wine. This is why you can age Chardonnay, which has been through a secondary fermentation much longer than most Sauvignon Blanc. This fermentation is also why you find such aromas and textures in your wine like, butter, cream and custard.
Wine and its terminology can be intimidating, but with the right explanation, it can become a very rewarding industry to take interest in and make it easier to enjoy the fruits of its labor.