One of the joys of dining out is going to a good restaurant that allows you to bring your own wine –something that’s special to you, maybe a wine you’ve selected carefully to match the occasion and the food. It’s a great way to show friends and loved ones you really care about them.
It’s estimated that 2%-3% of all bottles of wine sealed with a cork have a problem: cork taint. (It’s why the Stelvin Closure, or screw cap, was invented.) You DO NOT want to show up at a BYO restaurant and find out your wine is corked.
Corking occurs when 2,4,6-trichloroanisole – TCA for short – is present in the wine. TCA has several origins, but in most cases, the TCA that infects wine originates in tree bark, which is the source of natural corks. Humans are very sensitive to TCA. We’re able to detect it even if it’s present in amounts as little as 2-5 parts per trillion!
Lesser levels of TCA simply mute our senses, making the wine smell and taste flat. At higher levels, TCA makes the wine smell like wet cardboard or a damp basement. In either case, it’s not something you want to drink.
So, open your bottle of wine at home first. Feel the cork to make sure the end that’s in the bottle is moist, ensuring a good closure. Then pour a small amount of the wine into a glass. Swirl it around and then smell it. Swirl a bit more and then taste it. In most cases, there’s no problem. But if you think you smell wet cardboard or if the wine seems to be flat, with little to no aromas and taste, consider taking another bottle. (Try that one too!)
This is a good time to decide whether the wine will benefit from decanting. If it will, this may be the best time to do it. Not all restaurants are prepared to decant wine. Also, if you have six people and your wine is poured first, that can consume the entire bottle and it will never have time to open. So, take control of your wine experience and decant it at home. When done, return the wine to the bottle. (You may want to use a measuring cup or other fine-spouted container to aid the transfer: Pour from the decanter into the measuring cup, then back into the bottle.)
When done, simply invert the cork to press the dry end into the bottle. Press down all the way, and the waiter can open it again at the restaurant.