Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Corks and Mould: When to Worry and when to Drink

I’ve eaten mouldy bread before. Generally when I do so it’s because my eyes have failed me, luckily my tongue is there to pick up the slack. I once went through a period in my life when I drank coffee that tasted of mould on a regular basis. It’s not that I like the taste of mould; I find the flavour rather reprehensible. Three straight hours of dry philosophy lectures will convince you to drink pretty much anything so long as it offers the guarantee of staving off an embarrassing wake-up call and a drool soaked notebook. Some advice to recent university entrants: clean out your coffee thermos on a regular basis, although it may be made of steel the taste and scent of mould can linger for months no matter how thoroughly you clean. While I do hate mould and its’ wretched flavour I am willing to look past it for a worthy cause.

Cork taint. Much like when the human body rejects an organ after a transplant only to poison the entire body, wine may reject it’s cork poisoning the wine. Not that the wine will hurt or kill you but it will taste bad. Mould is generally the main culprit in producing a “corked” or cork tainted wine. As I have said I am not a fan of mould but I am willing to look past it, however I have yet to become such a chronic alcoholic that I am willing to guzzle down some foul wine just to catch a buzz. Corked wine is not corked because you can see the mould rather it is corked because you can taste and smell it. A wine that is corked will taste like you are licking a wet sheep (in a bad way) this is of course opposed to the desirable characteristic of lanoline (wet wool) one might find in beautiful Semillon blend.
This is what cork taint looks like... be aware

Should you ever encounter the smell and/or taste of wet cardboard or wet dog in a wine don’t worry… unless the liquor store is closed and you have no other bottles to open. Any liquor store worth it salt will gladly refund or exchange your wine (assuming you haven’t drank it all). Theoretically the winery that unfortunately supplied the liquor store and then you, the customer, with an off wine will get the news that there is something wrong with one of, perhaps many of, their bottles: this is a good thing.

If the problem isn’t cork taint, to which there is no solution other than using a seal than a cork, the winery needs to know that there is something wrong. It may be more than just one bottle that is off: it could be an entire batch. Assuming the winery wishes to succeed in the future it better figure out why and fix the problem ASAP. While many people are too shy to return a wine that is off and may just pour it down the sink while making a vow never to buy brand X again, this is not the heroic solution. If you should be the first to report a pervasive problem, rather than pour it down the sink, you may end up actually saving a winery from financial collapse. You’ll be a hero! If you were just unlucky and got a corked wine then you won’t be a hero but at least you’ll get a new bottle of wine, or at least you should if the liquor store is even somewhat reputable.

Any wine or liquor store should gladly refund your money or offer a new bottle of the wine you returned if you bought one that was faulted. Of course if you drink most of the contents of a bottle of wine and then try and return it for a refund or an exchange the shopkeeper will be justifiably reticent. If you do happen to buy a bottle of wine that is faulted put the cork back in the wine (it is easiest to do this if you actually shove the top end of the cork back in as if it were the bottom end) and return the wine, hopefully with no more than a glass missing, within the next day or two.

Mould is not always the enemy and mould is by no means always going to kill your wine. Some of the most delicious wines in the world are aged in caverns that become enveloped with mould.* Mould is that which is responsible for the wine style that I incessantly drove on about every time someone mentions that they don’t like sweet wine.** Mould has saved millions of lives.*** But mould is ugly and rather off-putting.
This is what harmless mould looks like... be aware or don't

Tonight as I peeled off the foil from the wine I had planned on drinking, to my horror, I saw a massive gathering of mould. I’ve had mouldy corks before, a few specks of green and blue here and there, the wine has always been fine. This was quite a bit more than a few specks of green and blue, but the wine was not only fine it was truly divine. I can’t be sure at what point the mould began to develop on this particular cork but I have my guesses. The wine I am drinking, and thoroughly enjoying, is a 2006 Torres Gran Coronas Reserva from Penedes Spain. Reserva is the key word here.

There are a lot of wine labels that flaunt the word Reserve or Reserva or some other Latin descended version of this word. There are only three countries where any spin on the word Reserve actually means anything: Spain, Portugal & Italy. Reserva in Portugal doesn’t actually have anything to do with ageing so it can be ignored. Riserva does technically refer to ageing time in Italy but the term is much abused: don’t count on it to guarantee a better quality wine, just an older one. Reserva in Spain does mean something and generally will give you some indication as to the quality because the wine has not just been aged; it has been aged in oak, as opposed to just being forgotten about in the cellar (I’m looking at you Italy). Keep in mind buying a Spanish Reserva in no way guarantees a good quality wine but it does slightly improve the odds.

In Spain the term Reserva will mean that a wine has been aged for a year or more in an oak cask and 2 years in bottle, there are some variations on this formula from region to region and between white and red. Obviously the cork will not develop mould while the wine is ageing in an oak cask and if it does hopefully the producer will throw the cork away and opt for a cork free of mould. While the wine is ageing, under cork and in the bottle for years in the cellars there is ample opportunity for mould to develop on the outside of the cork. Wine cellars are typically dark and dampish, a perfect breeding ground for mould. Luckily cork is fairly impenetrable and if kept in proper conditions the mould should not burrow itself deep enough into the cork so as to affect the flavour of a wine.

Oddly enough mould often has a positive affect on wine. While mould after the production stage of wine can range from benign to bad, it can be wielded with fantastic results during the growing season. Mould is not always the enemy of flavour sometimes it can be a hero. The key is: if you see mould you’re probably going to enjoy the wine, if you can taste mould (in it’s mouldiest sense) your wine should probably be returned.



  1. Very informative and amusing text. I like your style with the witty comments and whatnot, gave me good laughs on a Friday night (while chugging down my mouldy Italian white wine). I might just buy youse a drink for this!

  2. "Haven't drank it all" is awful and incorrect.

    "Haven't drunk it all" is correct

  3. "Haven't drank it all" is awful and incorrect.

    "Haven't drunk it all" is correct

  4. First time and even experienced home brewers can be tormented with issues with lager made with home mix brew packs. The brew quality produced using these lager units can be can be extraordinary. Keg contents, sometimes

  5. If we don’t have much knowledge to handle the damage of mold, then it is good to call for help from a professional because they are experts on these and have equipment to solve problems and deal with mold!

  6. The list of heart diseases that can be caused by drinking coffee every day. Be very careful with this beverage. Follow the link.

  7. Consumption of an alcoholic beverage is quite dangerous. Moreover, returning a wine that is off and just pouring it down the sink is not a good decision... Can mold grow on cork? Of course!

  8. If you think Reserva signifies something, you should taste a Gran Reserva, aged minimum two years in oak barrels and three in bottles. And yes it DOES signifies great quality.

  9. I just opened my first Tokaji and there was just a little mold on the cork. I was surprised, but it was delicious.